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A 'Weird Wednesday' Christmas for the economy

Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland, Ore., is quiet on Christmas Day. A U-Haul truck is parked near the shuttered Santa's House attraction, as Christmas retail activity goes on haitus until next year. 

For anyone who has been scrambling through the malls this week doing last-minute shopping, it may have been hard to tell, but retail activity has actually been a bit slow.

ShopperTrak reports that there were 21 percent fewer people shopping during the week that ended Sunday, compared to last year, and that sales were down 3 percent (not including online sales).

Part of the reason might be the calendar.

“I think this is one of the most stressful Christmas weeks,” says Golden Gate University consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow. "Because the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are shorter, plus Christmas is falling on a Wednesday, so that means that people are in massive time-crunch.”

Yarrow says many Americans only get Christmas Day off as a holiday. Most employers don’t give the day after Christmas as a gift, and many employees can’t afford to take extra time as vacation, or don’t have the time accrued to take by year’s-end.

Yarrow points out — this happens about every seven years. “So it’s like the arrival of the locusts — not the best year in terms of both enjoyment of the holidays, and also productivity at work.”

Patty Edwards is experiencing this first-hand. She’ll be driving the crowded freeways around Seattle to spend Christmas at her step-daughter’s home, and then turning around to head home again. “As much as I love everyone in the family,” says Edwards, “I am dreading the fact that I have to get up the next morning and be at work because I have meetings.”

Edwards is managing director for investments and a consumer-economy expert at U.S. Bank. She says retailers dread the calendar this year, too.

“We know that the most ideal time for Christmas to land is on a Monday, because you have the entire weekend to shop, and then you can just relax and the retailers get what they want,” she says, adding that Christmas on Wednesday is the worst timing for retailers. That’s because people had to shop, and work, on Monday and Tuesday.

Although, Edwards also thinks the post-Christmas retail situation may be better this year compard to last. “Online sales for those folks who got gift cards will probably be higher on December 26, because it is a Thursday.” Edwards says just like on Cyber-Monday, people will be shopping from their desks, instead of working.

Next week will also be a productivity-mess at work, when New Years Day falls on a Wednesday.

At least on December 26, when people do go back to work or out sale-shopping, one stresser will be removed — the ubiquitous Christmas music at the mall.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.
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