Praying For Santa

Retailers will need a last-minute holiday rush to boost their sluggish Christmas sales

The crippling snow may have kept some Midwesterners away from the stores last week, but no one can blame the weather for the sparse crowds at Southern California malls. In sunny West Los Angeles, the Westside Pavilion was a virtual ghost town, and the few people wandering through other malls weren't exactly spreading the wealth. "I used to go into debt every year and spend six months digging out," says Susan Ray, an executive assistant. "I don't want to do that anymore."

Neither, it turns out, do a lot of other Americans--which is why, after years of getting fat as Santa...

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