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Holiday shoppers are grappling with rising prices as inflation takes its toll: ‘Everything seems more expensive’

While health experts are telling Americans that they can once again look forward to holiday togetherness if they’re vaccinated, the economy is another story.

Shoppers at Liberty Place in Philadelphia on Sunday.
Shoppers at Liberty Place in Philadelphia on Sunday.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Like a lot of people, Maddy Liloia was grateful that the worst of COVID-19 is hopefully behind us.

The pandemic had robbed the young Philadelphian of her commencement ceremony when she graduated from Temple University last year. A post-pandemic holiday season would be a relief.

But hold that thought.

Gas prices have shot up, some goods are in short supply, and prices of even such basics as clothes have suddenly skyrocketed. Liloia, who works in technology marketing, said she’s considering giving loved ones “experiences” such as theater tickets for Christmas. Conventional gifts she might have bought in another year are just running too steep this holiday season.

“I’m afraid this is going to become the new normal, which scares me,” Liloia said.

While health experts are telling Americans that they can once again look forward to holiday togetherness if they are vaccinated, the economy is another story.

U.S. consumer prices jumped 6.2% last month compared with a year ago, as surging food, gas, and housing costs drove the highest inflation rate in 30 years. Inflation could also wipe out recent wage gains for workers. The complex economic impact of the pandemic has also resulted in shortages in certain goods and workers, which aren’t expected to abate any time soon.

What will all this mean for holiday shopping? Some people say they will definitely be picking where and how they spend their money more carefully than in past years.

Aisha Steele-Dillard, 40, and Jennifer Johnson, 47, visiting from Los Angeles, were enjoying browsing such shops as Free People and Urban Outfitters on Walnut Street in Center City on Sunday.

“I haven’t been shopping outside in so long,” Steele-Dillard marveled.

But she, like her friend, said impulse-buying, for themselves or as gifts, was not likely.

The bargain this year, they agreed, is airfare, both to take trips for themselves such as their Philly excursion, or as gifts for loved ones.

But if flying is joy, driving is pain.

Steele-Dillard said she’s paying more than $5 a gallon for gas back in California.

“That hurts,” she said.

Shoppers seemed very aware of the rising costs.

“Everything seems more expensive, honestly,” said Zach Levin, 30, of Philadelphia, who was shopping with his wife, Morgan, 29, in Williams Sonoma.

The newlyweds, who were married during the height of the pandemic and had their wedding celebration in September, said they may try to shop some of the sales to blunt the impact of the higher prices.

Even charity has gotten more expensive.

Ayesha Hassan, 26, an engineer shopping at Liberty Place, said she volunteers at a nonprofit that makes holiday food baskets for lower-income people. Last year, 100 baskets cost about $2,500, she said, but this year the price will be over $3,000, given the increased cost of food.

“I’m hoping we get enough money in donations,” she said.

Some seemed undeterred by inflation.

“You only live once,” said Alicia Cobb, 57, a custodial aide from Philadelphia. “When I die, all this stuff is still going to be going on.”

Her partner Delana Mitchell, 50, a nurse, concurred in spirit.

“The holidays are going to continue but there’s going to be less money in my pocket. I’m not going to let it bother me,” she said. “I’m going to spend a little extra money.”

Maybe on some additional holiday cheer?

“I’ll buy an extra bottle of wine,” she added, grinning, “and I won’t worry about it.”