It was better to be late than sorry for Daquan Bohannan of North Philadelphia as he braved the rain, bumper-to-bumper mall parking, and throngs of last-minute Christmas shoppers at the Cherry Hill Mall on Wednesday.
He had a mission: Pick bracelet charms for his mother, Nicole, 41, at Pandora, which by noon was packed to the brim with customers, almost all of them men on the hunt for gifts for mothers, girlfriends, or wives.
It became so crowded an employee was stationed at the store entrance, having customers sign a waiting list to get in.
"I just remembered yesterday that I had a few last-minute things to get," Bohannan said as he stood behind a jewelry counter, perusing a catalog.
Meanwhile, the line at the gift-wrap kiosk on the mall's lower level between Pottery Barn and the AX Armani Exchange formed early and stayed long all day.
For those with no time to wrap their gifts, the Herzl Group of Camden County Chapter of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, has been providing the service at the mall for 40 years.
All proceeds from the monthlong gift-wrapping service go toward medical research in Israel for diseases such as Parkinson's, breast cancer, and multiple sclerosis.
"It's kind of become a tradition for me," said Clarence Lejeune, 52, a developer from Sicklerville, in his 18th year getting his gifts wrapped at the Hadassah kiosk. "I know no matter how late I procrastinate in buying my gifts, they will get wrapped, and wrapped beautifully. These ladies do a wonderful job."
The Camden County Chapter of Hadassah began gift wrapping at the mall to raise money for medical research in 1974, as well at two other malls owned by the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) - the Moorestown Mall and Voorhees Town Center. Last year, it raised $30,000 from all three malls, according to Carolyn King, the chapter's vice president of fund-raising.
Each year, the event is run by an all-volunteer staff. The service at Cherry Hill began Dec. 4 and concluded at 6 p.m. Christmas Eve.
Five volunteers, all women (though men have volunteered, too) worked diligently behind the counter on Wednesday.
"It's just wonderful to meet people, see what they are buying, and see what the trends are this year," said Yvonne Friedman, the local group's organizational vice president. "It's also great to be able to raise thousands and thousands of dollars for medical research, children's programs, and humanitarian efforts."
Based on what she had been wrapping all month, Friedman said the most popular items to give have been Michael Kors handbags, North Face coats and jackets, and boots. She also noted a difference among shoppers this year.
"They are in a very good mood this year," Friedman said. "People are not as frenzied this year compared to last year. They are calmer and much more patient."
Founded in 1912, Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, is the largest women's, largest Zionist, and largest Jewish membership organization in the U.S. The Camden County chapter was founded in 1925.
Ross said the high demand for wrapping this year had a lot to do with the "no peeking" factor.
"People didn't want anybody to get a peek at their gifts before they were able to put them under the tree," she said.
As he had gifts wrapped for his nephews, fiancee, and himself at the kiosk, Chase Mali, 32, offered a brief explanation of why he plunked down $17 for the service.
"I'm just really horrible at it," joked Mali, of Rittenhouse Square. "When I wrap, the wrapping and tape end up falling off and it just ruins the gift."
Walking past Mali in a brisk jaunt was Latasha Shepard, 27, of West Philadelphia, who was holding two large bags of boots and clothes for her young son, nieces, and nephews.
Shepard arrived at the mall at 10 a.m. and shopped until 2 p.m. with her mother, Gayle, 59, and sister Lakiesha, 31.
"We already knew what we wanted when we got here," Latasha Shepard said as she headed toward Macy's. "Even though I am feeling under the weather, we had to finish up today.
"This is it."