The holiday season has entered the home stretch – seasonal displays and lights on every other house you pass, the smell of pine in the brisk air, and the jolly demeanor of most people. However, holiday spirit also comes with lots and lots of shopping, which means crowds beyond crowds of people filling stores all over the county.

And crowds there were at the Palisades Center Mall, the shopping mecca of Rockland. This past Sunday, cars were parked as far as the eye can see, empty spots were as rare as hen’s teeth, and holiday shoppers were roving the mall in droves doing last-minute holiday shopping.

“I went Black Friday shopping, but there are still so many deals going on,” said Lauren Walsch, a shopper of West Nyack, with bags full of goodies. “It’s hard to stop!”

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the busiest shopping day of the year. This year, sales rose 6.6 percent from last year to an estimated $11.4 billion, a record. While it used to be the norm for stores to open at 6 a.m., the doors have been opening earlier and earlier over the past years. This year, the majority of the mall’s stores were open for business at midnight.

Now, weeks after Black Friday, people are still going gaga for gifts. From coffee makers, to clothing, to cell phone accessories and stuffed animals, people walked the four floors of the mall with shopping bags holding presents of all shapes and sizes.

“The last full weekend before Christmas has the best sales,” said Madeline Greene, of Montvale, NJ, who waited in the checkout line at Burlington Coat Factory for over an hour. It was worth the wait as she purchased over $200 worth of items for less than $100. “How can you give up a good deal?” she said.

“They’re going helter-skelter,” said a manager at a clothing store at the mall, who wished to remain anonymous, referring to mobs of people in the store. Although she didn’t know off the bat how her store’s Christmas sales were doing, she was confident that they were ahead of last year’s sales.

The record holiday spending spree is cause for celebration for retailers now, but what about after the holidays? Will record levels of buyer’s remorse affect the overall holiday sales season?

“People see 50 percent off and don’t think and buy a bundle of things,” explained Megan Marino of Westchester County. “You just think, ‘oh my friend will like this,’ but once you get home, reality sets in of how much you spent.”

Will the return lines after the 2011 holiday shopping season mirror the long lines of the Black Friday-Christmas period? Stay tuned. In the meantime, happy shopping and happy holidays!

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