SCHAUMBURG, Ill. – It's 1:22 a.m. on the day before Christmas Eve and Keith McRae is exactly 10 minutes into his holiday shopping list.
Loaded inside a red Macy's bag are a purse and peace-sign jewelry for his 12-year-old daughter and cologne for a friend.
The 42-year-old private detective is calm — too calm, really — for someone who's seemingly both uncaffeinated and unconcerned about the impending Christmas deadline.
"It's beautiful isn't it?" he mused while taking a break near a cosmetics counter as several dozen shoppers browsed nearby and sales clerks straightened displays. "I'm a nocturnal person, so this is much more my speed."
Inside the store in the Chicago suburbs — one of about a dozen Macy's is keeping open for at least 108 hours as part of a marathon push to attract shoppers during the worst holiday shopping season in decades — 60 sales clerks volunteered to pull all-nighters while shoppers mill around racks at a leisurely pace.
Marathon shopping hours aren't new. Over the past three years, a growing number of stores have offered around-the-clock hours to bookend the holiday shopping season as they look to woo time-starved customers.
But this year, there's desperation in the air as a miserable economy threatens to eviscerate the most profitable quarter of the year. That means the all-night hours are a chance to make up for lost ground.
Macy's employees estimate the store had a few hundred shoppers at 1:45 a.m.; by dawn, only one or two are meandering through each department.
Inside Macy's, red tag discounts await the sleepy. "Jingle Bells" has played at least twice over the store speakers. The only lines are at an in-store Starbucks.
And it's downright weird.
Or is it?
Free from pushy crowds, packed parking lots and painfully long lines, Kathy Morris thinks the scene is practically ... poetic.
She was in the store Sunday evening but had to leave, unable to weave her way through the throngs of people.
But now it's almost 2 a.m. and she's back, standing in the middle of an empty outerwear department examining a half-off brown Calvin Klein down coat — a soon-to-be gift from her husband who has joined her retail madness. The 33-year-old's already snagged suede gloves, jeans, a sweater and a women's loungewear set for family members at a total purchase price of $98.05.
"It would probably take me all day to get through the crowds," she said. "So this is great."
A few miles away at an L.L. Bean store in South Barrington, it's 4:05 a.m. and 15 employees inside are stocking shelves and marking down the prices of outdoor gear. By the time Christmas Eve arrives, the store will have been open 24-hours-a-day for two weeks.
"We get phone calls here and there," said Paul Conwell, a manager in the store. "But for the most part it's quiet."
In fact, for long stretches of overnight hours, the store is completely empty of customers. At 5:45 a.m., the first one in five hours wanders in.
Last week, workers broke up the downtime by taking a kayak to a nearby creek for a middle-of-the-night ride in snowy water.
Back at Macy's, 18-year-old Samantha King is holding a video camera while her five other friends dance in front of a full-length mirror. Home from college, the group is killing time and making a video. Two have already gotten makeovers at the Clinique counter.
"We're just running in and out of the aisles," King said. "You've got to keep moving or you'll fall asleep."
Scott Meyer, a 57-year-old health and safety consultant, isn't worried about that. He's more focused on the bracelets inside a jewelry case.
But he's not ready to buy.
Not tonight. Or this morning. Or even this afternoon.
"I'm just kind of getting an idea. I'm just doing some comparison shopping," he said. "I'll probably go to a local place and if I don't like what they have there, I'll come back here tomorrow night at 2 in the morning."
Leeann Roames, 53, plans to be back, too, even though she's been to the Macy's four times since Saturday. She's been shopping at the Woodfield Mall with her 16-year-old daughter, Elisabeth, since 6 p.m. and by 3 a.m. is long-past regretting her choice of high-heeled shoes.
They've been to Starbucks twice, and have trekked back to the car to unload bags. Now, Elisabeth has folded herself into a brown and cream Martha Stewart bedding display.
"It's just calling my name," she said.
Tom Reis, a district vice president for Macy's East division, roams the store's three floors, plucking trash from the floor and fixing toppled towers of BCBG sweaters that are 30 percent off.
He's cheery when he greets customers and says overnight business as been steady since the store opened at 6 a.m. on Saturday.
"I think there's always procrastinators, no matter what year it is," he said. "It's not going to change."