Layaway plans back in fashion

  • Brian Cooper of Sonoma shops with his boys, Angel Tapia, 10 and Connor Cooper, 4, Thursday Nov. 3, 2011 at the Petaluma KMart. Cooper thought he may take advantage of the layaway program at the store to purchase Christmas gifts. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2011

Donna Santos got an early jump on her Christmas shopping this year, selecting gifts in October from Kmart.

She likes to plan ahead, but that's not the only reason Santos started her holiday shopping early.

"The way the economy is right now, it's pretty bad," said the 57-year-old Petaluma woman, who owns a cleaning business, Santos Janitorial.

So she's buying all of her Christmas gifts, one small shopping cart load at a time, on layaway.

"I've never had a credit card and I don't want one," Santos said. "I don't want to end up owing thousands of dollars."

Santos is one of a growing number of shoppers choosing to purchase items on layaway this holiday season. At the Kmart store in Petaluma, layaway shopping has increased 20 percent over the last year, said Steve Mills, general manager of the store.

"In these tough economic times, people need almost any avenue to get an edge on Christmas. I mean, I do it. I have five kids. I get a catalog, and they circle what they want, and I go shopping here," Mills said.

The concept of shopping for goods on layaway became popular during the Great Depression. Shoppers would make a down payment on an item like a couch or appliance, and then made steady payments, picking up the item when it was entirely paid off.

But participation in layaway programs faded in the 1990s, as access to credit cards grew and customers got a taste of instant gratification.

Now, with consumers feeling the impacts of the recession and banks placing more restrictions on credit, retailers are re-introducing layaway plans to satisfy customers' needs.

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