Shoppers hitting the stores during the holidays face a challenge that can make anyone feel like Scrooge — finding a parking place.
Snagging a spot this time of year is the Indy 500 of parking, a contest driven by competition, strategies and a desire to hit The Gap ASAP.
With Christmas less than three weeks away, shoppers are revved up.
So here's a look at the different models of holiday parkers, along with other parking fun, plus tips for staying safe:
1. Prowlers: Cruise the lot searching for a space close to the store entrance — even if it requires refueling before finding one.
On cold days, 40-year-old Lisa Schlotfeld of Omaha prowls because she doesn't want to trudge across windy parking lots.
“It's like you're at the North Pole.”
2. Hikers: Head straight for the outer reaches of the lot, figuring it's faster than hunting for a close spot, although it can mean what seems like a 3-mile hike to the entrance.
For Joe Jacoby, 32, of Omaha, this approach is the best way to shorten his overall shopping time.
“I want to get in and get out.”
3. Stalkers: Scan the lot for a shopper heading back to a car, then follow the person and snag the spot when the driver pulls out.
Morgan Dwyer, 26, of Omaha, looks for people carrying bags because she knows they're probably done for the day.
“It's a pretty safe bet.''
4. The Standoff: Ever encounter this holiday fun? Two drivers pull up to an open spot at the same time. Don't mess with that soccer mom in the Sienna hopped up on Starbucks.
When 30-year-old Andrea Tate of Omaha encounters this, she figures it's smarter not to battle over the spot.
“I'll let it go.''
5. Parking Lot Limbo: You drive down a row and see a person behind the wheel of a parked car, and wonder: Is the driver ready to pull out, or did he just pull in? Were those brake lights or back-up lights? Is there any place in the mall to buy wine?
Unless his wife is with him, 43-year-old Trent Wachner of Omaha will wait, hoping the driver is about to pull out. His wife prefers heading to the far reaches of the lot.
“I'll hear it from her, 'why are you waiting?' ”
6. The Grand Illusion: You spot from a distance what looks like an open parking space, but when you drive up you realize it's a handicap spot or there's a small car you couldn't see. You suddenly decide your brother-in-law doesn't deserve a new pair of pleated Dockers.
This parking mirage appears way too often to 17-year-old EmiLeigh Maloof of Omaha.
“You get all excited, (then) have to keep looking.”
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Avoiding Parking Lot Accidents
» Be extra careful backing out of a stall if your view is blocked by tall vehicles on either side. Consider asking a passenger step out and guide you.
» Look for brake lights and exhaust fumes for signs a driver is about to back out.
» Keep your eyes open for pedestrians.
» Lock your vehicle and stow valuables including your garage door opener out of view.
» Assume you're being watched. Criminals look for shoppers who take bags to their cars, and then head back into the store. If you need to stow bags while shopping, repark in a different spot before doing so.
» Have your car keys ready as you approach your car and look for anyone suspicious.
Sources: AAA and Consumer Reports