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Their arms heavy with near-bursting bags from Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Bodyworks, and Aeropostale, Heather and Bernie Grucza of East Aurora said – as they hauled their loads through the Walden Galleria mall this week – that there was no question they were spending more this holiday season.

“Because our kids want larger items,” Heather Grucza said with a shrug.

Despite the widespread damage caused by Superstorm Sandy and concerns over the “fiscal cliff,” shoppers across America appear to be spending a little bit more this holiday season. Which makes today – traditionally the busiest day of the shopping season – even more important.

According to the National Retail Federation, retail sales for November increased 0.8 percent over last year.

But the federation still is expecting this year’s sales to be 4.1 percent higher than in 2011.

“A successful Thanksgiving weekend for retailers and diminishing impacts in the Northeast due to Hurricane Sandy put retail sales back on track in November after tepid results in October,” Matthew Slay, president and CEO of the federation, said this week.

“Though negotiations in Washington over the fiscal cliff could affect consumer confidence and spending in December, overall we are optimistic we’ll see solid sales growth this holiday season,” he said.

“Stable employment rates, lower gasoline prices and a recovering housing market have all contributed to a holiday shopping season that is on target to meet our original expectations,” said Jack Kleinhenz, the retail federation’s chief economist.

“American consumers are expected to spend cautiously as they monitor the situation in Washington and wrap up their holiday shopping lists.” he said.

John Tranquilli, of Lancaster, who sipped coffee while his wife braved the preteen clothing store Justice at the Walden Galleria for gifts for their 5- and 12-year-old daughters, said he’s among those shelling out more bucks for holiday presents this year.

“We were a little more generous this year,” he said.

It all started with the younger daughter, a budding gymnast, asking for a trampoline, he said. That meant he and his wife would have to get comparable “big ticket” items for the older daughter and their 18-year-old son.

“I tried to make it fair,” he said.

Susan Spangler, of Fredonia, who watched her 5-year-old son, Jackson, clamber over coin-operated kiddie rides near Macy’s, said she and her wife, Rachel, are probably spending about the same amount of money they did last year. “We’ve sort of set a budget,” she said, and as of Wednesday, they were still on target.

One difference, she said, is that they have bought more “tickets to things,” made donations to charities and prepared homemade gifts. They’ve bought more online this year, too, she said.

Across the country, retailers are trying to salvage what has been a sluggish shopping season with a last-ditch effort during the final days before Christmas.

Shoppers should expect to see more “70 percent off” and “buy one, get one free” signs. Aeropostale has slashed prices on everything in its stores by 60 percent. Saks Fifth Avenue will reduce prices on some designer duds by as much as 60 percent, and the Children’s Place’s website is offering discounts up to 75 percent off.

At Eastern Hills, Mac Solutions Plus offered iPads for $150 off, and Giftology had 50 percent off Vera Bradley items.

“The merchants I have visited today are all very pleased with the season to date, but are expecting the icing on the cake to be this weekend, the way the holiday is falling,” said Russ Fulton, general manager of the mall, earlier this week.

Payday on Friday, a weekend off to shop before Christmas and possible snowfall to get shoppers in the mood could all factor into a nice finish for retailers, he believes.

“Sounds like the ‘perfect storm’ for a record-breaking holiday season to me,” Fulton said.

In the Elmwood Village this week, shoppers were busy seeking one-of-a-kind items at independent stores.

“Things have been going really well,” said Carly Battin, executive director of the Elmwood Village Association. “This year’s shop-local movements have really helped.”

Battin said the association’s members benefited from a series of promotions – Black Friday the day after Thanksgiving, followed by Small Business Saturday, then Boutique Crawl and Holiday Open House.

“These shopping events got the momentum going, and everybody’s been really busy since,” she said. “And we’re expecting that to continue into the next week.”

Tammie Busby, of Kenmore, who toted a bag filled with specialty candy from Globe Market, said she always spends more than she should during the holidays.

“I always splurge,” she said. “It’s the season.”

She said she’s found herself spending more on “really nice things” as opposed to buying lots of things on sale.

Darleen Zigich and her daughter, Deanna Donelson, of North Tonawanda enjoyed a rare day off of work together, doing some mother-daughter shopping. Zigich said she’ll be spending less this season, but her daughter, who recently got a job as a delivery truck driver, thinks she’ll spend more, thanks to being on the payroll.

“I have extra money to buy everyone a little something,” she said.

Shawn House, of Niagara Falls, who was browsing at the Everything Elmwood gift shop, said she will likely spend more this year, but not because she’s buying more presents.

“The prices of everything have gone up,” said House, who has done a combination of on-line, mall and independent store shopping this season.

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