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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Are you short on cash? Are your credit cards maxed out? Well, you might have another option if you want to go shopping. It's called layaway. That means you shop, then you make a small down payment on the purchase, but you don't pick up what you've purchased until you've paid in full. Stores have begun offering customers this retro way to pay, as NPR's Tovia Smith reports.
TOVIA SMITH: It's a notion that hasn't really been in vogue for decades, not since the days of sequined, satin shirts and "Saturday Night Fever."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE "SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER")
JOHN TRAVOLTA: (As Tony Manero) Hey, you guys do layaway?
Unidentified Actor: As long as it don't turn it into a 20-year mortgage.
TRAVOLTA: (As Tony Manero) All right, look, put me down for $5 for that blue shirt in the window. Hold it for me.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "STAYING ALIVE")
BEE GEES: (Singing) Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk, I'm a woman's man, no time for talk...
SMITH: Disco may be done for good, but layaway is making a comeback.
SHARON SILVANIC: This is fabulous, I love this. I'll come back tomorrow and do more. Yeah.
SMITH: When Sharon Silvanic, a 56-year-old mom and customer relations rep, came into this Sears in Saugus, Massachusetts, and saw the sign that for the first time in 30 years, Sears is offering layaway, she quickly scooped up more than $150 worth of gifts for everyone on her Christmas list and then some.
SILVANIC: My son's going to kill me because I love his old girlfriend and his new girlfriend, so I can get them both a jacket. And so I'm just thrilled. I'm absolutely thrilled.
SMITH: Silvanic says she has credit cards, but can't afford to pay their double-digit interest rates.
Unidentified Shop Assistant: Yes, your minimum deposit is 30.38.
SILVANIC: That's terrific, you know. That's what I mean.
SMITH: Layaway at Sears cost just a flat $5 plus the minimum deposit. Another layaway fan, Charlene Milagres(ph), an occupational therapist with three small kids, says she's too scared to use her credit cards right now.
CHARLENE MILAGRES: I'm living paycheck to paycheck, and I didn't want to have to pay the interest and, you know, pay the minimum payment for God knows how many months afterwards. I don't want to have that hanging over my head after Christmas.
(SOUNDBITE OF ANNOUNCEMENT)
NORRIS: So see your sales associate and say, this holiday I want my wishes on layaway.
SMITH: Sears is running a major marketing blitz around the resurrection of layaway, as are Kmart and some TJ Maxx and Marshall's stores. Boston College Professor Kathleen Seiders says it speaks to how desperate merchants are this year.
KATHLEEN SEIDERS: You can see that with the early discounting. I think retailers will do anything to get the merchandise out of the stores.
SMITH: But while many shoppers will dig it, layaway is not for everyone.
ANDY DIMITRI: I've never done that. I've never heard of it.
SMITH: Andy Dimitri is a pianist in Boston.
DIMITRI: If I want to buy something, I just want to have it. You know, I just want to buy it rather than wait for like a month or two and then, you know, I'd rather do a credit card.
SMITH: Instant gratification.
DIMITRI: I guess.
SILVANICK: And I'm signing, again.
Unidentified Woman: Yeah, right there. Yeah, buyer's signature.
SMITH: Indeed, patience is a must when you are doing layaway. Don't try it if you are in a hurry.
NORRIS: Bear with me. I am sorry. Oh, here it is, I lost it. That's the store file one. Good Lord. Help me, Lord.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SMITH: But like any fashion throwback, layaway is beginning to update itself.
MICHAEL BILELLO: We put an "e" in front of it, and we call it e-layaway. And it's fast, it's secure, it's automated.
SMITH: Michael Bilello of e-Layaway says his business will be 10 times last Christmas. Shoppers online or at stores like The Gap and Brookstone can pay a fee of just under two percent of their purchases, and their stuff will be shipped as soon as they're paid up. But wait, there's more. E-layaway is also offering layaway on everything from tickets to a football game to some health care. So Bilello says soon you can layaway your braces or hair transplants. Talk about updating retro. Tovia Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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