NEW YORK (AP) _ The Christmas shopping season entered the critical 10 days Tuesday with retailers across the nation enjoying good sales despite storms that pummeled the Northeast and Pacific Northwest last week.

Store owners reported consumers seem more confident about shopping.

''We're running ahead of our projections,'' said Perry Chlan, spokesman at Sears, Roebuck and Co.

At J.C. Penney Co. Inc., ''We're still looking for a pretty good Christmas,'' spokesman Duncan Muir said.

Wind and rain in the Northwest and flooding and snow in the Northeast left overall sales at Penney stores ''pretty much flat last week,'' Muir said. ''On the other hand, our catalog saw some increases ... some people stayed home and shopped.''

TeleCheck Services, which measures sales nationwide based on purchases by check, said business through Saturday was down 1.5 percent, primarily from the weather.

But retailers in storm areas expected to recover business.

''It's early enough in the season,'' said Jeffrey Feiner, an analyst with Merrill Lynch & Co. ''If it happened a week from now it would be worse.''

However, Jeffrey Steinberg, a retail consultant with Deloitte & Touche in Boston, noted that thousands of people whose homes were damaged would likely have more pressing needs than shopping.

Retailers have entered the critical part of the season, the last 10 days, when most consumers are expected to shop.

Retailers have devised innovative ways to lure shoppers.

For those offering markdowns - and these days, that's most storeowners - signs saying ''20 percent off'' won't necessarily do the trick. Customers need to feel they're really getting value for their money.

Some merchants, such as apparel retailer Brooks Fashions at Colonie Center Mall near Albany, N.Y., are offering ''Buy One, Get One Free.'' Shoppers buy two garments and get the less expensive item for nothing.

The Chicago-area bookstore chain Kroch's & Brentano's Inc. is running a home delivery service. President Bill Rickman said the company distributed flyers at high-rise apartments. The offer: Call before 5 p.m. and get home delivery by 10 p.m. on any order.

Lyle Schenck, manager of a J.C. Penney in Peoria, Ill., ran two ''Friends Nights'' in November in which store employees invited friends to shop on Sunday evenings when the store was closed to the public. The store provided a Santa Claus and baby-sitting.

At this point in the season, it comes down to customer service, Schenck said.

Some retailers aren't using markdowns. At Pilar, a gift shop in Corpus Christi, Texas, owner Ruth Josephs said, ''I think people don't even believe that a sale is a sale anymore.''

''Sometimes it's better to swim against the tide,'' she said.