NEW YORK (AP) _ The Christmas shopping season headed into the home stretch Tuesday with many retailers across the country enjoying good sales despite storms that pummeled the Northeast and Pacific Northwest last week.

Storeowners generally reported that consumers seem more confident about shopping.

At Sears, Roebuck and Co., the holidays are going well, even with the foul weather. ''We're running ahead of our projections,'' spokesman Perry Chlan said.

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 across the nation based on purchases paid for by check, said business through Saturday was down 1.5 percent, primarily from the weather.

But retailers in areas affected by the weather expected to recover most of their lost 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 by the storms might have more pressing needs than Christmas shopping.

Retailers have entered the most critical part of the season, the last 10 days when most consumers are expected to shop. While the Thanksgiving weekend was a big success, stores are counting on these last days.

The Penney and Sears spokesmen reported sales up on all merchandise lines. Sears has reported good sales in more expensive categories like big appliances, a sign that consumers feel better about spending.

Another sign of heavy demand - and also lean supplies - is retailers selling out on popular items. Some consumers found catalog retailers Lands' End Inc. and L.L. Bean Inc. out of or back-ordering some items. Some popular merchandise was also in short supply at toy stores.

Still, retailers are leaving little to chance and have tried to devise innovative ways to get shoppers into the stores.

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

Some merchants, like 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. of any order.

Several national book chains have opened large stores in Chicago, forcing Kroch's to pay closer attention to customer needs, Rickman said.

''We're looking for any kind of service edge we could provide,'' he said.

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 babysitting.

At this point in the season, it comes down to customer service, Schenck said. ''You're too late in the game to invent a new wheel.''

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.

Others are using ''sale'' signs out of necessity. Gertrude Kujala, owner of Scandia House, a gift store in Sherman Oaks, Calif., said this season was her slowest in 28 years. She put some items on sale in hopes of attracting more customers.

''High-priced items such as Scandinavian crystal is not selling very well,'' she said. ''So many people are out of work this year.''