- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2006

After a Christmas Day break, area residents yesterday resumed their favorite pastime — shopping.

But while malls, shopping centers and big-box stores were busy, customers and retailers said the Dec. 26 rush was a bit milder than in recent years, just like the rest of the Christmas season.

“I was anticipating some huge crowds and having to stay in line for a long time, but so far it looks pretty good,” said Michael Acree of Glendale, Ariz., who stopped by a Wal-Mart store on Russett Green East in Laurel yesterday morning to return an inflatable mattress.

Batra Manpreet, owner of L’Affaire Fashion Jewelry at the Mall at Prince Georges in Hyattsville, said she had only two customers by early afternoon yesterday.

“It was not a good Christmas at all,” said Mrs. Manpreet, who has owned a small kiosk at the mall for five years. “We were crying last year, but it was worse this year.”

With pre-Christmas sales falling short of expectations for many merchants, the retail industry is aiming for another shot at shoppers’ wallets in the coming days by slashing prices further and bringing in fresh merchandise.

They’re hoping that shoppers, armed with gift cards, will snap up discounted holiday goods as well as full-price merchandise over the next few weeks and thus salvage the season.

Shoppers were expected to buy $24.8 billion worth of gift cards, up 34 percent from last year, according to the National Retail Federation, a Washington trade group.

Normally, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day makes up 13 percent to 15 percent of the year’s holiday sales, said Patrice Duker, spokeswoman for International Council of Shopping Centers. Last year, the week accounted for 15.6 percent of the season’s sales.

Because Christmas fell on a Sunday last year, many people were off from work Dec. 26. But with the holiday falling on a Monday this year, more people had to return to work yesterday, causing sales predictions for the day to fall short of last year.

The day after Christmas “is very important for retailers this year because this year was slower than most. People had much more time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so they procrastinated their shopping a lot more,” Ms. Duker said.

Internet shopping has taken a bite out of in-person retail business. Amazon.com said yesterday that this holiday season was the best in the company’s 12-year history.

Amazon, which has operations in Britain, France, Germany, Japan and Canada, said it shipped items to more than 200 countries for the season, including 100,000 to U.S. military addresses overseas.

Consumer electronic stores, such as Best Buy and Circuit City, and department stores are showing continued strong sales through this week, said Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.

“We have no reason to think our prediction of a 5 percent sales increase over last Christmas will not happen,” she said.

But MasterCard Advisors said holiday retail sales rose 3 percent, less than the 5.2 percent increase in 2005. The data from the day after Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve are adjusted for an extra shopping day compared with last year.

Tysons Corner Center in McLean opened an hour early at 8 a.m. yesterday, with some stores, such as Macy’s, Lord & Taylor and Nordstrom opening at 7 a.m.

“This was a more conservative shopping season, but we’re expecting a very strong day,” said Donna Tallon, general manager of Bloomingdale’s. ‘After-Christmas sales are driven by customers that are searching for a bargain, they like the thrill of the chase.”

Bargain hunting brought Sandy Caughlin of Alexandria to Tysons Corner yesterday, specifically to shop at the upscale clothing store Brooks Brothers, which was offering some items for half-price. Customers who bought items before noon received an additional 15 percent discount.

“We like to get make a day of it every year,” Mrs. Caughlin said. “And the sales at the stores are great.”

Jenia and Milton Long of Upper Marlboro got a head start on buying Christmas decorations for next year at the Wal-Mart in Laurel.

Shopping “the day after Christmas is exciting,” Mrs. Long said. “It’s a tradition. I just try to plan for the next year.

Items Mrs. Long picked up for Christmas 2007 included a 5-foot-tall plastic Santa Claus, two smaller Santas and two small Christmas trees.

“But I think I might set [the big] Santa out this year,” Mrs. Long said. “I have a couple weeks left for the Christmas spirit.”

Mariah Burke, 15, of District Heights, received a $500 shopping spree as a Christmas gift. By 1 p.m. yesterday, she had much of it spent during a marathon outing at the Mall at Prince Georges.

“I prefer shopping after Christmas than getting presents on Christmas, because after Christmas you get everything you want and everything’s cheaper,” said Mariah, whose purchases included a Betty Boop bag. “So you say ‘I want this and this,’ and you usually get it and have money left over to go to the movies.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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