Shoppers make early return to stores in Tahoe, country |

Shoppers make early return to stores in Tahoe, country

Staff and wire reports

Merchants who spent the past few weeks hoping shoppers would splurge on gifts opened their doors Sunday with high hopes the same people would now spend on themselves.

Stores nationwide slashed prices even deeper to squeeze sales from what is winding up to be an unimpressive holiday season on the retail end.

At the Kmart store in South Lake Tahoe, the doors swung open at 6 a.m. with at least five shoppers already waiting to be among the first for the store’s deals.

“It’s a tradition. I come for the bargains,” said Barbara Horney of South Lake Tahoe, who brought her daughter-in-laws for the sale, which saw holiday goods marked down 50 percent.

In her cart there were gifts, ornaments and decorations – all for next year’s giving, she said.

“I arrived late for Christmas, and as soon I as got out of the car, my mom had me in the car to go shopping,” said Christina McClain-Horney.

Pat Peters of South Lake Tahoe was returning her Christmas gift – a space heater. She had gotten two on Saturday and she was returning the smaller one.

“This is the best day to shop because of all the bargains,” Peters said.

Kmart Store Manager Charlie Room reported brisk sales and returns at the Kmart store, with all lines full and several courtesy clerks on the floor directing customers.

“Everyone is out looking for the bargains and doing their exchanges,” Roome said. “It’s been extremely busy.”

Some stores, including J.C. Penney and Target, were encouraging customers to spend their gift cards immediately, since the sales are recorded only when the cards are redeemed.

“The holiday season will be told on how many gift cards get redeemed in the week after Christmas,” versus how many wait until January and February, said Ellen Tolley, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, which estimated $17.24 billion worth – or roughly 8 percent of holiday sales – will be sold in gift cards this season.

Eleswhere, crowds gathered at the Glendale Galleria mall northeast of Los Angeles by 8 a.m.

Hal Panabaker of Glendale, Calif., woke early to return gifts to several stores including the Gap, but he resisted the 50 percent off sale on many items.

“I had the most returns,” he said. “I’m an early riser, so this morning, it’s me and Starbucks.”

Merchants are finding themselves in the same position they were in last year, relying on the days just before Christmas and post-holiday sales to save the season.

Last year, a late spending surge gave retailers a better-than-expected holiday season, delivering solid gains over the previous year. In 2002, however, the last-minute boost before and after Christmas was not enough to overcome December’s earlier weakness.

The mid-to low-price stores, whose customers are more vulnerable to the economy’s woes and had pushed hard with discounts, further sweetened the deals on the day after Christmas, which was the third busiest day of the holiday shopping season last year.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. took an additional 20 percent off already reduced clothing. In addition, all televisions and home theater systems were on sale, and there was 50 percent off of all toys and 50 to 75 percent of all Christmas shop items.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. offered early bird specials on apparel.

Even luxury stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman, which have held back on price cutting amid strong sales, offered generous discounts of up to 70 percent. C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, believes that these cuts were unplanned and were an attempt to recoup what he believes was lost business last week.

But the luxury stores, and online shopping, have generally reported robust sales, although the full picture for the holiday shopping season will not be known until Jan. 6, when the nation’s retailers are slated to report their December sales figures.

In New York, shoppers waiting for Macy’s Herald Square store to open Sunday were hunting everything from clothes to discounted holiday items as the store offered savings of as much as 75 percent. But Raymond Freeman, from Manhattan, said he didn’t have anything specific in mind. He was getting his Christmas shopping done.

“I always wait until after (Christmas) to do shopping,” he said. “You get better deals.”

– Tribune city editor Jeff Munson contributed to this report

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