Bargain hunters descend on malls after Christmas

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By 2 p.m., Mary Raviart was stretched out in one of those luxurious massage chairs at the mall while her 13-year-old granddaughter Madison texted away, waiting for Mom outside Ann Taylor Loft.

They'd been shopping at the Ross Park Mall since 6 a.m., when Macy's opened its door for the post-Christmas rush. Already the Raviarts had made two or three trips to the car to unload, and they weren't even close to calling it a day.

"We enjoy it," said Madison's mother, Kim, of Jeannette, who turned 47 on Thursday. "It's like 14, 16 hours of pure shopping."

Kim and her mother-in-law Mary, 68, have shopped there on Dec. 26 for the past 20 years, at least in part to celebrate her birthday.

On Thursday, she emerged from Loft -- where items were half-off storewide -- with jeans and a top for a cool $24. This year, Madison came along, too, and scored some deals of her own. Her $70 American Eagle gift card, she said, is now a mere $12.

Dec. 26 ranks just behind Black Friday and the weekend before Christmas in retail sales, with shoppers alighting on post-holiday deals and putting new gift cards to work. Lines at stores are long, experts say -- and not just at the returns counter, as stores have learned.

"The day after Christmas is a huge shopping bonanza," said Audrey Guskey, an associate professor of marketing at Duquesne University. "Lots of promotions, lots of bargains. I think stores were heavily promoting their after-Christmas sales even before Christmas."

Indeed, retailers may be counting on this post-Christmas surge to close out the year with a profit. Earlier this month, the National Retail Federation predicted holiday sales would grow by 3.9 percent this year, hitting an ambitious $602.1 billion.

"Today will end as one of the biggest days of the year for retailers, and we are still optimistic sales will increase 3.9 percent over last holiday season," National Retail Federation spokeswoman Kathy Grannis said in a statement.

At least locally, retail watchers say that hasn't been the case. Ms. Guskey has heard last-minute sales were down markedly over last year, leading to flat growth overall.

But stores came prepared. On Thursday, Macy's dusted off its "Week of Wonderful" for the second year in a row, targeting post-Christmas shoppers with deals and new merchandise. Calling the week after Christmas a "national vacation week," the department store bills the promotion as a chance for shoppers to get gifts "that may not have made it under the tree."

The crowd at Ross Park Thursday, while likely not the Black Friday crush, still was busy early afternoon, with long lines at some stores.

At Robinson, some shoppers noted crowds were noticeably thinner -- possibly because overnight snow made for slick roads that morning -- but picked up around noon, store employees said.

However deep the discounts, for many the day was more about the time spent with family than finding a good deal.

Jason Washington Jr., a 17-year-old Pittsburgh CAPA student from Elliott, was sitting on a bench around noon, patiently waiting outside Claire's at the Mall at Robinson for his sister and mom, who had the day off.

He had exchanged a few items and was planning to buy a new headset for his Xbox and maybe some shoes at Finish Line before day's end.

"It makes me happy to be able to come out with my family," he said.

Across the mall, Bruce Dunmyre, 64, his twins sons and his son-in-law sat four to a bench while they waited for his daughter and wife to return from Bath & Body Works.

This family actually shops together every few weeks and called the outings a bonding activity that brings them together from their homes in Sarver, Butler County, and Dormont.

Sure, Bruce's wife, Kathy, was still "out for the ultimate bargain" Thursday, but the family said they treasure time spent more than the greatest find.

As Mr. Dunmyre said: "You shop together, you stay together."

Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1944 or on Twitter @borntolede. Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497.


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