Tracking the big bargains

In a holiday tradition, shoppers are drawn by the lure of post-Christmas savings Shoppers line up for low prices in a post-Christmas tradition


As on most Mondays, Alicia Cooper's three kids got up early, hit the showers and had a little breakfast before leaving their house in Cockeysville yesterday. Only this time, they weren't headed to school. Cooper was taking them to the mall.

"It's all about the deals," Cooper said at Towson Town Center, showing off a fabric Advent calendar complete with camels and other creatures secured with Velcro that she picked up for $5 - and which usually sells for $50. "It's kind of fun. We do this every year."

For some people, with Christmas finally over, the last place they want to see for a while is the inside of a store. But for others, Dec. 26 marks an entirely different kind of holiday tradition: bargain-hunting.

There was steady traffic in the malls yesterday. Some were there for the deep discounts or to spend the new gift cards already burning holes in their pockets. Others were there just because they had the day off and needed a place to walk off the turkey dinner from the day before. A few were returning or exchanging presents - but many said they would wait to do that when the crowds disappeared.

"It's generally a continuation of what has been a busy and long shopping season," said Richard Hastings, a Charlotte, N.C.-based analyst with the retail credit rating firm Bernard Sands. "The numbers won't come out for a while, but so far everything points to a good holiday retail season."

The mood inside the malls was mellow and festive - more so, it seemed, than in the frantic days before Christmas when many people were scrambling to fill their lists and figuring out just what to buy for their husband's aunt in Nebraska.

Erin Shipley, a Parkville physical therapist, has turned a morning trip to Crate & Barrel in the Towson Town Center into a post-Christmas ritual. She and her sister and her mother usually hit the store first thing - for half-price tea towels and place mats, table runners and trinkets. Yesterday, though, she was on her own as she waited in line before the store opened at 9 a.m., a line that stretched down the mall corridor. She then braved the crowds filing through the glass doors and the lines for the cash register that zig-zagged across the store.

"I had to represent my whole family," Shipley said as she made her way out with two shopping bags filled with $150 worth of items. "This is for all three of us. That's what I keep telling myself."

Donna Edwards, a nurse from Northeast Baltimore, was carrying three stuffed bags - inside each was evidence that this is a woman who plans ahead. Next Christmas, her home tree will be decked out in blue and silver and white - with ornaments she bought yesterday in those colors only. Some she bought for 50 percent off, others for 60 percent off - and she loved every last one of them.

She was exhausted from the build-up of the holiday season but figured she could finally sleep last night when she was finished checking out the sales. She had started shopping at 8 a.m. and was going strong as the morning slipped away. Her friends were meeting her for lunch. It was all they could muster.

"They got up too late," Edwards said. "I couldn't wait for them."

As lunchtime approached, the parking lots were filling up and so were the stores. The Apple computer store at Towson Town Center was packed with people buying accessories for their iPods and checking out the gadgets on display.

"It's ridiculous," said Kelly Steigerwald, a 19-year-old Lynchburg College student. "The line's practically out the door."

She was buying a contraption that will allow her to wear her iPod while jogging. She was also buying a skinny little iPod nano for her mother. "Me and my dad each got one and I think she felt left out," Steigerwald said. "I don't think we got her enough."

Trish Cerbelli took the whole scene in with a huge smile on her face. The graphic designer from Sparks had never dared go shopping on such a notoriously busy day. Besides, usually she had run out of money by the time Christmas had come and gone. But this year, she still had a few more gifts to buy since she isn't getting together with friends and family to exchange presents until later this week.

"I made a killing," she said giddily. She had already made one trip to the car to store packages and she was enjoying a cup of coffee. It wasn't even 10:30 a.m. She had scarves for her boyfriend, pots and pans, towels, sheets and "that's just the beginning."

"I'm just going to take advantage of every single sale," she said. "There's nothing better than saving money."

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