TAMPA — Day-after-Christmas sales arrived on a Saturday this year, offering weekday workers a chance to scoop up deals. But the crowds didn't compare to Black Friday. Local malls were busy, but not packed.
With little prospect of door-buster sales, shoppers trickled into area retailers throughout the day, returning gifts and looking for bargains.
The Morris family accomplished both at Tampa's International Plaza. Family members did some shopping and returned unwanted presents from a family gift exchange.
"There aren't any hurt feelings," said Mike Morris of South Tampa, who accompanied his two daughters, who were in town from college.
Maggie Morris, 21, exchanged a smaller wallet for a shiny red vinyl Kate Spade wallet. Emery Morris, 19, planned to grab gifts for friends.
They said they were surprised by the light crowds.
"It was more crowded last year," Maggie Morris said.
However, shoppers at the Prime Outlets mall in Ellenton had trouble finding parking spaces. At the Coach store, shoppers were lined up 40 people deep on Saturday afternoon.
Some other stores also required patience. At the 22nd Avenue N Best Buy in St. Petersburg, the return line was 30 deep by 10 a.m. The checkout line had about 50 people.
Terry Ruth, 64, stood in line, waiting to purchase a Samsung TV after scoping out deals online. After Best Buy, he planned to head to Costco. "I'm hoping to get a deal."
The week after Christmas is an important time for retailers. It can account for 10 to 15 percent of holiday sales, said Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.
"There's obviously a lot of people who come into stores to redeem their gift cards and use it as a time to stock up on holiday merchandise that has been marked down," she said. "Or they treat themselves to something nice."
Although data from this holiday season won't be released until mid January, the federation is predicting 2009 holiday sales to be 1 percent lower than 2008. That still amounts to $437.6 billion in sales.
At Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg, Carl Henthorn, 59, sought new work boots at Sears. He checked the prices. "I've seen better," he said while glancing at some steel-toed boots.
Henthorn, who works for Pinellas County, said he's trying to pay off some credit card debt he's accumulated through gift buying, so he was looking for cheaper essentials. "I don't think we're done with our economic problems," he said. "This is going to be a slow recovery."
Jamie Maloney, 57, walked into the mall and headed to Hallmark. Maloney, a Postal Service employee, said she normally has to work on Saturdays, so it was nice to be able to hunt for deals this year.
She didn't have anything particular she was shopping for because Christmas had been a success, she said. "Just looking for bargains," she said.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2443.