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Shoppers returning gifts tempted by retailers' year-end sales

Cherie Barnwell and her friend Lori Skiles went to WestShore Plaza in Tampa on Wednesday to return gifts.

The pair ended up staying at the mall longer than expected — for the deals.

Barnwell, 44, found $20 peacoats for her and her daughter in Old Navy.

"We didn't get enough for Christmas," joked Skiles, 46.

The day before Christmas is the busiest shopping day of the year, according to the Florida Retail Federation.

But the day after is just as important, experts say.

People flock to stores not only to return unwanted gifts, but to take advantage of year-end sales. That was true for several retailers and shopping malls across the Tampa Bay area on Wednesday.

Many stores, like Macy's, the Gap and Ann Taylor, offered sales on top of sales.

International Plaza in Tampa buzzed with shoppers moving at a post-Christmas pace: slower, with lists less "must do" and more "want to do."

A girl got a case for her new iPad. Three young boys clutching Christmas cash stood in line for gelato.

At the Old Navy at WestShore Plaza, shoppers standing in the winding checkout line clutched piles of sweaters and jeans.

Return lines at Tampa-area Dillard's and JCPenney stores were short. It was no different at the Stein Mart in St. Petersburg, which had a steady stream of customers by midafternoon.

Snowbird Bonnie Keding, 65, returned a stack of men's shirts to the store.

The retired schoolteacher, who comes south every fall from Michigan, bought the shirts, each featuring a tropical print, for her 68-year-old husband Ed, a retired GM worker.

He declared them too snug on Christmas.

"He likes those ones," Keding said, chuckling, "but he's not as small as he thought he was."

She planned to look for some replacement shirts later at a beach shop.

St. Petersburg artist Gloria Weinberger didn't bother to delay her shopping. She was at Stein Mart to return a sweater she bought for her boyfriend.

It didn't take her long to find the same one in a bigger size. But more than 30 minutes later, she still hadn't made it to the register.

A few of the new displays — many of them advertising sales of more than 50 percent off — proved to be more alluring.

Weinberger found her arms full of items: an extra sweater for her beau, a couple of tops for her adult daughter and a few T-shirts for herself.

"Here I am, the day after Christmas," she laughed. "Spending more money."

Back at WestShore, a steady stream of moviegoers headed toward the smell of fresh popcorn. A solid list of new movies offered a diversion on a rainy day.

Nearby, Santa's throne sat empty, the bearded man apparently not available to answer for his delivery errors.

By noon Wednesday, the Launay family had already dropped off one load of shopping bags at its car. Visiting from Stavanger, Norway, the family had planned to do its Christmas shopping in Florida this week.

"Everything is more expensive in Norway," said 16-year-old Matthieu Launay, "so we get it here."

Shoppers returning gifts tempted by retailers' year-end sales 12/26/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 11:09pm]
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