Stores packed after Christmas

Buying resumed as soon as Christmas was over as shoppers crowded the nation's stores, lured by the deep discounts retailers were offering to clear out excess holiday merchandise.

Many sought out bargains on items Santa didn't bring them, while others did late gift buying. Some even stretched their shopping budgets by using gift certificates.

''I know that I can get better deals after Christmas so that's when I do all my shopping,'' Paul Dillon said Sunday as he shopped at the Seminole Towne Center just north of Orlando.

''Everyone knows that's when I do it, so no one expects anything from me until after the after-Christmas sales.''

The buying binge in late December has helped retailers in prior years make up for disappointing sales before Christmas. In fact, shoppers did 11 percent of their buying after Christmas last year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, a New York-based trade group.

This year, however, many merchants won't have to rely as heavily on a surge in late December to achieve respectable sales since they've had a strong Christmas.

''So many stores have made their sales goals for the season already that this week is just icing on the cake,'' said Tom McCracken, general manager at the SunValley Shopping Center outside San Francisco, which had its best holiday season ever this year.

But retailers still would like those registers to keep jingling through the new year, and many hope their big end-of-season sales add to the bottom line.

Every big department store chain from Macy's to Sears to J.C. Penney offered clearance sales, as did some cybershops. America Online featured sale items from many of its 275 merchant partners, while eToys slashed prices on hundreds of toys, including Hot Wheels cars and Game Boy video games.

Mireille Suied saw the discounts advertised in her local newspaper and quickly dashed out of her house to get dibs on the goods at Filene's in Boston. Just after 7 a.m., she made her first purchase: a men's black turtleneck for $14.99, marked down from $32.

At the Jersey Gardens mall in Elizabeth, N.J., shoppers were seen eying the 50 percent off signs at the Nautica store and the two-for-one sale at Bath & Body Works.

''I bought a jacket for my daughter, and I'll probably spend another $150 on clothing because of the sales,'' said Susan Dubow, who made her first purchase of the day at Tommy Hilfiger.

With cold temperatures blanketing much of the country, many shoppers were grabbing up wool sweaters and pants, as well as heavy coats, scarves and gloves.

Sales were also brisk on millennium-related items, such as formal dresses, tuxedos and party decorations, and storeowners expected such merchandise would keep selling through New Year's Eve.

Some of the longest lines were spotted at stores clearing out Christmas-themed goods.

''I do a lot of my Christmas shopping now for the next year,'' said Glenna Bertoldi, as she waited at a Lord & Taylor store in Philadelphia to buy a dozen or so tree ornaments, wrapping paper and snow globes.

''The price is right, and it's pretty much the same thing as they put out again next year Besides, it's nice to be ahead.''

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