Despite weather, Bel Air bargain hunting, gift returns go on Wednesday

Icky winter weather probably helped keep the traditional post-Christmas shopping rush pretty tolerable in the Bel Air area Wednesday.

With snow, then sleet, covering the roads during the morning, the day-after shopping and gift return scene seemed less frenzied than usual.

For the second year, many Harford County shopping destinations said they had fewer people making post-Christmas returns than expected, although general foot traffic still seemed relatively brisk in many businesses.

A steady flow of shoppers passed through the Harford Mall Wednesday morning, and stores had plenty of signs advertising clearance sales or deep discounts on clothes and other merchandise.

Shoppers like Anne Sedney, a San Diego resident who used to live in Bel Air and was visiting for the holiday, said there were good bargains, but she saw no major rush of people eager to make returns.

Sedney had gone to Macy's at the mall specifically to return "one awful nightie" from her grandmother.

"I don't think I have ever gone shopping the day after Christmas," she said from outside T.J.Maxx, in Tollgate Marketplace across Route 1 from the mall, adding she did not end up buying anything this time.

Nevertheless, Sedney said she thought Dec. 26 might be a good time to avoid mark-ups and "check out the stores."

"It wasn't too crowded, possibly because of the weather," she added.

Though she had yet to buy anything, Kimberly Hoopes, of Forest Hill, agreed the weather may have played a part in holding down the rush of shoppers.

"Today it wasn't that bad," Hoopes said about the shopping experience.

Employees in several Harford Mall stores declined to give their names or be associated with the store's name, citing corporate policy, but most said the number of gift returns had been fewer than they expected.

One store manager said the morning is usually the peak time for business and the store normally gets 20 percent of its daily transactions in returns between 10 and 11 a.m.

At 11 a.m., however, she had not logged one return.

"Probably the weather is keeping people from coming out," she guessed.

An employee at a clothing store also said the business had been open since 7 a.m. but had yet to see any significant returns.

Some people were coming in, however, for more targeted shopping, she explained.

"One person came because she knew exactly what she wanted," the employee said.

Mall corridors and check-out lines at places like New York & Company and Sears nevertheless seemed fairly busy on what is typically an even busier, post-Christmas shopping day.

Larger stores had decent lines at the return sections, as well, but employees seemed prepared for it.

Shopping information from many chains like h.h. gregg and T.J. Maxx was hard to find, as employees there directed all inquiries to their corporate headquarters.

Target in Bel Air likewise did not have any manager available to talk.

Rosalie, an assistant manager at Walmart in Abingdon, who declined to give her last name, said the customer turnout had not been too heavy. She was standing next to a line of about 10 people in front of the returns counter at about 12:30 p.m.

"Actually, I have seen it worse," she said. "I haven't seen any issues."

By noon, freezing rain was making the Walmart parking lot a little icy. But Rosalie did not think the post-Christmas wintry mix was really stopping Walmart's shoppers.

"Weather doesn't keep people away. They love coming out and getting in the spirit of the holidays," she said.

Last year seemed to be almost the same scenario, although there was plenty of sunshine the day after Christmas in 2011. Shoppers were out and about, but businesses then also had reported a "very, very quiet morning" for gift returns.

And this year, like last and the year before, most of the Bel Air area store personnel were hoping Dec. 26 would be just the start of a busy post-Christmas shopping week.

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