Santa Claus had left the building, but the Stratemeyer family of Dundalk was picking up where he left off Monday morning, planning a day of many stops to return or exchange bags of items that weren't quite right. This visit to Towson Town Center was just the start.
"We always return a lot," said Brenda Stratemeyer, who showed up with her husband and two daughters just about when the mall opened, at 8 a.m., the first of what could be four or five destinations: Towson Town Center, Target, Kohl's and the Coach outlet in either Queenstown or Lancaster, Pa., or possibly both. Depends on how it all goes.
Stratemeyer said she had heard Kohl's in Timonium was to have opened at 5 a.m., but there's a limit to the madness.
"There's no way we were going to get out there by 5," said her husband, Todd.
They were four among many on a morning when it might seem people would be taking a break from the retail experience. But with the returners and exchangers, gift card redeemers and bargain hunters, the day after Christmas is "generally a very busy day," said Charles P. Crerand, the mall's senior general manager. It's no Black Friday, and not in the top five days of the year, but busy.
Santa's big, green velvet chair with gold piping sat empty on a red carpet circle on the ground-floor atrium, surrounded by Christmas trees and two golden reindeer towering above it all. Lights were on in the trees and in streaming cascades, but no one was home at the spot where countless children had their photos taken and made their wishes known.
Some wishes worked out, some didn't — as the returns crowd would suggest.
Caity Stratemeyer, a sophomore at the University of Delaware, and her sister, Courtney, a junior at Salisbury University, had shoes and clothing to return here — problems of both sizing and styling. Courtney said she's learned to make a good show when the gifts are opened.
"When I'm in front of my company I'll be generous and say 'Oh, great,'" she said.
John and Leslie Tunney of Towson appeared to be struggling with different matters, as they hustled down a mall concourse.
"The reason we're returning is it's excessive, we don't need it," said Leslie.
"She's a minimalist," said John, holding bags from Williams-Sonoma and Nordstrom with gifts he'd bought for Leslie, who started telling a story about leather pants and other "sexy stuff he gave to me in front of the kids."
But she was in a hurry to get on with the returns. There seemed to be one soup tureen too many in the household, and the black sweat outfit he bought for her was going back as well.
Tricia Grannell of Timonium was walking along the first-floor concourse dragging a white Crate & Barrel box behind her in a clear plastic bag. The heavy ceramic bowl was a fine gift from her nephew, but not quite what she needed. What she had in mind now was a new double boiler, as she burned hers on Saturday while making crab dip for a post-Ravens game gathering at her home.
"The dip was excellent," said Grannell, who served that along with steamed shrimp, pulled pork and cut up raw vegetables. Sadly, she left the double boiler on the stove too long and missed the burning smell in the melange of aromas of several things cooking at once.
Thinking she'd beat the crowd, she made it to Crate & Barrel by about 8:40 a.m., but the line had already formed for the post-Christmas sale, with doors opening at 9 o'clock. Grannell took a spot behind about 40 other people and waited.
At the front of the line were Gail James of Owings Mills and Mary Kriebel of Fallston. James had taken her spot by 7:30 a.m., Kriebel by 8 a.m., continuing their annual post-Christmas pilgrimage to Crate & Barrel.
"I always get the ginger cookies," said James, who would also be on the lookout for ornaments. "I do come out with a shopping bag," she said.
Kriebel was out for the cookies as well as some tea towels.
"It's wonderful," said Kriebel. "You can't find these prices during the year, and it's very good quality."
By the time the doors opened, the line was more than 80 strong inside, with about another 30 waiting outside.
"This is our Black Friday," said Rachael Eagan, the store manager. She said the day after Christmas sale has for years been the biggest day for the store in terms of numbers of customers streaming through. "Our customers know this is the day" for sales, with about half the merchandise in the store — mostly seasonal goods — discounted 50 percent to 75 percent.
Zoe Whiting and Sean Griffith picked up bargains a few doors down, at Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, where gift packages for men and women were discounted 50 percent. The couple from Charles Village dropped $450, enough to fill four shopping bags and one box.
Their shopping was done, and it wasn't even 9 a.m. What to do for the rest of the day?