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Christmas' flip side

The holiday is a memory, but bargain hunters keep the shopping fever alive while others just begin to tidy up.

By LOGAN D. MABE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 29, 2002


NORTHDALE -- It was the day after Christmas but Mary Pearce of Lutz was just starting to hit her shopping stride.

Pearce was just one of dozens of shoppers trying to navigate the busy aisles of the Target store on N Dale Mabry Highway and Carrollwood Springs Boulevard. The big attraction: 50 percent off holiday gear.

"We've got Christmas decorations, candy, and little craft things, projects for the grandchildren to do next year," said Pearce, who was on her first postholiday buying binge. "I spent 30 years in retail, so I was always working on this day. I don't think it's as big this year as in the past. Maybe it's the sign of the times."

It probably is. Merchants across the country have been eager to clear shelves following the weakest holiday season in the past 30 years.

Despite better than expected after-Thanksgiving sales, customers have been reluctant to spend, with no standout must-haves and worries about the economy and jobs. The compressed season -- six days shorter than a year ago -- didn't help either.

Stores are counting more heavily this year on a spending frenzy during this last week of December, which traditionally accounts for about 10 percent of holiday sales, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. They're expecting consumers to redeem their gift certificates, and also pick up a few extra bargains.

They certainly were at Target, where more than a few shoppers struggled to push not one but two overflowing carts to their cars.

"It was extra busy, although we didn't get the initial crowd that we usually have lining up at 7 a.m. Probably because it was so cold," said Christine Casarez, Target's guest services manager. "Typically, you get a pretty long line of people outside, but (Thursday) we only had a small group. As it warmed up, we got some more shoppers."

"Their father will kill me if I buy them any more toys," said Nancy Ostrowski, as she and her daughters worked the kids department Friday morning. But she couldn't resist their imploring eyes and allowed them to pick out some small items.

Not everyone was in consumer mode, though. Business was brisk at the Goodwill Industries donation trailer in the parking lot of Wal-Mart at North Dale Mabry and Bearss Avenue.

"It's going to pick up because everyone wants their tax receipt" reflecting a charitable contribution, said Enrico Rossi, who works at the trailer six days a week. "So this is a good time of year for us. And this is the No. 1 location. People are rich up here and generous. A lot of the stuff is brand new with the tags still on it."

Ian Forrest of Carrollwood dropped off a truckload of household goods and was glad to be rid of them.

"Well it beats selling it and it will go to some people who need it," said Forrest, who didn't even bother with a tax receipt.

Next door at a Florida Blood Services bloodmobile, staffer Carol Hanks and four other nurses were waiting for a different sort of donor. "It's a nice gift, the gift of life," Hanks said. The bloodmobile is open at the Wal-Mart location every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The most visible sign of the deconstruction of the holiday season was at the curb, where mounds of garbage and Christmas detritus were beginning to amass. But homeowners whose normal pickup days were Wednesday were missing their normal service because crews were off on Christmas Day and will be again on New Year's Day. "They can put double the amount out on their next pick-up day," said Hillsborough County spokesman Steve Valdez, adding that crews will pick up old Christmas trees if they are cut into 4-foot sections.

Up until a few years ago, the county ran a program where Christmas trees could be taken to county parks to be shredded into mulch. "They'd trade Christmas trees for pine seedlings," said Bob Der, county forester with the Hillsborough Cooperative Extension Service. "I wish we had a good program to do that, but the Parks Department had to give it up."

-- Information from staff photographer Mike Pease and Times wire services was used in this report. Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 269-5304 or at mabe@sptimes.com.

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