'Twas the day after Christmas, and nothing was stirring in the Gollogly house. Except Sandy Gollogly, who was up at 6 a.m. and getting ready to shop.
Before church, before Sunday football and way before the rest of her family and holiday guests rose from their rumpled beds, Gollogly, of Vienna, was hunting for bargains at Tysons Corner Center.
"I was feeling antsy," said Gollogly, who arrived at the mall yesterday just after 8 a.m., one of thousands of shoppers drawn by early store openings and deep discounts on all things Christmas.
Business at the mall, the region's largest, started strong and built throughout the day. Ted Priest, director of marketing and public relations at Tysons Corner Center, said that it was difficult to estimate the sales volume but that the day after Christmas is traditionally one of the busiest of the year.
Across the river in Maryland, it was an entirely different story.
Traffic was noticeably light. The dreaded mall stampedes were nowhere to be seen. Those who did head for the malls pondered the low turnout--with a smile.
"I'm surprised there's no traffic, no crowds. Maybe they're all at home, doing their Sunday things," said Jennifer Babb, 41, of Mitchellville, who bought a sofa on sale at Bloomingdale's at White Flint Mall in Rockville.
Retailers in the region are reporting strong holiday sales, but most won't have figures until after New Year's Day. At Tysons Corner, the largest concentration of retail space on the East Coast outside Manhattan, sales are expected to be 5 percent to 6 percent higher than last Christmas, Priest said.
"It's a strong economy, people are feeling good about low unemployment and a lot of big ticket items are selling," Priest said. The mall sold a record number of gift certificates this season, and many of those recipients showed up yesterday ready to buy, he said.
For some, shopping on the day after Christmas has become as much of a holiday tradition as eggnog or trimming the tree.
"They have the best deals the day after Christmas," said Tanya Chang, 32, of Fredericksburg, who waited outside the mall in the frosty air for its 7 a.m. opening with her sister-in-law and mother-in-law.
The three women, who left children and husbands at home, amassed seven shopping bags and a rectangular box by 9:30 a.m. They loaded the packages into the trunk of their Toyota Cressida before heading across the highway to Tysons II Galleria.
"We're on a mission," Chang said, explaining why the trio had little time to discuss its booty. "We have to go to the other mall and then get back to feed the men."
Shoppers scooped up cards, wrapping paper and ornaments, getting a jump start on next year even as this holiday season is barely over.
Jolana Jordan, 54, a school bus driver from Great Falls, waited patiently in a winding line to the cashier in Hecht's, her arms filled with her favorite brand of holiday potpourri and candles.
The $12 bag of Smell of Amaretto and Nog potpourri was reduced to $6, and Jordan clasped a newspaper coupon that would give her another 20 percent off. "I love this scent, and you can't beat this price," said Jordan, who roused her two daughters and dragged them with her to the mall at 8 a.m.
About 200 men, women and children were waiting in line when the English Trading Co. opened its doors at 9 a.m. Owner Jorge Baltazar said that despite strong sales, "we don't really make money today," because of the heavy discounts. "We just want to move the merchandise," he said. "It's better than having it sit on the shelves for another year."
Exchange lines in stores grew as the hours passed, with shoppers returning Christmas gifts that didn't fit or thrill.
Doris Dunleavy walked into Hecht's at 8 a.m. and exchanged one outfit for two blazers. "If you get here early, your sizes are still here because everything hasn't been picked over," said Dunleavy, a Massachusetts resident spending the holidays with family in Vienna.
She was accompanied to the mall by two generations of shoppers--her niece and great-nieces.
In Maryland, noon at White Flint Mall was a miracle after Christmas for many shoppers. The only crowds were at the movie theater. The normally buzzing food court was only one-third filled. Holiday favorite Borders Books & Music was no more crowded than on a typical Sunday.
The pleasantly surprised shoppers offered their own theories: Consumers buoyed by a strong economy didn't feel pressed to find bargains; people were saving their money to spend on New Year's partying; the fear of large crowds scared the large crowds away.
Gail Leverage, of Silver Spring, sipped coffee and declared the level of traffic "like a normal weekday."
Jim Yablonksy, 63, of Pittsburgh, was visiting his daughter in Poolesville for the holidays. The family was at White Flint for some last-minute shopping before heading home. As he held aloft his find of the day--a caramel apple purchased for half price--he wondered whether the stores offered their best sales before Christmas in order to compete for business.
"Stores are starting earlier," he said. "Times are good, in terms of jobs, and maybe people were just itching to spend their money," he said.
The crowds were sparse at the Mall in Columbia as well, which was surprising to Canadian transplant Johnny Chao, 23, who moved to Baltimore from Vancouver, B.C., four years ago. In Canada, the day after Christmas is called Boxing Day. Chao said the name was appropriate because Canadians pour into malls "boxing" each other out in search of good deals.
"It's much more crazy in Canada. People are literally pushing each other out of the way," Chao said. "Still, I want to see if all those mythical price-cuts you hear about are actually in effect today."
Among the more strategic bargain hunters in the Columbia mall was Kyle Clayton, 27, of Randallstown, Md., who sat impassively in front of Electronics Boutique as store workers slowly opened the gates to the store, a favorite among gamers. Clayton, knowing that computer users are a picky crowd, had a method to pick up some cheap games.
"We know there'll be a lot of returns," he said. "Those will be resold as 'pre-owned' merchandise. It's the only way you can really get a discount on electronics."
Some say that by the time Christmas arrives, they've had enough of malls and shopping.
But Petrina Murphy, 46, a retired Air Force worker who lives in Oakton, didn't want to stay away, as long as tinsel and fake snow were still draped around storefronts and the Muzak still featured "White Christmas."
"It rejuvenates me a little," Murphy said, juggling four large gold and silver boxes of half-price Christmas cards in the English Trading Co. at Tysons Corner. "It makes Christmas last longer."
CAPTION: Larry Dantzler, left, drove to Tysons Corner Center from Williamsburg for the after-Christmas sales. After he bought a tree, Capt. Rufus Porter, of McLean, asked him what he paid for it. The day after Christmas traditionally provides shoppers with deep discounts.
CAPTION: At Neiman Marcus in Tysons Corner Center, Sue Thompson, left, of Springfield, and others stock up on deeply discounted holiday items.