State

Modesto-area stores open early, but to few shoppers

Shoppers who hauled themselves out of bed the day after Christmas found light crowds and some good deals in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Vivian Galvan, 26, of Modesto found holiday lights, cards, tissue paper and gift wrap in her annual post-holiday trek to Wal-Mart.

She spent $125 for a cart full of supplies, "all on sale," she said.

Having less luck at Wal-Mart was Jennifer Lewis. Accompanied by daughters Riley, 4, and Allison, 2, Lewis was in search of a San Francisco 49ers sweat shirt for her husband.

"No luck here," she said. "We're going over to the other Wal-Mart."

Yolanda Cruz of Waterford spent Saturday morning completing her Christmas shopping at Vintage Faire Mall.

Cruz has family she doesn't see Christmas Day, so she waits to make sure she gets the best deals.

"We got up at 5, and we've been here since 6," Cruz said. "We're just shopping, looking for sales."

Cruz bought several gifts at Sears. "It's not crowded at all," she said.

In Turlock, J.C. Penney opened at 5 a.m. to a handful of shoppers. By 8, a small but steady stream of customers kept staff busy with returns and sales. Clerks said they expected the store to get more crowded later in the day.

A line of people waited in the cold outside the Target store in Turlock about a half-hour in advance of its 7 a.m. opening. That led to a busy Saturday morning for the nearby Starbucks.

Experts reported mixed crowds during the kickoff of the after-Christmas shopping period, which last year accounted for nearly 15 percent of holiday sales.

"They have plenty of time to make up for that little bit of lost momentum," NPD Group analyst Marshal Cohen said. "This is going to be a good day for retailers."

Retailers made a push to woo shoppers toting gift cards by slashing prices and advertising doorbuster deals often reserved for the day after Thanksgiving -- at some stores cutting prices on such clothing as pajamas, sweaters and ties before 1 p.m.

Thanks to the calendar, merchants have a whole weekend immediately after Christmas to entice shoppers. To help, retailers sent a barrage of e-mails: "Wasn't under the tree? Get it now at the Apple Store," read one from Apple Inc.

Wal-Mart was offering toys at halfprice, and Toys R Us touted buy one, get one offers. At Sears, customers could find coats for 70 percent off. Gap Inc.'s Old Navy brand was selling men's and women's jeans for $15, and an e-mail encouraged shoppers to "redeem your gift cards today."

Gift card sales are not recorded until shoppers redeem them.

Retailers received a much-needed last-minute sales surge in the final days before Dec. 25, fueled by shoppers who delayed buying, waited for bigger discounts that never came or were slowed by last weekend's big East Coast snowstorm.

Now they're counting on the days after Christmas to perk up overall holiday sales in a season that looks as if it's been modestly better than last year's disaster.

Forever 21 at the Modesto mall was doing a brisk business Saturday, mostly with gift card recipients interested in spending.

Kate McGarry brought back a pair of shoes her mother bought her. She liked the shoes, but not the security tag that was left on them.

McGarry and her friend Amber Kolfun, both 19, hit the mall Saturday morning looking for calendars and clothes. The Modesto Junior College students said they had some money from grandparents -- and moms -- to spend.

Over at Kohl's in Modesto, Kellie Kenyon said she waited only five minutes to return a pair of pants.

"There's nobody here," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or 578-2343.

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