Retailers are keeping their fingers crossed that a "Mega Monday" of brisk post-Christmas Day sales will lure shoppers endowed with holiday gift cards and bargain-hunters' attitudes.
Though final numbers won't be available for a few days, up to 60 percent more shoppers were expected to shop on Dec. 26 compared to last year, according to ShopperTrak.
At the Mall of America in Bloomington, parking ramps were jammed and people streamed into the building from overflow lots, some with bags of return items, others ready to spend.
Spokesman Dan Jasper predicted that more than 150,000 people would walk through the doors at the mall, outpacing last year's crowd of about 140,000. Even after an evening melee at the mall that involved groups of racing, screaming teenagers (see related story), shoppers were still flowing in.
"We've been waiting for the big sale after Christmas," said Dana Matykiewicz, 17, of West St. Paul. "We haven't been shopping in a while."
Her sister, Nicole, 15, sat outside Wet Seal surrounded by multiple bags that held such things as shoes she bought at Coach and a couple of summer skirts -- purchased at half off.
Last year, about 190 million people hit the nation's malls on Dec. 26, and spent about $5.7 billion dollars, according to ShopperTrak. This year, analysts expect Dec. 26 to be the third busiest shopping day, after Black Friday and Dec. 17.
A blizzard-free day as well as a turn of the calendar is expected to work in retailers' favor for a post-holiday boost.
The day after Christmas fell on a Monday for the first time in six years, providing retailers with a full day of store operations as well as a shopping day that didn't coincide with church or football.
In a year when online sales are expected to rise about 15 percent, many retailers, including Macy's and Target, opened their doors at 7 a.m. Monday, hoping extended hours would keep the cash register ringing.
At Crate & Barrel, known for its Dec. 26 deals on holiday clearance items, a line of early-bird shoppers snaked through the Galleria in Edina all the way to the Good Earth by 6:30 a.m., said Jill Noack, vice president and general manager. The parking lot stayed crowded through most of the day.
"Our tenants said there were plenty of bags coming out, so it wasn't all returns," Noak said.
Through Saturday, holiday sales at Galleria had increased in the "low double digits" compared to last year, she said.
The National Retail Federation predicts overall holiday sales to rise 3.8 percent over last year, boosting its original forecast of 2.8 percent.
This year may mark the return of consumers' urge to splurge on themselves, after years of penny-pinching. About 36 percent planned to shop for themselves on Dec. 26, according to an American Express survey.
Friends Rayna Meadows and Kayla Black, both 14, said they each spent about $120 on clothes and multiple bottles of Pink perfume from Victoria's Secret. It was the high school friends' first time out to the Mall of America on Dec. 26.
While taking a break at a fast food stand, both said they were eager to use their Christmas cash and gift cards at sales.
Joyce Thurow of Tomah, Wis., turned post-holiday shopping into a two-day vacation in the Twin Cities, starting at the Mall of America. She came to town with her daughter and two grandchildren, staying in a hotel that offered free shuttle rides to the mall.
"Just spending a little money on some odds and ends, looking for bargains," she said, with a bag resting at her feet. "Gotta keep the economy moving."
Granddaughter Keagan Cherrier, 9, had never been to the Mall of America. She was already wearing new tan boots she'd bought.
As for her first-time thoughts? "A lot of people."
Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335