NILES The retail holiday hustle isn't over until all the gift cards are maxed out and the return lines are unoccupied.
One such return line was occupied Wednesday by Kelly Masterson, who was less than pleased with a Christmas gift.
"What do you tell a 5-year-old? Santa's got sheisty elves?" said Masterson of Newton Falls, who was at the Super Kmart to return a Barbie Dreamhouse - or rather a box full of trash.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Margaret Thompson
Despite severe weather warnings, stores were somewhat busy Wednesday with returns and people using gift cards received for Christmas. Here, three lanes are roped off at Super Kmart on state Route 46 to handle refunds and exchanges.
She said she purchased a dollhouse for her daughter, but when she opened the box early Christmas Day to set it up, she found the box sealed with duct tape and full of garbage, packing foam and Tupperware plastic. She was the victim of an apparent theft.
According to Adrienne Steward, a supervisor who was working the aisle Masterson came to, she doesn't typically see odd returns like Masterson's. Steward called for the store's hardline manager, who covers the seasonal items, electronics and toys departments. After examining the box's contents - which were as Masterson described - and checking her receipt, the manager brought her a new dollhouse.
This is Steward's fourth year working at Kmart.
"I thought it would have been a lot more busy," she said.
Steward attributed lower numbers in returns to the weather and the fact that many customers were doing returns before Christmas.
Everything from Hurricane Sandy at the end of October to the presidential election to bad weather and an impending fiscal cliff have affected sales for the worse this season. Nationwide, the last week in December accounts for close to 15 percent of the month's sales.
As long as customers have their receipt and clothing tags, Steward said everything goes smoothly.
"It gets easier the more years you work," Patti Hudnell said as she wrapped up her shift on the return aisle.
Hudnell, of Niles, has been working at Kmart for 12 years.
"Actually it is pretty nice, considering the weather outside is frightful," she said.
Hudnell and the other clerks said most of the returns have been exchanges on clothing.
Nicole Hudak was at Kmart around 1 p.m. with her two sons and a nephew to exchange clothes for different sizes. She said she and the boys had been out since around 10:30 a.m. spending Christmas money and making returns. They had just came from the Eastwood Mall when Hudak got a call from her sister about the snowstorm, saying, "You all take care of business and come back here."
The weather didn't keep everyone from going to the mall complex to spend their gift cards and holiday cash.
Inside the Eastwood Mall, Shelley Myers and her family looked over a map of the building, deciding where to shop. The family had already visited several stores in the mall complex, including T.J. Maxx and Kohl's, to spend gift cards and Christmas cash.
"You might as well get it now," Myers said she told her children, "so you can stay all nestled inside."
Meanwhile, Andre Coleman with his daughter, Ameera Coleman, 4, both of Warren, waited outside of Forever 21 for his wife and two other daughters to finish up their shopping.
Coleman said the women are spending their holiday cash.
"They're going to come out successful," Coleman predicted.
Janet Stein of Sharon, Pa., and her granddaughter, Katarina Rodriques, 13, of Vienna, found their shopping trip successful.
"I have in mind what I am going to get before I go," Stein said.
The pair hit up several stores in the mall where Rodriques had gift cards, including Aeropostale, where Stein said Rodriques bought a coat for $12 that Rodriques' mother had previously purchased for $40.
Even with huge discounts being offered before Christmas, holiday sales have been their lowest this year since 2008. Retailers are aiming to increase revenue through sales and discounts. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity. Retailers can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during November and December.
Yet in light of the heavy snow, Ken Kollar, property manager of the Eastwood Mall, said they were considering closing the mall early on Wednesday. Kollar said the mall administration factors in the safety of customers and employees who are driving to the mall as well as the weather forecast.
"There are things out of our control," Kollar said about the weather.
He said in his long time working at the mall, it has only closed three times, twice in the same year about 12 years ago, and all on account of snow. Kollar said they sent snow plows out and at about 1 p.m., a few hours after the snow deluge began, a Facebook notice announced that the mall would remain open until 9 p.m., its normal closing hour.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.