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Yvonne Evans was looking for Peace in all the right places.

But when the Buffalo resident finally found the tiny tie-dyed bear at a kiosk in the Walden Galleria, she decided that $59.95 was too much to pay, even for a coveted member of the Beanie Babies collection.

Especially so the day after Christmas, when most merchants were slashing prices by 10 percent to 70 percent to make up for what analysts called ho-hum holiday sales. A booming U.S. economy and high consumer confidence had lifted the expectations of retailers. Some upbeat merchants had visions of 8 percent sales increases dancing in their heads, only to be left with a glut of inventory.

Bargain hunters converged on area malls and department stores early Friday, some hoping to snare post-Christmas deals, others looking to return merchandise.

Amherst resident Sue Stanley was already in the Boulevard Mall by 7:30 a.m. for the first of two buying excursions.

"We have six kids, so we do the shopping in shifts. I started out with two of them, then brought three other kids later in the morning. I think we'll do the shopping for the youngest one," said Ms. Stanley as she took a short breather in the Boulevard Mall food court.

For the Stanley clan, it was a "green" Christmas in more ways than one; each of the youngsters received between $70 and $100 from generous relatives.

Eight-year-old Amy managed to buy three pairs of shoes for about $15, less than half of what she might have spent had she bought the same merchandise a week earlier.

"She's a pretty smart shopper," her mom said with a wink.

Over at Walden Galleria, Cindy Westphal also was trying to get the most bang for her post-holiday buck. The Eden resident lost her job in June and had to take a new position at a substantial pay cut, prompting her to slash her Christmas budget by about 25 percent. She opted to do more of her shopping after the holidays, hoping to benefit from deep discounts. She wasn't alone.

"Lord & Taylor was packed by 7 a.m. Some people were walking around with three or four baskets, all of them crammed with Christmas ornaments and other stuff," she said.

But not everyone was on a buying binge. Jim Cansdale, 16, was at Champs Sports Goods, making a return that would put frowns on the faces of local hockey moguls.

"I'm returning this Buffalo Sabres jersey because I'm not much of a fan anymore," said Cansdale.

Local merchants offer radically different assessments of the holiday sales season. Angel Gac, a sales associate at Aeropstale, a Galleria clothing boutique, said sales have been brisk over the past month.

"Things started picking up right after Thanksgiving. The week before Christmas was excellent," Ms. Gac said.

But at another end of Walden Galleria, disappointed workers at Airbrush Artwork were boxing up clothing, murals and other screen-printed merchandise as they prepared to close the shop a week earlier than scheduled. Manager Kim Ceppaglia described sales as "terrible" and claimed she talked with several other Galleria merchants who concurred.

Airbrush Artwork operates out of a store at 4839 Union Road and opened a 1,000-square-foot outlet at the Galleria three months ago as an experiment.

"If sales had been good, we would have probably stayed here permanently. But it was a horrible season. We were promised golden hills by the mall people and it just didn't happen," Ms. Ceppaglia said.

James Soos, general manager at Walden Galleria, said it's too soon to give a sales post-mortem because most stores won't report figures until the end of the month.

"We're hearing mixed results. Some outlets were up quite a bit, while others were flat or even down. It's too close to call right now," Soos said.

But he said mall traffic from late November through Christmas Eve was up about 5 percent over the same period last year.

The holiday sales season at 11 area Kmart stores was described by district manager David Ward as "break-even" when compared to 1996. "Electronics was strong," he said. "In fact, it was probably our healthiest division. But apparel was on the light side."

Ward said the number of shoppers seeking refunds for merchandise has been "within reason."

Downtown, Michael Schmand, executive director of Buffalo Place, said he had talked with several business owners in Main Place Mall. "One store manager described it as a phenomenal season. And I've been told that Radio Shack also had a good year," he said.

At the Boulevard Mall, some kiosk workers could be heard Friday hawking buy-one-get-one-free offers on many items, while jewelry, apparel and electronics stores were also advertising big discounts.

Many shoppers were lugging around shopping bags filled with Christmas wrapping paper, greeting cards and Christmas lights.

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