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Ringing up the returns; Parking lots jammed, lines are long for post-Christmas shopping ritual

The biggest challenge facing shoppers brave enough to head to Walden Galleria the day after Christmas appeared to be finding a parking spot.

Conditions were close to ideal for what is traditionally one of the year's biggest shopping days. Many people had the day off, the weather was decent, the sales enticing.

But it was everyone for himself or herself as drivers circled the parking lanes, the more desperate of them following patrons leaving the mall in the hopes of getting their spot.

As for the shopping?

Early on, it was manageable, though the crowds picked up as the day progressed.

"It's not as bad as the parking lot looked," shopper Max Radley, of Batavia, said early Monday afternoon as he left the mall. "It's just a lot of long lines."

Although retail returns are expected to hit historic levels this year, Radley, like many others interviewed, were not at the mall to return gift items as much as they were there to hit the sales. And while the crowds moved along fairly smoothly, by midday they were clearly increasing.

"When I got here this morning, it wasn't crowded," said Rosanne Braxton, of Buffalo. "Now, it's crowded. People are bumping into people. The sales are good, but it's too busy."

Braxton said the mood changed since last week.

"Before Christmas, you could see the Christmas spirit. Now it doesn't seem to be there."

The Walden Galleria manager on duty there Monday could not comment officially, but the mall clearly was hopping. Crowds streamed in and out of stores and restaurants, including the food court. Just walking through the concourse became more challenging as the day progressed.

Other factors may have contributed to the number of shoppers who headed out Monday. -- a company that buys returned merchandise from large retailers and then auctions it off to other stores -- told the Associated Press that return rates have more than doubled since the recession hit. At the McKinley Mall in Hamburg, a member of the security staff there said the mall was more crowded than normal.

"It's definitely busier," he said.

So why go through the hassle?

"I wanted to get it done," Christine Hughes, of Buffalo, said as she headed to the Walden Galleria parking lot.

Hughes, who was one of the patrons who returned Christmas presents, said people seemed pretty even-tempered as they waited in line. Many remained patient, in spite of the long lines. She waited longer than she anticipated after getting into the wrong one.

"They made me go to another line," she said. "It was more crowded than the first one."