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Shoppers Bearing Gifts Return to Stores

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On Wednesday morning, many of the presents that had been neatly wrapped and waiting beneath the tree on Christmas Day were back where they came from--at stores and malls around Ventura County, as their recipients lined up for exchanges or refunds.

“It’s too big,” said Steve Murillo, 19, as he signed a receipt at the JC Penney store at the Buenaventura Mall to get a refund on a turquoise-and-black sweater, a gift from his grandmother.

“I haven’t seen her in a few years, so I guess she just analyzed my size in her mind,” said Murillo, of Oxnard. “I guess she thought I’d been taking steroids or something.”

Like Murillo, many of the customers who ventured to crowded shops with Christmas gifts in hand were looking for something that fit better, that they liked better, that they didn’t already have or that worked properly.

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Angela Gomez, 11, in a queue at Buenaventura’s Kay-Bee Toy and Hobby Shop, clutched a miniature electric guitar and microphone set. She said it didn’t work.

The other members of the Gomez family, who were waiting in the car for Angela, had already been to two or three stores to exchange gifts and would probably visit a few more, she said. “We’re taking everything back today that didn’t fit,” she sighed.

At a nearby Target store, Kathy Kiefer of Ventura stood in line for a $30 refund on a battery-operated train that she had bought for her 3-year-old son.

Kiefer said she and her husband had spent much of Christmas Eve trying to set up the train so that it would be choo-chooing around the tree when their son awoke on Christmas morning. The problem, she said, was that they could only get it to go the wrong way.

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“It just didn’t want to go forward,” shrugged Kiefer, 28. “Oh well, maybe next year.”

Cashiers, salesclerks and store managers, braced for the traditional day-after-Christmas refund rush, said exchanges started with a slow trickle early in the day and gained momentum.

At most large department stores, managers had set up special return and exchange centers to speed customers on their way, leaving other salespeople free to handle customers who came out for the other major post-Christmas retail event--sales.

Many stores were offering discounts of one-third to half off items from leather coats to candlesticks.

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“We usually wait till after Christmas to buy clothes,” said Mary Romero, 48, who was bargain-hunting at the Buenaventura Mall with her daughter Monica, 21, and son Robert, 11. She said her son is given cash instead of toys on Christmas Day, and then she takes him shopping the day after so he can choose what he wants--usually at a cheaper price than before Christmas.

At Target’s refund center, cashier supervisor Monica Banales said this year’s post-holiday crowds seemed sparser--and more polite--than last year. They were also more polite than in the days leading up to Christmas. “People get more tense before Christmas,” she said.

At Target, the store’s most unusual return this year was a live Christmas tree that a woman brought back before Christmas Day, said store manager Kerry Baichtal. The woman insisted that the tree “was talking to her, and she didn’t like what it was saying,” Baichtal said. “She was dead serious.”

“I didn’t go into any depth with her about what the tree was saying,” Baichtal said. The woman got her money back.

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