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Snowed under by the mobs at Stats’ post-yule sale

For those who celebrate Christmas, the days after always have a high hangover potential, literally and spiritually, and in L.A. it is perhaps a bit more striking than elsewhere.

Whether hauling out crumpled wrapping paper to the recycling bin or heading back to work, the first step into the post-Christmas morning is often characterized by a gasping squint and a hand raised reflexively to ward off ... what? The sun, perhaps, and the dry, warm wind, suddenly so much more Death Valley than Currier and Ives. But more likely it’s just the head-throbbing realization that the party’s over and that tree and those lights are not going to come down by themselves.

“Never again,” many of us think as we step gingerly over the Legos and Lite Brite bits to contemplate the forest of smudgy glassware, the towers of pots we left “to soak,” secretly hoping a cleanup commando of elves would arrive during the night. “Next year, we’re going to keep Christmas small. Next year, we’ll just go to a restaurant/a hotel/Nepal.”

So there is something heartening about the complete and utter insanity that is the annual Stats after-Christmas sale, which continues through Sunday. The home-decorating emporium opens at 5 a.m. on the 26th and, according to Eduardo Saucedo, who at 8 a.m. was cheerfully helping motorists navigate the Pasadena store’s parking lot, some people arrived at 2. In the morning.

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“I’ve been here since 4,” Saucedo says, ushering a silver Lexus into the next row over. “And it is just crazy. The people just come and come, and they come out with cartfuls, boxes and boxes. They spend, like, thousands of dollars.”

Which isn’t as hard as it sounds. The store’s inventory is all half-price, but a life-sized Nativity scene is still going to set you back even at a serious discount. There are 8-foot-tall snowmen and 6-foot Santas; there are 10-foot-high Christmas trees, flocked and nude, some with pulsing internal lights. There are fake fireplaces and disco balls. And then there’s the smaller stuff, the wreaths and garlands and white sparkly poinsettias, the ornaments, wrapping paper, ribbon and cookie plates, the yule logs and four-wick festive candles.

For many Angelenos this sale is a local tradition as firmly entrenched as the Rose Parade and requires the same sort of time commitment and stamina.

“I see a lot of people I recognize every year,” says Damon Stathatos, the general manager, “particularly in the earliest hours of the sale.”

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Stats is a family-run business -- Stathatos’ father, Dan, founded the Pasadena store (there are now five locations) in 1962. Two of Dan’s sons, a brother and a nephew work in the store and all of them, along with the rest of the staff and a bunch of folks hired just for the day, work the sale. So, ironically enough, Christmas in the Stathatos family is a bit brief and distracted. “It’s kind of hard to concentrate,” says Stathatos, “knowing what’s going to happen the next day. We try to make it an early evening, but it’s hard to get to sleep.”

Knowing that there are people sitting outside your store at 2 in the morning and all.

The early-bird customers, he says, are mostly after the big-ticket items -- this year, the staff unloaded three life-sized Nativity scenes, six 3-foot models and hundreds of artificial trees ranging from 2 feet tall to 27.

When you need a little Christmas or Easter or Thanksgiving, right this very minute, Stats is the place to go year-round, a veritable holiday in a box. Even in the middle of July, the smell of cinnamon and lavender hangs in the air. On this day, though, there’s too much movement inside for even a scent to hang around.

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As Johnny Mathis tries to turn back the clock 24 hours over the sound system, people push carts jammed with frosted fake fruit, multicultural angels and Santa dolls through the aisles, over toes and into one another’s backs. There is something decidedly Dec. 26 about seeing seven identical smiling Santas piled together like the aftermath of some yuletide frat party or being shoved in the derriere by a beaten-metal snowman and a heap of faux holly. Happy post-holiday.

But as difficult as it is to navigate a cart safely, parking it, even for a moment, is a mistake.

“Our cart was right here,” complains a woman remarkably like this columnist to a red-vested employee. “And now it’s gone. Gone. Did you see it? It had garland in it.”

With years of Stats training behind him, the young man keeps a perfectly straight face.

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“Lady,” he says gravely, “I’ve seen a lot of carts like that today.”

Perhaps in contrast to the frenzied festiveness of their surroundings, some of the faces in the crowd are slightly grim. “I’m giving this five more minutes,” says a man to a woman vacillating between holly and pine garland. “Five more minutes.” “Yeah, yeah,” she answers, as, no doubt, she has been answering for the last 20 years.

Another woman, with a cart full to overflowing and a plastic reindeer dragging its hoofs on the ground, is here without her husband’s knowledge or consent. “I don’t want him to know I’m spending so much money,” she said with a Lucy Ricardo grin. “But I had to replace my Nativity. He threw out the old one.”

She plans to put some of her new purchases up immediately, and not everyone else in the building is buying to stash away for next year. In Christian Orthodox tradition, Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 6, which guarantees never having to pay full price for anything.

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In the Christmas tree room, the winking, blinking heart of the beast, two staff members are carrying a 7-foot-tall Santa out through the crowd, which is both disconcerting -- Santa in full rigor mortis -- and awe-inspiring -- someone is actually buying a 7-foot-tall Santa.

“I really like Santas,” says Lynn Minidias, a lovely woman who, with her husband, Jim, looks perfectly normal, although they did drive all the way from Palmdale this morning and are now contemplating, albeit playfully, the purchase of a life-sized Nativity.

“We could always donate it to the church,” says Jim, “if it didn’t fit in our yard.”

Next to the Santa.

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“It’s the biggest Santa we have,” says Lynn of her purchase. “And it got a lot bigger on the way out to the car.”

It is a mostly female crowd, although there are a few families, including some of the most patient and best-behaved children on record. “I see the light of day,” one father says to his 8-year-old son as Mom finally heads for the cash register at about 9:30. “See, I told you it would end.”

Braver than most mortals, Jay and Christy Lewis have their three children, 2, 4 and 7, in tow and, miraculously, the sound of shattering glass does not follow in their wake.

“They’re used to this,” says Christy, who with her husband runs Lewis Events, which organizes corporate functions. “We drag them everywhere.” The two are perusing a display of musical instrument ornaments and wondering if they would work for a Mardi Gras party.

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“A lot of companies have holiday parties in January,” says Jay. “We’re trying to anticipate. We’re always trying to anticipate.”

New Year’s may explain the extraordinary popularity of the fake white poinsettias that are heaped in what seems like every cart.

“I think people like the glitter,” says Vickee, a cashier who got to work at 3:30 a.m. Are people buying big, despite all the pesky rumors about the economy? “Thousands of dollars,” she says. Some of the purchases are for institutions -- churches, hotels, offices -- and some are made by party planners, but most buyers, she says, are just people.

“I don’t know where they’re going to put all the stuff they buy,” she says, scanning her 50,000th ornament of the day. “How much Christmas do you need?”

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Just a little more than there is, it would seem. Which is almost always true, if you think about it. One could survey the scene at Stats on the day after Christmas and see consumerism run amok. Or one could take the season to heart and see courage, resolve and dogged joyfulness -- no matter how this year’s holiday went, or is going, next year’s will be better, brighter, even more fabulous and full of glitter.

And, after all, there are only 359 days to go.


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