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For retailers, big snow may be no biggie

ATLANTA - The snowstorm affecting our region put a damper on after-Christmas shopping up and down the East Coast yesterday.

ATLANTA - The snowstorm affecting our region put a damper on after-Christmas shopping up and down the East Coast yesterday.

But shoppers across the rest of the country scoured clearance racks and spent gift cards during the afterglow of the best holiday season for retailers since 2007.

Washington, D.C., was expecting 5 to 8 inches of snow yesterday.

Blizzard warnings were issued in New York and parts of New England.

Predictions called for 11 to 16 inches of snow in New York City.

"The forecast will tend to keep them at home; it's not the best day for shopping," said Scott A. Bernhardt, chief operating officer at weather research firm Planalytics.

Because the storm is after Christmas, the loss will be less significant than last year's snowstorm the Saturday before Christmas that buried much of the same area.

That one cost retailers about $2 billion.

This time, there's no Dec. 25 deadline.

"People will just wait a day to do exchanges and use their gift cards. It's no big deal," said Greg Maloney, CEO of the retail practice of Jones Lang LaSalle, which manages malls throughout the country.

He expects December revenue to grow 7 percent to 10 percent from last year.

Revenue rose 10 to 15 percent the week before Christmas, he said.

Strong sales this week would build on the highest-spending holiday season since 2007, which was a record year. Dec. 26-Jan. 1 makes up less than 10 percent of the Nov 1-Dec. 31 season but accounts for more than 15 percent of holiday spending, research firm ShopperTrak says.

The day after Christmas was the second-highest revenue day for retailers last year with $7.9 billion spent, according to ShopperTrak.

Shoppers were out before the snow at Roosevelt Field Mall on New York's Long Island, Wall Street Strategies analyst Brian Sozzi said.

"Traffic is pretty solid as people are getting returns done before the storm," he said.

Some stores were light on inventory. The Gap was missing many sizes of sweaters, and items from the Gap Body pajama and underwear collection were sold out.

Inventory at Guess and Macy's looked picked over, he said.

Lorraine McGrath, 54, wanted to pick up pajamas for her husband at J.C. Penney in New York yesterday morning. She was one of the first people in the store but couldn't find big-and-tall pajamas to fit her husband.

At Best Buy at Atlantic Center mall in Brooklyn, Marie Brown, visiting from Florida, was disappointed to find a laptop computer advertised at $200 off long gone.

"We should have come earlier, because what we wanted was totally sold out," she said. She bought another laptop at $60 off. "We still saved money."

Across the country, stores expanded their hours and in some cases brought in fresh merchandise.

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market research firm NPD Group, said that strong after-Christmas sales would be icing on the holiday cake for retailers.

"They came into December having made money," he said. "If December is prosperous, that will lead them to feel confident in 2011, and that's really what this last week is all about."