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Staff photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Dec 26, 2010 Steve Williams, left, and his son John Williams exchange a television set at the Costco store on Cloud Springs Road on Sunday afternoon. Costco employee Laneasha Sanders helps them while Michael Stamps, at right, handles the television.

Some people didn't get the right size, others hated the color and dozens came armed with gift cards, but J.C. Penney and Co. sales manager Matthew Jackson had a single mantra to handle all customers.

"We're helping them find what they prefer, no matter what they got for Christmas," he said.

He kept talking, but his walkie-talkie squawked.

"Hold on a sec," he said before darting toward a red store phone.

The squawk was a frequent interruption for retail managers Sunday afternoon, the day after Chattanooga's first white Christmas since 1969.

In step with holiday deals and economic realities, many Chattanooga shoppers haggled with cashiers to ensure they weren't paying too much for something marked a few dollars cheaper.

Along the East Coast of the U.S., a snowstorm put a damper on after-Christmas shopping, The Associated Press reported. But shoppers across the rest of the country searched clearance racks and spent gift cards in the afterglow of the best holiday season for retailers since 2007.

The week ending 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. Analysts say holiday season spending is on track to rise 3 percent to 4 percent, the best percentage increase since 2006, according to the AP.

The latest J.C. Penney retail conflict defused, Jackson hung up the phone and considered the lingering snow that served as a double-edged sword for department store leadership.

"It's crowded today, but you definitely wonder how crowded it would be if it was a sunny day," Jackson said. "On the other hand, we're not getting stuck with gloves and toboggans. Those are moving right out of here."

The manager said he liked the extra work -- most department stores opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 9.

"I just have to make sure my cashiers are getting a good break -- not passing out at the cash register," Jackson said with a laugh.

A few shoppers said they were returning gifts, but none wanted to speak on the record for fear of offending family and friends.

"When I was younger I faked it, but now that I'm older I just take it back," said Lacey Blake, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student majoring in interior design. "I didn't need to do that this year."

Mike Wilson was the same way, walking around J.C. Penney "more or less looking for a bargain."

"The coolest thing I got this Christmas, more or less, was the weather," he said. "I had a great day with my grandkids yesterday, pulling them on the sled with my tractor. Shopping's just something to do today."

Weather factor

Farther south in Fort Oglethorpe, things were "completely dead," according to Costco assistant manager Jay Runion.

"At my old store, Costco in northern Virginia, we'd have four registers up with lines out the door," he said. "It's got to be the weather."

Runion said he hoped temperatures will reach the 60s by the end of the week as meteorologists say they will. He anticipates a wide spectrum of returns, considering Costco's variety of wholesale items.

"We'll get TVs of course; that's always a big one," he said. "And we'll get blenders back, stuff like that. I guess anything can be a Christmas gift if you make it that way."

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