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Warm weather adds to holiday shoppers' optimism

Akhia Palmer and Velina Walker talk about their day after Christmas shopping downtown at Wabash & Madison. Friday, December 26, 2014 | Brian Jackson/ Sun-Times

A balmy 51-degree afternoon brought out crowds of gift exchangers, bargain hunters and holiday celebrants the day after Christmas on downtown State Street.

“We just got off after a long day and a busy holiday, and decided to treat ourselves,” Chris Holbert, a 25-year-old supervisor for United Parcel Service, said Friday morning as he hurried off to eat lunch with his wife.

UPS, together with rival FedEx, capped air-express deliveries earlier in the week so retailers wouldn’t exceed agreed-upon limits on last-minute Christmas deliveries and overload the delivery system as they did last year.

Holbert, of Englewood, said the UPS district that covers the greater Chicago area from Wrigleyville to the south suburbs enjoyed a 40 percent jump in business this Christmas compared with last year. He credited much of the increase to shoppers snapping up big discounts and deals on Cyber Monday, Dec. 1 — online retailers’ version of Black Friday.

Akhira Palmer, of Bronzeville, held up huge Macy’s bags as she showed off her Ralph Lauren pillows that were on sale for $7 apiece from the full price of $20, and her late gifts for family of Martha Stewart throw blankets, on sale for $23 from the full price of $60.

Next on the agenda was a trip to Victoria’s Secret to exchange a gift and do more shopping, though Palmer, a 31-year-old pre-school teacher, had no plans to blow her budget.

Velina Walker, Palmer’s sister-in-law and a 27-year-old Harold Washington College child development student, had exchanged a coat at Macy’s and spotted better bargains on Friday than on Black Friday.

“It’s busier” than in years past, Walker said as shoppers hurried past. “I see lots of different prices and deals.”

Indeed, Friday’s activities in Chicago reflected a nationwide confluence of events: Retailers offered more after-Christmas deals and new merchandise than in years past, while lower gasoline prices and brighter employment prospects gave consumers more confidence and money to spend. Earlier this week, the government reported the biggest jump in consumer spending in the July-to-September quarter in 11 years.

Hot sellers this holiday season included jewelry, housewares, the Apple iPhone 6, winter coats and boots, and toys from the movie “Frozen.”

Samantha Moreno, a 15-year-old student at Marine Leadership Academy, 1920 N. Hamlin, rushed out to take advantage of a sale on pots and pans that she intended to ship to her aunt “Tom” Tomasa in Morelos, Mexico, and to exchange shoes and jackets that she had received as gifts.

A regular day-after-the-holiday deal shopper, Moreno said she saw a greater variety of bargains this year.

Moreno’s purchases reflected a trend reported by retail consulting firm NPD Group: An uptick in the sale of everyday dinnerware, cookware, tea kettles and coffee makers, possibly reflecting growing new-home sales, lower mortgage rates and the popularity of at-home tea and coffee making.

Macy’s spokeswoman Andrea Schwartz said shoppers also were redeeming gift cards and staying trendy by buying new workout clothes and “bolder, bigger and brighter” jewelry.

Final numbers for the holidays won’t be out until January, but sales are forecast to grow. The National Retail Federation projected a 4.1 percent increase in overall sales from a year ago, to $616.9 billion, while ComScore estimated a 16 percent jump in online purchases from a year ago, to $61 billion.

A healthy global economy helped the holidays, too.

Ken and Roz Aung, visiting Chicago from Hong Kong, said they picked up deals on cosmetics and clothes while sightseeing.

The prices are a terrific discount from those in their homeland, said the couple — Ken, a 35-year-old airline ground staff worker and Roz, a 32-year-old handbag-business owner.