On the day after Christmas, hundreds of families make the familiar trek to local department stores, looking to return gifts and get in on hot deals while the stores try to get rid of their Christmas inventory.

On the day after Christmas, hundreds of families make the familiar trek to local department stores, looking to return gifts and get in on hot deals while the stores try to get rid of their Christmas inventory.

"We try to hit the after-Christmas sales hard," said Amanda Thorpe, prowling the aisles of Fred Meyer for Christmas tree garlands, storage boxes and other odds and ends with Lexi, her 4-year-old daughter, in tow.

"I always go out the day after Christmas, because that's when it's cheaper. Everything is so expensive during the rest of the year."

While Thorpe was busy hunting for discounts and bargain deals, other shoppers took a more casual approach, such as Ian Van der Zwan, a student at Oregon State University.

"I've been sick," said Van der Zwan, cradling Bella, a 2-month-old black Labrador, as he walked through the entrance to Fred Meyer. "So I haven't been able to do any shopping ... I'm just going to be doing some browsing around. Just a few things; clothes and stuff."

Others were there to exchange Christmas gifts, or to pick up something Santa might have forgotten. That was the case for Tre Merrill.

"This is my camera," said Tre, 10, gesturing to his new high-definition Vivitar camcorder. "It came with things to put it in the TV and computer and stuff, but it needs a charger."

Tre plans to shoot a reenactment of the Vietnam War with several of his friends, one of whom has a computer with software to make special effects. Tre is also planning a cowboy movie with aliens and a swamp monster after production wraps up on the Vietnam piece.

The holiday business has been good for the department stores, many of which have been hit hard by the economic downturn.

"Our day-after business has been very good," said Sharon Hamilton, store director of the north Medford Fred Meyer. "It's a lot of fun — our customers this year have been a lot of fun."

Hamilton said that Fred Meyer traditionally does well during the holiday season and hired an extra 10 temporary employees back in October to help handle the holiday rush.

She said electronics are big sellers this year, especially Kindles, iPads and notebooks. Oregon Ducks merchandise also has been selling big.

Hamilton attributes part of the holiday surge to the Fred Meyer gas station built in August 2010. She said Fred Meyer members get a 10-cent discount at the pump if they spend more than $100 in a month at the store.

"Our fuel center has done a tremendous amount of business," she said.

"This year we sold so much of our Christmas merchandise before the holiday that we have very little in stock right now," Hamilton said. "Usually the next two weeks are very busy, and then in January we slack off."

Hamilton said Fred Meyer sees a lot of returns during those two weeks, as people come in to replace their unwanted or unusable Christmas gifts.

"The after-Christmas returns are always a challenge, though," she said. "Probably the people who are familiar with the process try to show up early."

Fred Meyer accepts all returns as long as customers have a receipt; those without receipts are given an in-store credit.

"Without a receipt, we offer the lowest 90-day price," she said. "Most people understand that if you don't have a receipt, you can't get a cash refund."

Most of the major department store discounts run through the end of the year.

Reach reporting intern Nils Holst at 541-776-4368 or email holstn@sou.edu.