Joel Gray and Paul Musinguzi are college buddies, 20-year-old juniors at Robert Morris University. On this day, they were majoring in thrift.
“We’re looking for bargains,” Gray said Thursday afternoon, as he shopped at Tanger Outlet Center with his mother, Tammy Gray, and Musinguzi. It was the first trip to the South Strabane center for each, and after only one hour and one stop – at Polo Ralph Lauren – they felt they had experienced Christmas for the second time in three days.
“I got two shirts for the price of one,” said Joel Gray, of Churchill, Allegheny County.
“I got a Polo Rugby, two Polo pants, Polo boots and a Polo T-shirt for $150,” said Musinguzi, a native of Uganda now living in Washington, D.C.
Tammy Gray, who said she was merely accompanying the guys, couldn’t resist the retail offerings and opened her wallet as well. “I bought a bracelet for me (for $19) and a dress shirt for my husband for $22. You can’t beat that.”
A cold, gray day became a Gray Day for the mother and son, as they and their friend joined thousands of others across Southwestern Pennsylvania in traveling to Tanger and other malls, shopping centers and bix-box outlets. They were sharing in the traditional yet-still-growing post-Christmas practice of seeking the countless bargains being offered, returning gifts, or both.
Locally, this usually is a frenzied event that begins the day after the holiday, but it was effectively crippled Wednesday by the blustery, wintry conditions in which the heavens unleashed everything but lemonade.
Karen Winkle was “looking for bargains and doing some exchanges” at Tanger Thursday. She got a bargain right off the top, as clothing is not subject to a 7 percent sales tax in Pennsylvania as it is in Ohio, her home state.
In Pittsburgh to visit her mother for the holiday, she was exchanging some gifts that had been purchased at a Tanger Outlets where she lives, Columbus. “It was something that didn’t fit or was the wrong color,” she said, while shopping with her mother, daughter and a niece. They had planned to shop the day before until the storms struck.
Alice May Bookout isn’t accustomed to such miserable weather, being from North Carolina. Yet, after driving her granddaughter from a relative’s home in Oakland, Md., to Pittsburgh International Airport, Bookout decided to stop at Tanger en route south.
“I was freezing to death,” she said. “I was looking at a long coat, and I got a real bargain. But I was not looking for a bargain. I was looking to be warm.”
Bookout paid $99.99 for a coat that originally cost $200 at Columbia Sportswear Co.
Rachel Nepomuceno, 18, of Jefferson Hills, said she and her sister, Kristen, 24, had planned to bargain-hunt at some point after Dec. 25.
“I wanted to spend some of my Christmas money,” said Rachel, a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh, adding that she shops occasionally at Tanger.
“We found a few bargains at Old Navy, Banana Republic and Gap.”
The arctic blasts Wednesday prevented most local residents from shopping anywhere but online or via cable. Bill Bigler of South Strabane did venture out, but only to purchase road salt in Strabane Square. Dawn Janovich of Houston and her daughters, Madison, 14, and Kate, 4, were there, too – to buy batteries for holiday presents, not to exchange anything or pursue deals.
“It took 20 minutes to get here,” Dawn said. “It’s terrible out. We may take a back way home.”
Twenty-four hours later, the conditions were more conducive to the actual final stages of Christmas shopping.