The slow brightening of the sky Saturday at the Smith Haven Mall was accompanied by the screech of seagulls, the clang of trash-bin covers being dropped - and the footsteps of shoppers out to seek bargains before things got too crowded.
"I'm looking for sales," said Maria Viterise, who said she lives nearby. "Because of the economic situation, you're better off doing it after Christmas."
"The stores were dead," Ken Ball said. "They didn't stock up a whole lot this year."
His wife said they were getting gifts, mostly housewares, for friends who are their age - he is 67, she is 57 - and that the presents are for next Christmas. "We got a really nice wreath with candles," she said.
The people working in the mall's stores were reluctant to talk about Christmas crowds or even say what time their shops opened up. "We follow the mall policy," said one young woman who declined to give her name.
But stores themselves proclaimed the theme of the day - "Sale!" In one wing of the mall, BCBGMAXAZRIA had a sign in its window that clothing was on sale for up to 50 percent off. Across the way, Gap was advertising up to 60 percent off.
The early morning crowd looked thin, and soon the recorded music switched to a holiday ballad that seemed a bid to draw in more shoppers - "Blue Christmas."
Meanwhile, at the Tanger Outlet Centers in Riverhead, Raymond Ramnarine of the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens was walking to the store with his two children, Nicholas, 3, and Rene, 2. The rest of his family already had gone ahead to look for bargains.
"The family is in from Trinidad and wanted to do some Christmas shopping," he said. "We want to get a lot of stuff."
In another part of the sprawling shopping center, Shakeal Huggins of Brooklyn was going from store to store, just looking for what struck his fancy.
"I'm getting some later Christmas gifts," he said.
Deana Jakubauskas of Ridgewood, Queens, said she had been shopping for about 2 1/2 hours.
"They have some good sales," she said, pointing to a shopping bag carrying her new Coach bag.
"I come here every year after Christmas," she explained.