Some Canadians who furiously stockpiled gas masks, generators and kerosene lamps fearing a Y2K disaster were clamouring to return the items yesterday after the much-ballyhooed date passed without incident.
"They're returning everything they bought," said Nicole Foley, who works at a Canadian Tire store in Halifax. "Propane, kerosene, flashlights, you name it."
The hoarding took place in the weeks leading up to the new year amid concerns about computer glitches causing power outages and sewage problems. But the calendar change produced no major headaches, and some consumers are miffed that their fear-fuelled purchases are non-returnable.
"They said, 'What am I going to do with it now?' " said Tom McMahon, manager of an Army Surplus store in Toronto.
However, he added, most customers understood the reasons for the no-return policy.
Some retailers, in anticipation of a frenzy of returns, emphatically warned that sales of emergency and survival goods were final. One store in St. Thomas, Ont., posted a notice stating that generators purchased after March 19, 1999, were non-returnable.
In Winnipeg, the assistant manager of Corydon Hardware had little sympathy for those wishing to return goods.
"They're out of luck," Rob Benson said. "It's something they took a chance to prepare for."
Still, some stores were giving full refunds, providing the items were unused and the customer had a receipt. Other outlets, which were expecting even more returns throughout the week, were assessing the deluge on a case-by-case basis.
"If a customer walks in with 100 litres of lamp oil, it's not going to be as easy to return," said Rick Davis, the manager of a Fredericton Home Hardware store.
Hardware and camping stores across Canada reported a rush on items ranging from bottled water and canned foods to generators and kerosene lamps as 1999 drew to a close.
"People were buying anything that had to do with survival," Mr. Davis said. "We had people coming in as early as June getting ready."
In Toronto, food bank officials urged people to donate their excess food stockpiled in case of a Y2K emergency. The food banks said that the kind of food people were collecting -- canned goods, rice and pasta -- were items they need the most. People can drop off food donations at fire stations in Toronto and Mississauga.
In the United States, Sears department stores were charging a 20-per-cent restocking fee on returned generators, which cost between $400 and $2,000 (U.S.).
"We started notifying customers when they started buying in early October with signs on the registers as well as notices on their receipts," Sears spokeswoman Peggy Palter said yesterday.