Isle holiday buyers
feast on bargains
Hawaii's retailers are hopingBy Peter Wagner
for a strong holiday shopping season
Hundreds of shoppers jockeyed for position as Kmart opened its Iwilei store at 6 a.m. today, some of them running up the aisles as the store quickly filled.
The early-risers were drawn by holiday bargains, including 25-inch color TVs for $219.99, jewelry marked down 70 percent and mountain bikes for $79.99.
One of the busiest shopping days of the year, the day after Thanksgiving generally is considered the start of the holiday shopping season. Many merchants here and across the nation will gauge their prospects for the five-week period by sales today and through the weekend.
Nationwide, holiday shoppers are expected to spend nearly $108 billion on their credit cards -- 11 percent more than last Christmas season -- driven by a strong U.S. economy, according to estimates from CardWeb.com Inc., which tracks the card industry. That's up from last year's $97.3 billion.
Helping fuel the rise are consumers flocking to the Internet, where credit cards account for four-fifths of all purchases. Holiday Web sales are predicted to double to $6 billion, said Jupiter Communications, which researches Internet commerce.
Then there's the vibrant U.S. economy, which grew 5.5 percent last quarter and shows unemployment at a 29-year low. That's got Americans confident enough to spend an average of $1,000 on gifts this year, according to various industry surveys.
At Kmart this morning, David Lafayette sat squarely in a plastic chair in front of the store's glass doors, the first to arrive at 3 a.m.
"They figured I'm crazy," said Lafayette, 52, who lives on a boat in the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor. "But there are only 10 bicycles (on sale), and I want one of them."
Lafayette was bleary-eyed but cheerful as the crowd began building behind him in the wee hours of the morning. "I was laying in bed this morning thinking, do I really want to do this?" he chuckled.
Nathalie Brant, a 65-year-old Waikiki resident, showed up at 4:45 a.m. determined to find some educational toys for her grandchildren.
"I've never done something like this before," she said, standing behind a shopping basket. "It's not my style. But I'm retired and I don't sleep so well in the morning anyway."
Kmart was not alone with its early hours today. Across town at Ala Moana Center, Kay-Bee Toy & Hobby Shop opened at 5:30 a.m., half an hour earlier than last year.
"It's pretty packed," said store manager Don Gregg. "It's moving faster than last year."
That's pretty fast, Gregg noted, considering the long lines that stretched out of the store last year. Half an hour after opening today, hundreds of customers were still lined up trying to get into the store, he said.
Kay-Bee hired extra staff and set up more cash registers to keep the merchandise moving. Among this year's big draws are Furby Babies and Pokemon games, Gregg said.
Hawaii retailers are starting the Christmas and Hanukkah shopping seasons on a relatively high note, enjoying a 2.6 percent increase in sales through September of this year. State Department of Taxation figures show total sales of $12.07 billion this year compared with $11.76 billion through September of last year. While modest, this year's gain represents a turnaround of 4.8 percentage points after a 2.2 percent drop in sales through September of last year.
Last year's Christmas season was disappointing for many merchants who hoped the holidays would make up some lost ground. December sales totaled $1.28 billion, a 16.6 percent drop from $1.53 billion the year before.
Continued economic woes in Asia contributed to the problem, analysts say, cutting tourism revenues to the state. But a strong mainland visitor market combined with increased real estate investment and some new construction have kindled some cautious optimism.
"The economy is recovering and we're on a positive track as far as retailing is concerned," said Dwight Yoshimura, senior vice president of General Growth Management of Hawaii, which manages Ala Moana. "We're very optimistic this year."
Other malls had their hands full this morning, as customers pressed in to shop.
"We're going like gang busters," said Nani Clark of the Windward Mall management office. With the exception of several stores that opened earlier, all shops in the mall opened at 8 a.m. The mall this year is offering valet parking for $1, a new touch to help shoppers find parking.
At Kahala Mall Shopping Center, parking was hard to find even before the mall opened at 9 a.m.
"So far it looks like we're going to be busier than last year," said Ron Yoda, Kahala Mall general manager.
Sports Authority on Ward Avenue opened at 6 a.m., the first time the store has opened before 9 a.m.
"We're surprised at how many people came by," said manager Yukio Yukawa. "They were waiting outside at 5:30 a.m. and were camped out at our Waikele store at 4:30 a.m. I guess people took off work to shop."
Waiting in the crowd outside Kmart this morning before the doors swung open was John Ng, a 59-year-old Palama resident who never went to bed last night.
"I went to a party last night," said Ng, who stopped by to pick up an ice chest marked down from $49 to $16.99.
Unlike many others, Ng was not armed with a shopping cart.
"It's the worst thing to get a wagon," he said. "You might bump into somebody. I just run."
Steven Ogata, 43, of Makiki was also among the pre-dawn hopefuls waiting outside the store.
"It's a three-step process," he said. "The first thing you've got to get past is getting into the store. Then there's paying for your stuff. After that, it's getting to your car and out of the parking lot. If you can get past them all, you're OK."
Louis Kaai, 79, of Kalihi Valley got up at the crack of dawn for two 20-pound bags of rice.
"I've got 42 great-grandchildren," he said. "I can't give them all presents."