FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
The local retail sector expects cheery sales this season. The Pearlridge Express train, above, rolls at Pearlridge Mall Uptown.
Dashing through the shops
Oahu malls say holiday sales appear to be growing strong this year
The hard numbers won't be in for a while, but isle mall officials are upbeat about the 2005 holiday shopping season so far.
Nationwide, retailers' sales rose 3.2 percent in the second week of December versus the same period last year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Sales were up 3.5 percent during the same week last year.
Locally, mall executives did not have figures for the specific week, but all are positive about sales trends.
"I've spoken with some of the merchants in my daily travels and all of them that I've spoken to have said their sales are up," said Fred Paine, general manager at Pearlridge Center.
While Paine hasn't "gotten anything scientific," he said he anticipates sales will be 4 percent or 5 percent higher than last year.
Ala Moana Center officials projected slightly larger numbers for the season.
"We are looking to do mid-single-digit increases over last year, about 6 or 7 percent," said Sharon James, regional vice president of marketing at Ala Moana Center.
On an annual basis, Ala Moana Center expects more than $1 billion in sales -- on par with its performance last year, which was the first year since 1995 that the center reached that rarefied air.
Sales at Ala Moana Center softened in the second week of December, compared with the high volume right after Thanksgiving, "but it's picking up again," James said.
Certain categories, such as apparel, are showing marked improvement in sales over last year at Windward Mall, said General Manager Jonathan Kim.
At Wet Seal, Local Motion and Town & Country Surf Shop, sales are up by double digits over last year. National skate- and surf-wear retailer Pac Sun doesn't have a year-over-year comparison since it opened over the summer, but its sales are double-digits beyond expectations, said Kim Person, marketing manager.
No category is struggling, according to Kim, but traditionally jewelry sales will pick up as Christmas draws nearer.
Often, "men don't buy for their significant other until the last week before Christmas," he said.
"It isn't that they haven't given it any thought, but you can't go wrong with a piece of jewelry. It's quality, it costs a lot of money, and you know ..."
"It's always appreciated," Person said, finishing Kim's sentence.
Officials at Waikele Premium Outlets are also looking forward to receiving hard numbers from tenants, but "we are pleased with our traffic for this holiday season. We're noticing happy customers, a lot of energy and a lot of shopping bags!" said Conchita Malaqui, assistant general manager.
The center is cautiously optimistic sales will surpass last year's, bolstered in part by strong visitor traffic as well as increased spending by kamaaina.
Spoiler alert for parents of small children: Don't let them read over your shoulder any further.
Other indications of retail spending growth come from seasonal extras at the mall, such as train rides and pictures with Santa.
At Pearlridge, train rides are $3 and the photo package is $20.
Last year, Pearlridge's Christmas train carried 23,000 keiki and this year ridership is up 9 percent, Paine said.
Dollar volume also is up for Pearlridge's pictures with Santa package, caused in part by a slight price increase over last year.
However, Paine said: "Our Santa, well, he is the most amazing Santa I have ever seen. He has a real beard. He is the real thing. And we only have one. He's here 12 hours a day, seven days a week," though he occasionally has to go out and feed the reindeer.
The Santa, Billy Eugene Gooch, "comes here with Mrs. Claus" from a Colorado home base where the retiree rounds up natural bearded Santas and farms them out for the season. He's the boss, so he gets the Hawaii gig.
Last year, Ala Moana Center saw a 9 percent increase in pictures with Santa, due in part to its "Christmas Gift of Aloha" marketing program, for which it won an International Council of Shopping Centers marketing award.
National retail analysts expect increased discounts and promotions as the time for shopping dwindles.
Bryan Keane, an analyst at New York-based U.S. Trust Corp., whose $107 billion in assets include shares of Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., observed, "The question is not so much if the sales come through, but what are the margins going to be?"
Bloomberg News contributed to this report.