By Dean Sensui, Star-Bulletin
Jennifer Davis, cashier at the Iwilei Kmart, accepts
payment from a customer this morning. The store's jewelry
counter had about 70 discount-happy customers waiting
shortly after the doors opened at 6 a.m.

Isle retailers are
‘pumped’ for holidays

Today kicks off crucial
Christmas shopping season

By Peter Wagner

Hawaii retailers have geared up for a green Christmas, hoping cash registers will light up like Rudolph's nose for the next four weeks.

The hopeful melee begins today, traditionally one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

"We're pumped, primed and ready to go," said Todd Clay, district manager at Kay-Bee Toy & Hobby Shop.

And no wonder. Retailing revenues through October totaled $13.16 billion, a 3 percent drop from $13.56 billion in the same period last year, according to the state Department of Taxation.

But some businesses, toy stores, books and music stores and the like are reporting good years despite Hawaii's slow economy and the $400 million spending drop.

"Toys have always been pretty resilient to economic ups and downs," Clay said. "I think it's because of Hawaii's love for children and people's desire to give something to somebody else."

Kay-Bee has tripled its staff at its 12 Hawaii stores for the expected yuletide rush, which accounts for 40 percent of the company's yearly sales. "People have been a bit cautious over the past two months but they're saving it up to spend on Christmas," Clay said.

At Borders Books & Music, employees were working through the night stocking shelves.

"We're anticipating a strong season," said JoAnn Lebiedzinski, general manager at the company's Honolulu store. "We have hired additional staff and have had extra people on for some time."

Lebiedzinski said "power shelving" at night frees employees to help customers find books and CDs. "What we're really focusing on is getting our merchandise on display right away."

Ward Center, meanwhile, is also optimistic that people will spend.

"We're looking for a very bright Christmas this year," said Valery O'Brien, managing director of marketing. "Our merchants are all geared up with lots of great stock, and a lot of great promotions are happening to bring people in to Victoria Ward centers."

But not everybody's shaking with glee. "Last Christmas was poor," said Harvey Kam, owner of the 25-year-old Ono Crack Seed in the Kamehameha Shopping Center. "I expect it to be the same this year."

Kam blames the bad economy and increasing competition from larger stores.

"Kids used to spend a dollar before. Now we're lucky if they've got a quarter."

At Tower Records's Kahala Mall store, general manager Roy Fukushima is hoping for a modest gain. "I don't think people will spend wildly, but maybe a little more than last year."

Fukushima said he's glad the store is located in a residential area that relies little on tourists.

"I'm sure the Waikiki merchants are worried about the Asian market fluctuating," he said.

At Temporary Help Service Inc., General Manager Tony Smith has seen little Christmas demand for temporary help this year.

"We haven't seen an upturn in the last two or three years during the Christmas season," he said. "Normally we have an increase in September and October because of freight that arrives. People just keep stating one thing: the economy."

Smith said companies are trying to keep expenses down by stretching their own employees to the limit. "Everybody seems optimistic, but deep down inside I think they'll be happy to have as much business as last year."

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