Season very merry at malls


POSTED: Wednesday, December 23, 2009

While snowstorms may have resulted in lost weekend sales for East Coast shopping centers, the malls in sunny Honolulu ushered in plenty of crowds.

“;It was fantastic,”; said Fred Paine, manager of Pearlridge Center. “;From what I'm hearing, merchants are extremely excited. People were spending almost like the good old days.”;

The parking lot at Pearlridge, Oahu's second-largest mall, was packed during the weekend, with all 7,000 spots filled, Paine said, with some cars even parking along the wall by the watercress farm along Kamehameha Highway. Merchants seemed upbeat, he said, and some were expecting higher sales than last year.

The National Retail Federation forecast a 1 percent decline in U.S. holiday sales this year compared to last year.

“;Retailers know the final lap counts the most and are planning to emphasize promotions and discounts to bring in last-minute shoppers,”; said Tracy Mullin, NRF president and chief executive officer. “;As Christmas Day creeps closer, retailers will be ready for an influx of procrastinators, from those who are checking the final names off their list to millions who haven't even started shopping.”;

Discount stores and department stores are expected to field the most holiday traffic this season, while electronic stores and clothing boutiques are also expected to do well.

But even local fine jewelry and arts stores are doing well this season.

Karon Chang, owner of Jeff Chang Pottery & Fine Crafts, which has boutiques at Pearlridge Center and Ward Centers, said sales were going well this year.

“;They're certainly not what they were a couple of years ago, but better than last year,”; said Chang. “;People are relaxing a little bit, and are not as fearful.”;

Part of the success may have to do with the gallery's ability to refocus its merchandise mix, she said — this year, it is offering more practical, less-expensive items like stoneware, rather than the more decorative and expensive arts items.

At Windward Mall, customers were flocking in not to escape the snow, but to watch flurries from the “;snow flurry tree,”; which come down every hour for 15 minutes at Center Court from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Windward Mall Manager Jonathan Kim says this holiday season is shaping up to be a good year. The mall's food court was packed over the weekend, and most of the 2,343 parking spots were full.

“;Somehow, I think when this time of the year comes around, although you're watching your purse strings, you want your grandchildren to have something under the tree,”; said Kim.

Kahala Mall has been drawing in customers with entertainment such as a performance from “;Stomp!,”; according to marketing manager Kelly Kauinana. A Tweetup on Saturday, which invited Tweeters to watch, was a hit.

The mall got a softer start, according to Kauinana, but picked up steam during the weekend. The mall, which is 100 percent occupied, was packed last weekend.

General Growth Properties, which owns Ala Moana Center, does not comment on retail sales, but appeared to be bustling.

Furlough Fridays have even provided an extra boost in shopping traffic this year, mall managers say.

Pearlridge Center offered free arts and crafts classes along with prizes and gift certificates to draw customers in on the first Furlough Friday. People have been coming in every since, according to Paine.

“;It's like Friday is the new Sunday now,”; said Paine. “;I noticed a lot of kids and teenagers, but also a lot of parents with kids going to the movie theater or lunch; also girls and moms spending the day shopping together.”;