Monday, December 27, 1999

Isle retailers get
holiday bonu$

Merchants predict increases
from 5 percent all the way to
double-digit over last year

Shoppers were out in force

By Russ Lynch


Hawaii retailers say strong after-Christmas sales have them on target for a good year, certainly better than a weak 1998.

Just how much better, they won't say until the numbers are added up after year-end.

But they're happy with what they've seen and looking forward to a strong January.

"I scanned a couple of malls myself (yesterday) and it was busy, busy, busy," Jan Berman, president of the retailers' trade association, Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said today. "I got a general up feeling."

Ala Moana Center merchants were among those working hard yesterday.

"We had very good traffic levels the day after Christmas," said Dexter Suzuki, marketing director General Growth Partners, Ala Moana Center's manager. The new stores and restaurants on Ala Moana's upper level continue to draw business, he said.

No figures are available yet but Ala Moana merchants are saying the last-minute push has lifted their 1999 business anywhere from 5 percent all the way to double-digit increases over last year.

"That's after 1998, which was a pretty tough year for everyone," Suzuki said.

In 1998, statewide retail sales fell about 5 percent from the previous year as the Asian economic crisis hurt tourism.

Gill Berger, general manager at Sears Ala Moana, said the store opened early yesterday. The reward was a strong traffic flow, capping solid pre-Christmas business.

"Customers like to come in early" that day, he said. "Basically we are on our sales plan for the year," which called for an increase over 1998, Berger said, although like the others he would not discuss percentages.

Berger said the local Sears didn't have to do quite as much heavy holiday discounting as in the past. "But again, we have been consciously lowering prices over the last year or two," Berger said.

At competitor Liberty House, Barbara Tunno, vice president of sales promotion, said sales also are "on plan" after a busy day yesterday.

Windward Mall merchants also have done "quite well" during the holiday season and yesterday was strong too, said Sandi Oguma, the mall's marketing director.

Retailers, meanwhile, aren't taking time out to catch their breath after the Christmas rush.

At Ala Moana, for instance, they're busy preparing for a sale that starts Jan. 1, said Suzuki. "Things are looking good already ahead of the new millennium."

At least two factors are working to make January a great month. Berman and other industry experts say that whether or not there is any real reason to worry about Y2K problems, those concerns have kept some mainlanders at home. They should be back in January and they are important customers for island retailers, the experts say.

Second, observers say, there is a rebound in the Japanese tourist market.

"We're looking a for a boom in January," Berman said. "There's all that pent-up desire."

Hawaii stores' strong showing yesterday and throughout the holiday season mirrored the national trend. Shoppers crowded the nation's stores yesterday, lured by deep discounts offered to clear out excess holiday merchandise.

Shoppers did 11 percent of their buying after Christmas last year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, a New York-based trade group.

This year, however, many merchants won't have to count as heavily on a surge in late December to achieve respectable sales since they've had a strong Christmas.

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