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Thursday, November 23, 2000

Stores see
big holiday
shopping season

A stronger economy,
growing sales and having
Christmas on a Monday should help

The numbers so far

By Tim Ruel

Hawaii retailers are generally upbeat about the prospects of a joyful holiday shopping season, encouraged by a year of growing sales and a strengthening local economy.

Still, several said they are hedging their bets by aiming at residents as well as tourists.

"We've been a well-kept secret as far as the local market has gone," said Robert Taylor, president of jewelry retailer Maui Divers of Hawaii Ltd.

Despite record gains in the islands' visitor arrivals this year, most travelers will not reach Hawaii for their holiday vacations until Dec. 21, and the tourist business will probably be slow until then, as in past years, Taylor said.

To avoid waiting for the last minute, Maui Divers is going after locals with an advertising campaign that starts today, he said. Also, in the two weeks leading up to Christmas Eve, the company will keep its Jewelry Design Center in Waikiki open until 9 p.m. instead of 5:30 p.m. And it has expanded into Hawaiian heirloom jewelry.

Meanwhile, Hilo Hattie, which just started tapping the resident market in the past few years, will be offering $10 gift certificates for garment purchases over $27.99. It is also starting a new advertising campaign that features a Hawaiian-style Santa Claus who wears local shirts and shorts and rides a surfboard. The Hawaiian Santa will appear at most Hilo Hattie stores, sales director Star-Nani Peralta said yesterday.

Both Hilo Hattie and Maui Divers said they are optimistic that this year will be better than last, and the numbers appear to back them up.

Year-to-date retail sales statewide through August total $11.962 billion, up 11.4 percent from $10.708 billion in the same period last year, according to the state Department of Taxation.

And Hawaii has led the nation in retail sales made by check for much of the year, according to TeleCheck Services Inc., a company founded in Hawaii that now verifies checks nationwide.

"Hawaii has been really booming, outperforming the rest of the nation," said William Ford, senior economic adviser for TeleCheck, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based First Data Corp.

The months leading up to the holiday season have been particularly fruitful in the islands, and the momentum should continue, he said.

Ford predicts Hawaii's retail sales will grow by 4.5 percent over last year's holiday season, beating the projected national average of 4 percent.

Neither TeleCheck's figures nor the state's numbers are exact indicators, however, and sometimes contradict each other. In last year's holiday season, for example, TeleCheck had retail sales growing by 6.5 percent, while the Tax Department figures said sales were down 4.5 percent.

After nearly a decade of economic stagnation, many local indicators show Hawaii's economy is rebounding, with increases in jobs and personal incomes. Earlier this week, local economist Leroy Laney said Hawaii's economy was back on track and poised to continue to grow.

Regardless of local trends, Ford said one big boost this year is the fact that Christmas falls on Monday.

That not only gives people two more days to shop than last year, but allows them the whole weekend to do it.

Last year, Christmas fell on a Saturday, meaning many people were still working up until Christmas Eve, he noted.

Most retailers say the season is likely to start slow in Hawaii, then pick up in the last 10 days as shoppers try to find better deals at the last minute.

Hilo Hattie's Peralta said many retailers remain cautious.

"Last season was a bust because everyone thought the millennium would drive them in, and it didn't happen," she said.

Still, others feel the tide has turned this year.

"The last few months have been very positive just in terms of consumer psychology," said Ron Yoda, general manager of Kahala Mall. "There seems to be more energy in the air."

Yoda said sales at the mall have been up all year, especially in the past couple of months.

Several stores at the mall, including Software Etc. and K B Toys, will open tomorrow between 5 and 6 a.m., in anticipation of the bargain-hunting crowd, he said.

Over at Waikele Premium Outlets, all stores will open by 7 a.m., with several welcoming shoppers even earlier.

Closer to downtown, Sports Authority on Ward Avenue will open tomorrow at 6 a.m. -- the only day out of the year that the big-box retailer opens before 9 a.m. In Iwilei, Kmart, too, plans to open at 6 a.m.

As far as what's going to be hot this year, contenders include jewelry, gift baskets and Sony's PlayStation2, retailers said.

"Jewelry's been really strong all year," Yoda said.

Hilo Hattie said it is beginning an aggressive gift-basket campaign, pushing the items to residents in several local publications. "Everybody seems to be doing it," Peralta said. "Island Heritage is doing it; Mauna Loa is doing it."

 | | |

So far, so good

Statewide retail sales through August are up 11.4 percent from the same period last year.

2000 -- $11.926 billion
1999 -- $10.708 billion

Source: State Department of Taxation

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