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Monday, December 25, 2000

Isle shoppers
‘planned ahead
this year’

'We were either really busy
or really slow, but the busy
days were phenomenally busy'

By Treena Shapiro

Oahu appears to have bucked the trend of lackluster Christmas sales that swept the mainland, but you wouldn't have guessed it by the abundance of empty parking spaces at the Ala Moana and Victoria Ward shopping centers yesterday afternoon.

The difference, many isle retailers said, was Christmas falling on a Monday, which made for an extra weekend of shopping. Saturday was the biggest shopping day of the season, several reported, but the crowds tapered off on Christmas Eve. They're expected to return tomorrow, however, as shoppers take advantage of after-Christmas sales, exchange gifts and cash in gift certificates.

"Today everyone seems kind of relaxed," Valerie Yamashita, owner of Craft Flair at Ward Warehouse, said yesterday morning. "I think people planned ahead this year."

The busiest shopping days were Monday through Wednesday last week. "The traffic was really interesting this year. We were either really busy or really slow, but the busy days were phenomenally busy." The busy days pushed sales above last year's total, she said.

Yamashita said many people were buying higher-priced items for the important people in their lives, but there were also many people buying several little gifts for co-workers -- checkbook covers, ornaments and picture frames. "We did a lot of good business in that," she said.

Spokespersons for Kmart, Wal-Mart and Circuit City all expected a boost in their sales this weekend. "Business was very good through Thanksgiving weekend, softened up through the stretch, and through the end has become extremely busy again," said Dale Fishell, Kmart district manager.

At Wal-Mart in Mililani, sales picked up again late yesterday morning. "They're buying anything and everything they can get their hands on," a manager said. "Sales are great. It's just going real good. I think it's going to be a good Christmas for everyone."

The crowd at Ala Moana seemed more relaxed than those reported at the big discount stores, especially with only five shopping hours left until Christmas. Many customers credited their holiday cheer to easy parking and short lines.

The longest line was probably in the mall's customer service department, where about 20 last-minute shoppers decided to buy gift certificates instead of picking out gifts.

"I guess in a sense it's easier," said Manoa resident Kris Shinno, as he waited to buy three gift certificates ranging from $25 to $50. It's easier for him as a shopper, but also for people who receive the gift, he explained. "Sometimes you don't like what you get."

But the 25-year-old couldn't get away with gift certificates for everyone. "I have some friends who expect a gift," he said. "It's more personal." At 1:30 p.m., Shinno said he still hadn't decided what to buy those friends. "I'm just taking it as I come and seeing how the stores are," he said.

Beverly Rosario of Waikiki, a seasoned Christmas Eve shopper, said she was having great success at the mall yesterday, holding out two full shopping bags as proof. Two hours into her shopping spree, Rosario said she was almost done but still had one stop left at Sports Authority.

Rosario, 46, said she hadn't shopped earlier because her two jobs didn't leave her with any time, but she prefers waiting until the last minute anyway. "It's more fun! I'm not a patient person. I don't like waiting in line," she said, noting that she hadn't had to wait in line yet. By Christmas Eve, "most people are finished and there are good sales," she said.

While Rosario didn't have a list, she had ideas about what to buy. "I wait until the last minute, then I go for it," she said.

Not so for John Simpson and Christina Siu of McCully, who had no idea what to buy as a last-minute gift for Siu's mother, whom they were meeting two hours later.

"We bought everything else yesterday," Simpson said. However, after learning of Siu's mother's gift for her daughter, Simpson told Siu to buy her mom something in addition to the two books she'd already purchased. "He made me feel guilty because I didn't buy her enough gifts," Siu said.

Although pressed for time, Simpson and Siu giggled their way through the Nature Co. as they tried to figure out what to buy, hardly fitting the stereotype of panicked last-minute shoppers.

Gail Baron, co-owner of the Nohea Gallery at Ward Warehouse, said that kind of shopper hadn't been in the store this year. "People are not shopping at the last minute. They seem to be better organized this year," she said. "There are no frantic shoppers at all, people who come in and sweep through with a worried look on their face."

Although sales weren't as good as had been expected this year, Baron anticipates a lot of customers on Tuesday for her after-Christmas sale.

K-B Toys at Ala Moana was one of the hot stops yesterday, according to manager Robin Lo. People were snatching up "whatever we have left," leaving back rooms and storage closets empty, she said.

Although there was no one must-have toy this year, Lo said many people were buying robotic animals, such as Poo-chie and Rocket the Wonder Dog.

Linda Knowles of Kaimuki said Meow-chi, the interactive cat, had topped her 6-year-old daughter's Santa list on all five revisions. A glance at the latest wish list sent Knowles back to Ala Moana for the second day running to pick up one last Christmas gift. With that out of the way, she found crowds light enough to start buying presents at the Disney Store for her daughter's birthday next month.

Holding up a character plush -- identity to be kept secret from her daughter -- Knowles said: "This was the last one. There were plenty yesterday."

Honolulu Chocolate Co. at Ward Center is one of the only stores that expected brisk sales until closing time yesterday. "We've been busy," said Joel Carlson. "By time we shut the doors at 5 (p.m.), there are still people out there banging on the doors."

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