Merchants are gearing up for a shorter Christmas shopping season this year. Ala Moana Center, above, is always popular with holiday shoppers.

Economic signs indicate
good shopping season


Christmas shoppers have left the starting gates in the race to the malls to inaugurate the holiday season.

THE Grinch was knocked aside again yesterday by the traditional stampede to shopping centers on the day after Thanksgiving, a day that merchants have dubbed Black Friday. An improved stock market, a recovering tourism industry, relief that the United States is not yet at war against Iraq and -- as usual and best of all -- bargain deals were enough to send Hawaii residents on predawn expeditions to the malls. Positive economic indicators here and across the country bode well for this year's brief Christmas shopping season.

"I think I'm going to do this every year," Kailua bartender Louise Luciano told the Star-Bulletin's Tim Ruel after being lured by bicycle ads to Kmart and Sports Authority early in the morning. For many people, that may depend on the country's economic mood in the coming years. The mood seemed fairly optimistic yesterday at the malls.

The nation's consumer spending in October experienced its best gain since July, while new claims for unemployment benefits were the lowest in nearly two years. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up a thousand points from mid-September. Japan's five main travel agencies report that December travel reservations to Hawaii are up 140 percent from last year, to roughly the same level as before the Sept. 11 attacks.

This year's Christmas shopping season is the shortest in six years, because of the late Thanksgiving. The 26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas compare to last year's 32 days between the shopping season's starting line and finishing tape. In other words, merchants will have to greatly increase their average daily sales to match last year's intake.

"In Hawaii we've had kind of a low year retail-wise because of the after-effects of 9/11," observes retailing consultant Stephany Sofos. "Many (isle retailers) are still looking to get 40 percent of the business during the season. They are trying to get their position and if they end up having to do a lot of discounting they will."

Merchants should be prepared to do just that, according to Kurt Barnard, president of New Jersey-based Barnard's Retail Trend Report.

"Sales will be intense," Barnard says. "Consumers will turn out in force to the mall, but there is a general feeling that consumers are going to be reticent. They will look at the price tag before they look at the product."

That assessment is supported by results of a survey conducted by the Gallup Organization, projecting that Americans will spend an average of $769 on gifts this holiday, about $51 less than last year, a downturn that began in 1999. Still, the Washington-based National Retail Federation predicts holiday retail sales, which exclude restaurant and auto sales, will increase by 4 percent over last year's sales.


Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor 529-4762;

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4748;
John Flanagan, Contributing Editor 294-3533;

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