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Retailers Report Weekend Sales Are Better Than Expected

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SAN DIEGO COUNTY BUSINESS EDITOR

Toting up sales from their first full weekend of the Christmas shopping season, San Diego retailers interviewed Monday said that business generally was much better than they expected, despite the prevailing economic gloom.

Granted, many said they were expecting the worst because of a slumping economy. And many pointed out that last year’s sales levels generally were depressed because tens of thousands of potential consumers--San Diego-based Marines and Navy personnel--were overseas this time last year preparing to fight a Mideast war.

Nevertheless, several store-owners Monday said that sales volumes were favorable. They blamed news reports for painting what they said was an unfairly negative picture of shoppers’ moods.

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“All the reporters have been reporting that shoppers weren’t out. But they were out and they were buying and we had a very good weekend,” said Leslie Harris, sales promotion director for four Nordstrom department stores and Nordstrom Rack in San Diego.

Old Town Gift Emporium owner Pam Catania said she was “very happy with what we did in sales despite the news media reporting how bad the economy is and how depressed everybody is. If you keep telling people how terrible it is, they won’t come out to buy or they won’t buy as much.”

Catania said her store volume wasn’t as high as on the comparable weekend last year but that she was “very happy” with sales volume in light of the rain Friday that adversely affected “how many customers came through the door.”

“It was better than I expected,” said Rich Brady, owner of four Bradys Men’s Clothing stores. “I think if everyone would quit bad-mouthing the whole thing, we might be OK. If I believed the papers, I would go Chapter 11 myself. They made it sound like no one is going to spend anything.”

The key to success in a market such as this one is to promote value, or low prices on quality, traditional merchandise. “Shoppers are looking for quality, but not something so expensive they can’t afford it. Value doesn’t mean cheap,” said Harris. Said Brady: “If you merchandise and you are aggressive, the business is there.”

Clyde Ahl, manager at the 180-store North County Fair regional mall in Escondido, said gross sales at his mall were up 8.3% over the Friday-through-Sunday period contrasted with the same weekend last year.

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“I can honestly, sincerely say that this year is a very pleasant surprise so far,” Ahl said. “When I talked to major retailers, people who are really driving the mall’s business, they are very pleasantly surprised that the customers are responding. (The retailers) were planning on flat growth. They were going to be happy to meet 1990 sales.”

Ahl cited the end of the Gulf War as a primary reason for the improvement in sales. Facing an uncertain future last year, the families of servicemen and women were conservative in their Christmas purchases, he said.

Ron Adams, manager of the Target store on Sports Arena Boulevard, said sales were up nearly 5% for the three-day weekend, even after sales slumped Sunday, a drop Adams attributed to the televised San Diego Chargers game that evening.

“On Friday and Saturday, we did pretty close to our plan but we dropped off (Sunday). For some reason, the San Diego market is Charger-driven. A football game or a sporting event can change people’s habits.”

Craig Crosby, assistant store manager of Oshmans Sporting Goods’ Sports Arena location, said sales are “slightly up” from last year.

“Sales are better than expected. We thought the recession would continue through the big season but fortunately it looks like people horded a little money and broke it out,” Crosby said.

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Still, merchants agreed that there is little chance that 1991 will be a barn-burner. And if restaurants are a barometer of shopping mall traffic, then Sayed Ali, president of Creative Croissants, would say traffic is down sharply. The head of the chain with four outlets in regional malls in San Diego County, including Fashion Valley, said his systemwide sales were off 8% over the weekend from the previous year.

The sales drop, Ali said, was due in part to cost-conscious customers who are “skewing down” to cheaper menu items.

Despite the assessment from a spokesman at the Old Town Visitors Center that “it was very slow in the park over the weekend,” Old Town’s Bazaar del Mundo shopping center reported business as being brisk.

“We had a lot of people in and they were buying. Some of our stores were up over 50% for the weekend when compared to last year. So as far as we’re concerned, we’re off to a great start,” said Janet Sperber, a manager at the 16-store Bazaar del Mundo retail development that specializes in imported gift items.

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