Economists deliver merry holiday forecast

Economists and retail experts on Thursday said they anticipate a 3% uptick in holiday retail sales this year in Southern California despite high unemployment rates.

"A lot of people say 3% isn't that great, but … you have to get your head around the idea that this was a really difficult recession," said Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Southern California Assn. of Governments.

He was part of a panel discussion at the Glendale Galleria on Thursday.

Unemployment in California remains high at 12.6%, Kyser said, which is keeping expectations modest. Shoppers will be looking for deals, he added, and many retailers have already responded by rolling out aggressive marketing campaigns and early Black Friday sales.

Nevertheless, there are indications that consumers will be a little bit more liberal in their holiday spending. Survey data show that consumers are feeling slightly more confident about their financial security, and that will shape their consumption, said Dr. Leslie Reisner, a psychologist and expert in consumer habits.

"We are going to be a little more practical this year," Reisner said. "Some of the large-ticket items that maybe we spent more money on in past years we're going to be spending a little less on and going to more of the essentials, the priority items — clothing, shoes, sporting goods, things like that."

Survey data has also indicated that women are more likely to pay with cash, rather than credit cards, Reisner said.

"Cash is a reality check," Reisner said. "You have it, and then it is gone. You know what you have, and by the end of the day, if it is over, that is it. Credit cards are obviously a little more iffy."

The Glendale Galleria is already preparing for what business owners hope will be a very busy Black Friday, said Shoshana Puccia, senior marketing director for the mall.

Several Galleria stores, including the Disney Store, Pumpkin Patch and Hollister, will open for business at midnight the day after Thanksgiving. And several more will open at 3 a.m., including Forever 21 and American Eagle. The mall itself opens at 5 a.m.

This year's hot holiday gift items include faux fur vests, Xbox 360 Kinect, electronic reading devices, the Cisco Flip Camera and Fun Bands, Puccia said.

Galleria regular Dorothy Peters, of Los Angeles, said she curtailed her spending last Christmas due to concerns about the economy, but is feeling more at ease this year.

All three of her adult children are employed, and she has already placed the Apple iPad at the top of her wish list.

"I feel comfortable spending on Christmas; it is the most important holiday," she said.

Eagle Rock resident Mark Snelgrove said he expected to spend about $100 on gifts for each of his friends and family members, and about $500 on a gift for his fiancee.

"We're all adults now so we put a gift cap down," Snelgrove said. "We try to keep the gift giving to a friendly minimum. Everybody is taking care of themselves in a healthy way and not expecting others to pour gifts over them."

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