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Retailers Continue To Do Well Overall As Season Reaches Its Final Days

December 22, 1992

NEW YORK (AP) _ Eleventh-hour shoppers hit stores and malls Tuesday amid growing signs that the Christmas shopping season will be an overall success for the nation’s retailers.

Retail industry analysts and storeowners contacted at random were upbeat, even ebullient about sales going into the last few days of the season. Others noted some weak spots, particularly Southern California.

Sales are ″slightly better than most of us have been anticipating and closer to what the optimists have been saying,″ said Terence McEvoy, a retail industry analyst with Janney Montgomery Scott Inc.

Wayne Hood, an analyst with Prudential Securities Inc., said retailers are having ″a good Christmas, but not an extraordinary Christmas.″

Wendell Kimbrough, marketing director of South DeKalb Mall in suburban Atlanta, said, ″Things are going fantastic.″

″We are having a Christmas year to beat all years. We expect to be in the neighborhood of 18 percent over last year,″ Kimbrough said.

Many stores and malls were packed over the weekend. At the Independence Mall in Kingston, Mass., south of Boston, traffic was so busy shoppers had to park their cars on neighboring streets.

Parking also was at a premium Monday in small strip malls in Clifton, N.J., outside New York City, and Tuesday, stores in midtown Manhattan were crammed at lunchtime.

″The whole season has been very busy,″ said Randy Lapides, general manager of the Burlington Mall in Burlington, Mass.

Traffic is particularly heavy now, partly because many consumers have left their purchases until the last minute. But Ms. Lapides said many shoppers were also catching up after the winter storm that wiped out a big shopping day nearly two weeks ago.

″For some people who lost some time, it’s panic time,″ she said.

Johnson Redbook Service, which tracks retail sales on a weekly basis, has estimated sales in the first three weeks of December are down 4.3 percent from the average for all of November due to the storm.

However, sales are still up 4.7 percent from the first three weeks of December 1991. Last Christmas was dismal for many retailers, and the third straight disappointment as the industry was mired by the long consumer spending slump.

This Christmas, sales of big-ticket items are selling well, perhaps the best indicator that consumers are growing more confident. Ms. Lapides, the Burlington Mall manager, noted that stereo systems and other home electronics, ″something that the whole family uses,″ are seen as practical gifts.

At a Sears store in Columbus, Ga., manager Cliff Mains said people were buying fun items as well as practical gifts. ″Electronics is very strong. We have a ‘Fun-tronics’ department, with Nintendo games, and it’s unbelievable,″ he said.

Mains said business has been consistently good through the holiday season.

″I don’t think we have more people in the market, but people feel freer, they’re more comfortable ...″ he said.

Nationwide, Sears, Roebuck and Co. is ″very pleased with our sales results through Sunday,″ spokesman Perry Chlan said. He also reported continuing good sales of major appliances and other pricey items that stalled during the recession.

Other retailers found some signs of caution.

″They are not quite as frivolous″ as last year, said David Wass, general manager of upscale Cherry Creek Shopping Center in Denver.

Still, he said, ″Home stores, like Eddie Bauer and Williams-Sonoma, are doing well. What I like to call ‘basic small indulgences,’ like a cappucino machine. People look for those types of items that will assist them in what little free time they have.″

Gordon Seagal, president of Crate&Barrel, the home furnishings chain, said sales are up slightly from last year, and his stores are making fewer price reductions.

″All of our merchandise is selling through at regular price vs. last year - that’s a big improvement,″ he said.

But he and Clark Johnson, chief executive of Pier 1 Imports Inc., said business remains weak in Southern California, where the recession lingers.

″California continues to be disappointing,″ Johnson said. However, he was pleased with his overall business. Over the weekend, ″we did a little bit better than I thought we’d do.″

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