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Retailers Appear On Verge Of Good Christmas

November 27, 1992

Undated (AP) _ The annual shopping sprint toward Christmas started in earnest today as browsers and buyers elbowed their way through stores across the country.

Doors opened earlier than normal at stores everywhere, from big suburban malls to small neighborhoods, to accommodate people eager to get a jump on holiday gift buying.

Retailers almost always enjoy brisk business on the day after Thanksgiving, the unofficial opening of the most important time of year for them. Storeowners are hoping that this year consumers won’t run out of steam - as they did in recent years - after an initial buying spurt today and this weekend.

Many shoppers interviewed today expressed cautious optimism.

″Even though the economy isn’t in good shape, you’ve got to be optimistic about things, said Joseph Jackson, 20, who was shopping at the Roosevelt Mall in northeast Philadelphia. ″I love buying gifts, and so I’ll spend what I have to. I think the new president will make a difference.″

Still, many consumers don’t plan to go out on a financial limb to provide a lavish Christmas.

Sandy Phoebe, who was shopping with her husband and two young children at the Horne’s department store in downtown Pittsburgh, said her family has a new motto: ″Debt Free in ’93.″ She said the family will spend less and use cash for Christmas presents this year.

″The economy is the pits,″ she said. ″The kids can have just as much fun without 9,000 presents.″

Despite economic concerns, a festive mood prevailed at malls and downtown department stores.

In Chicago, throngs of shoppers gathered at the Marshall Field’s department store on State Street. They gathered six and seven deep outside the windows to look at the Christmas displays, which some even videotaped.

″It’s a shop-till-you-drop day,″ Lisa Adams, 31, of Chicago, said before going into the store to hunt for presents. ″I didn’t buy all that much last year, but this time I think I’ll spend a little bit more.″

In New York, crowds formed on Fifth Avenue sidewalks in front Saks and Lord & Taylor to catch a glimpse of the window displays.

Retailers generally expect this to be a ″late″ Christmas, with most sales coming in the final 10 days of the season. Over the past decade, with more women in the workforce, consumers have generally put off their shopping until the last minute. Some shoppers also prefer to wait for 11th-hour sales.

Last year, many retailers reported either minimal increases in sales or that sales had fallen.

But recent indications are that consumers may spend more freely this year. Surveys, like one released earlier this week by the Conference Board, have shown consumer confidence improving. The business research organization also found U.S. households will increase their spending on Christmas gifts to an average of $400 from $377 last year.

However, consultant Walter Loeb said, ″the retailer remains wary.″ After being burned by three straight disappointing Christmas seasons, they’ve learned a conservative approach is the safest.

Loeb predicted an industrywide sales increase of between 6 percent and 6.5 percent.

He and other analysts note that Christmas 1991 was so bad, any improvement is going to look good.

If the season gets a slow start or sales hit a particularly slow period - which they often do in the first week or so of December - nervous retailers may begin marking down prices. But for the most part, the ″sale″ signs that shoppers see will be part of discounts planned long before the start of the season.

Like last Christmas, the season is likely to be fragmented, with some parts of the country and some retailers doing better than others.