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Christmas rush has mixed impact around the world

December 22, 1996

LONDON (AP) _ As the Christmas shopping season winds down, British merchants are happy to hear a little more jingle in the cash box.

But Scrooge was making an appearance elsewhere in Europe.

Some store owners in France complained they weren’t seeing enough of a recovery from the sales disaster brought on by massive strikes last year. German retailers said longer opening hours weren’t bringing in more money.

As always, indecision bedeviled many last-minute shoppers.

``If you know what you want, it’s fun,″ said Tina Nordqvist, a Swedish student who was checking out the merchandise on London’s crowded Oxford Street. ``When you wait until three days before, it’s a rush. You have to get something, and it’s no good.″

Merchants will be content as long as shoppers decide on something.

``We are seeing more customers out and about,″ said Ruth Parkhouse at the British Retail Consortium. ``They are spending more money, but there has been a bit of hype that it will be a bumper Christmas.″

The retail group declined to make any sales predictions, but Parkhouse cited a survey suggesting the average Briton will spend 7.3 percent more this holiday season.

Not necessarily by choice.

``Things are more expensive,″ groused Londoner Margaret Newlyn, waiting for a friend near a London Underground station on Oxford Street.

Some small merchants feel left out of the rush.

``Nobody’s got any money and what they have got, they’re holding on to,″ said Jimmy White, who has spent the last 10 seasons selling candles from an outdoor street stand. White can’t remember things being much slower, but ``it could be worse. I could be selling fruit.″

Just up the road, a fruit dealer confirmed business was a bust. His roasting chestnuts were blackened, roasted nearly to oblivion.

Tough times were common around continental Europe.

``It’s catastrophic,″ said Susie Goeigoei, saleswoman at Anna Lowe, an up-market women’s clothing store on the swank Rue du Faubourg St. Honore in Paris. ``The French aren’t buying. They’re already paying too many taxes. Foreigners aren’t coming because of the bombs.″

Christmas 1995 was brutal on French merchants when a transport and public workers strike paralyzed the country for weeks.

Thierry Meaudre, a salesman at the Lardanchet book retailer, said business was good in Paris and its suburbs, though foreigners and rural residents were scared away by a Dec. 3 bomb attack on the subway.

German retailers extended business hours during weekdays and on Saturdays, but to no avail. Things looked gloomy as the Germans tallied sales for three of the four Saturdays before Christmas.

``Each of these Saturdays we had losses, and regretfully it wasn’t much different during the week, so that we must reckon with declining turnover in comparison to last year,″ said Thomas Werz of the national retailers’ association.

In Geneva, recession-plagued Swiss shoppers were being careful with their francs, even though stores took advantage of new laws that permit pre-Christmas sales.

In Japan, though just 1 percent of the population is Christian, Christmas parties in Japanese homes have suddenly become trendy.

``People say, `Let’s have a gorgeous party at home for Christmas,‴ said Masato Sugita, spokesman for the department store Takashimaya Ltd. ``So sales of large Christmas trees are going up. Also illuminations and ornaments are selling well. Some fathers are really into the whole thing.″

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