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RINGING UP THE SEASON BARGAIN HUNTERS ENDURE LINES AT THE MALLS.

Byline: Pam Park and Jesse Hiestand Staff Writers

Signs of a green Christmas emerged Friday as shoppers flocked to San Fernando Valley area malls with a vengeance, jamming parking lots and getting the holiday gift-buying season off to a rousing start.

For many bargain-hunting consumers, their shopping odyssey began in the bleary, early morning chill long before sunrise. Others took their chances at midday.

But on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, everyone needed a good dose of patience to deal with the long lines that sometimes awaited shoppers getting into and out of some stores.

Nancy Naranjo's vantage point at the end of a line of 200 shoppers at Mervyn's in the Glendale Galleria suggested little evidence of a holiday sales slowdown that some economists have been predicting.

``I would spend less, but I haven't felt it yet,'' the 24-year-old clerical worker from Glendale said of economic malaise. ``You really do have that in the back of your mind, but it's not something I'm thinking about now.''

She took advantage of the traditional start to the holiday shopping season to save hundreds of dollars on gifts purchases because the store offered two-for-one deals. Others had the same idea, creating lines of hundreds of shoppers that snaked back from at least three of the store's registers, forcing other customers to elbow their way through crowded aisles.

Many of them lined up for the doors to open at 7 a.m. because the first 700 people got a free toy bear and a 10 percent off coupon, said Margaret Kiernan, Mervyn's manager.

``If this is the start of the shopping season, it looks very promising,'' Kiernan said. ``I just hope it continues.''

That is what retailers hoped to hear.

``We have to make up for the last few months, which have been slow,'' said Wally Garcia, manager of the Tiny Computer store in the Glendale Galleria. ``This December has to be good.''

These kinds of scenes were repeated throughout the day at other malls in the region.

``We're jammin','' said Joey Char, marketing director for Northridge Fashion Center. ``An impromptu survey of a dozen anchors and national retailers revealed that sales were slightly or significantly ahead of last year's.''

By 8 a.m., Dorothy Hale of Northridge and her friend Laura Teagardin had joined about 100 people waiting to get into Kay Bee Toy Stores.

Hale was shopping for six grandchildren.

``I need six toys and two outfits apiece,'' she said. ``That comes out to be a lot of money.''

Hale said she will spend about the same as last year.

Around the corner at a Northridge Sears entrance, about 30 people waited for the 7 a.m. sale, featuring markdowns of 30 percent to 50 percent to start.

Customers quickly ringed the jewelry counter.

``We just saved about $90,'' said Carlos Hernandez, who was helping his friend Arnulfo Cabrera, both of Sylmar, shop for a necklace for his daughter.

Analysts said these kinds of ``door buster'' sales build volume early in the day.

``You don't want them to put off shopping,'' said Richard Giss, a partner at Deloitte & Touche, Los Angeles. ``Later on, they may drive by, see a full parking lot and keep driving.''

Representatives of the company fan out to malls around Southern California for the day-after-Thanksgiving sales to assess shoppers moods, which appear to be good again this year.

``Most of them have indicated they intend to spend the same, if not more, than last year,'' said Jackie Fernandez, another partner at Deloitte & Touche, who was at Glendale Galleria on Friday.

The company expects sales this year to be flat or slightly higher vs. 1999. ``That's still a pretty optimistic outlook given the positive results everyone had last year,'' Fernandez said.

Consumer debt may also be a factor in holiday shopping this year, said Kurt Barnard, president Barnard's Retail Trend Report in Upper Montclair, N.J., who tracks shopping patterns.

``Americans are tapped out,'' Barnard said, pointing out that nationwide consumers owe $645 billion on their credit cards, 10 percent higher than a year ago.

At the same time, after-tax income advanced 5 percent - half as fast. ``We are seeing people who have jobs, who have good incomes, who are confident about the future but who have less discretionary spending power than they had a a year ago,'' Barnard said.

That being the case, Barnard predicts same-store sales - sales at stores that have been open at least a year - to rise 3 percent or 4 percent. And he expects the season will be very promotional.

``Retailers might not make as much as they would if they could get away with fewer promotions,'' he said.

This concerns merchants like Rudy Hessian, owner of Valley Gold, a watch and jewelry business at the Panorama City Mall.

``We thought this year might be dramatically good, but unfortunately it hasn't materialized,'' Hessian said. ``A lot of customers just seem to be looking around, but only at the end of the period, when they dig in their pockets, will we see if they can afford it or not.''

That's why some of the big spending Friday was calculated to take advantage of one-time deals and sales.

Fred Sanchez, and his wife, Anna, left the Panorama City Mall with a DVD player they waited months to buy until it went on sale. Similar discounts led them to brave the crowds at the Wal-Mart in Porter Ranch, where they bought two televisions and a VCR.

``Everybody has a TV in every room the way the economy is going,'' said Fred Sanchez, a food broker from Granada Hills. ``I don't think anyone cares right now about the economy slowing down - they're going to spend anyway.''

One sign of continuing consumer confidence was the layaway line at the Panorama City Wal-Mart - the longest line in the store.

Still, some people said they were being more cautious with their spending, especially on credit.

``I would love to spend, spend, spend but I don't want to go way into debt,'' said Phyllis Lombardo, a retired phone company accountant from Panorama City. ``I've learned my lesson with those credit cards.''

Uncertainties in the presidential election are also testing shopper's confidence.

``There's a new president coming in, the stock market is taking a dive, so people are really worried about their money,'' said accountant Philippe Masbanji of Sherman Oaks as he shopped with his wife and two children at Sherman Oaks Fashion Square.

Jesus Lopez of Panorama City had similar concerns about debt, but with two children there was no way around holiday shopping.

And what better day to do it, Lopez said, as he took a break at Sherman Oaks Fashion Square, just one of three malls he planned to visit Friday.

Daily News Staff Writer Peggy Hager contributed to this story.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color) Norma Padilla, left, and her mom, Leticia, haul $400 in gifts, above, from the Northridge mall, where Sonya Oliva-Barrios waits in line to pay, below.

(3) Gay Santos of Granada Hills lugs her shopping to the register Friday at Kay Bee Toy Store in the Northridge Fashion Center.

MichaelOwen Baker/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 25, 2000
Words:1196
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