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Retailers optimistic about holiday shopping

Andrew Thagard | Tuesday, December 2, 2003

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – and local retailers, who enjoyed a profitable Thanksgiving weekend and predict high volumes throughout the holiday season, couldn’t be happier.

For the past two years the economic recession has convinced many consumers to tighten their belts and curb holiday spending, something that Mark Eagan, president and CEO of the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce, expects will change this year.

“The past few years have seen a decrease in spending,” he said. “This year all signs are for a very strong season.”

Sales over Thanksgiving weekend at the University Park Mall were high, said General Manager Sara Zappia, who attributed the increase over previous years to a higher level of consumer confidence and repairs made to Grape Road and Main Street that make traveling to the mall less of a hassle.

“We’ve seen a steady increase since the beginning of the fourth quarter and that’s carried over to the start of the holiday season,” she said. “In talking to our retailers, they said sales were up across the board.”

According to Zappia, popular items for this year include apparel, gift items and electronics. Both she and Eagan said the consumer focus is broader this year, compared to past seasons that were dominated with a particular “must have” toy or electronic.

“I don’t think there’s one national trend,” Eagan said.

The increased spending is good news for area retailers but Eagan warned that as a result consumers should expect fewer discounts and sales that begin later into the holiday season.

Sales at the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore over the Thanksgiving weekend were lower compared to other retailers, but not surprising since the campus is closed for the holiday, said Hedge Harridge, manager of special events and community relations.

“We’re really unique because our store doesn’t typically follow mall store [trends],” she said.

The busiest day for the bookstore is generally Saturday, Dec. 20. On this day, the store hosts an open house complete with carols, Christmas stories read by University President Edward Malloy and a Santa’s workshop where children can make arts and crafts. The bookstore is also donating a percentage of the profits earned on this day to the South Bend Center for the Homeless.

This week, the store also expects increased traffic due to faculty, staff and student appreciation days were those affiliated with the University receive a discount of 25 percent and enjoy free gift-wrapping. Faculty and staff can redeem their discount on Tuesday and Wednesday and students on Thursday and Friday, Harridge said.

Eagan, Zappia and Harridge said that business generated from the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s communities boosts sales but the small size of the two institutions diminishes the effect.

“St. Joseph County helps with spending,” Eagan said.