Shoppers from around the Bay Area made the traditional post-Thanksgiving pilgrimage to the region’s retail outlets on Friday, and more than a few of them chose Berkeley’s Fourth Street shopping district as their primary destination.
Many came, but was it enough? Specialty retailers, like those found on Fourth Street, often depend on Christmas sales to get them through the year, and this season there are plenty of reasons for them to worry.
The National Bureau of Economic Research appeared, on Friday, to be on the verge of officially declaring that the country’s economy is in recession, as has long been suspected.
The Conference Board, another economic research group, recently reported that shoppers in the Pacific states planned to spend about 17-percent less on Christmas gifts than the average U.S. resident. Last month, the same organization reported that consumers’ confidence in the economy plummeted between September and October.
And for Berkeley retailers, there looms the vague and still mostly unsubstantiated threat of a boycott on city businesses following the City Council’s highly publicized stance on the war in Afghanistan.
Still, Fourth Street’s sidewalks were bustling Friday morning, with shoppers, street performers and representatives from local charities – all hoping to make the most of a rare, four-day weekend.
The area’s free parking lot was filled to capacity around noon, with several cars queued up and ready to pounce on any space that became available. The nearby Spenger’s lot, which charges by the hour, was doing brisk business.
Penny Cozad, a resident of Alameda, rested on a bench while a friend shopped in a clothing store. Several bags displaying the logos of prominent Fourth Street businesses sat by her feet.
Cozad said she and her friend decided to come to Fourth Street for the area’s unique shops.
“We came mostly for Cody’s, Builders Booksource and the Discovery Channel Store, but we got drawn into Restoration Hardware by the magnetic dartboards,” she said.
She said that she and her friend expected to spend between $300 and $400 in Berkeley that day, and that she was not dissuaded by calls to boycott the city.
“(The boycott) is totally stupid,” she said. “What Berkeley’s doing about the war is just fine with me.”
Cozad said that foot traffic in the popular shopping district was not quite as bad as she had expected it would be.
“It’s not so nuts down here,” she said. “Usually during the Christmas season it’s nose to armpit with people.”
Derek Woo of Oakland, a former UC Berkeley student said that he had heard something about the boycott, and it “made him smile.”
“There’s a time for protest and a time for solidarity,” he said. “I was wondering when Berkeley’s actions were going to catch up with it.”
But Woo said that he would not refrain from shopping in Berkeley himself. There were certain “essential things,” he said, that could only be found in the city – “biscuit cutters” from Sur La Table, Sweet Potatoes’ children’s clothes.
Sarah von Furstenberg, who was restocking shelves at The Ark, a toy store, said that business was booming.
“Obviously, it was really slow over the summer because of the economy,” she said. “Then it was slow in September and October because everyone was shocked.”
“We figured it was going to be busy today, because that’s the hype you always hear. And it has been.”
Representatives of nonprofit organizations – including the Support the Children Foundation, the New Bridge Foundation and the Boy Scouts – sought to stake their claims on the holiday tradition of sharing.
Deanna Bernard was selling raffle tickets for the New Bridge Foundation. She was able to sell a couple of books of tickets to her former co-workers at the Ginger Island restaurant, but had managed to make only about $3 on the street.
“It’s not as busy as I thought it would be,” she said.
Bernard said that she noticed a slump in business over the last few months when she worked at Ginger Island.
“Business there has been down for the last six or eight months,” she said. “Last year, you had to wait an hour for a table. Now, it’s like ten minutes.”
Martin McDonald and Peter Shaw, members of Boy Scout Troop 24, were selling Christmas wreaths and candle arrangements outside Builders Booksource. They had sold only one by mid-morning.
“Last year, we sold most of them,” said McDonald.