Retailers hope patriotism will spur sales

By Gary Gentile, The Associated Press
Saturday November 24, 2001

LOS ANGELES — From red, white and blue gift bags at one mall to New York firefighters lighting decorations on Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive, stores made patriotic pitches Friday to jump start what is expected to be a slow holiday shopping season. 

Stores were stocked with ornaments, calendars and other items with American themes and malls enticed customers to dig deeper despite dicey economic forecasts and recent layoffs. 

“I’m definitely shopping this year to help the country,” said Michelle Smith of San Francisco as she awaited her daughter’s return from a search for a fleece jacket at San Francisco Centre. 

San Jose resident Rhonda Wall said she’s between jobs and it’s affecting her shopping habits. 

“I am more conservative in shopping this year, but I will shop,” to be patriotic, Wall said. “This year’s really special. I’m spending more time with family and I’m doing more things at home. It’s important because of what happened.” 

At Sacramento’s Downtown Plaza, shops were awash with patriotic displays: flags, posters and signs saying “God Bless America” and “United We Stand.” 

At tourist-oriented Destination Sacramento, flag-bedecked T-shirts and sweat shirts sold briskly. Store manager Marnie Stiles said a mix of patriotism and Christmas looks good for business. 

Among the specials Friday: a free “America the Beautiful” T-shirt with a $50 purchase. 

The Washington-based National Retail Federation predicts total holiday retail sales, excluding restaurant and auto sales, will rise in the range of 2.5 percent to 3 percent, to roughly $206 billion. That would make it the worst retail performance since 1990, when sales were basically unchanged. 

Many shoppers said they would do what they could for the economy, but were working within much tighter budgets this year. 

At San Diego’s Fashion Valley Mall, Ann Brannon, 54, of Carlsbad, N.M., had a shopping bag filled with tennis shoes, books and a Harry Potter calendar by 11 a.m., but said despite appearances, she planned to be more conservative with her spending this year. 

“I just don’t feel the need to spend more. I’ve gotta keep more in the pillowcase back home,” she joked. 

Her brother, Robert Michelson, 51, who works maintenance at a potash mine in Carlsbad, N.M., said layoffs at his company have him watching his wallet very closely. “I’m worried about my job, worried about the economy.... I’m spending less this year.” 

The pair have considered making some patriotic buys, however. They’re looking for a car flag for their car trip back home on Saturday. 

Even in posh Beverly Hills, shoppers were passing by the 50 percent off signs and weighing purchases more carefully. 

“There are more parking spaces around here than I’ve ever seen before,” said David Diltz, who, with his wife Eileen, was window shopping on Rodeo Drive. 

Colleen Karetti said she spent the tax check she received as part of President Bush’s economic stimulus package on a new television. She and her daughter Kris walked by a Versace store on Rodeo Drive, but didn’t plan to buy anything today. 

“It’s just a browsing day,” Kris Karetti said. 

At San Diego’s Fashion Valley Mall, patriotism as a sales pitch was only going so far. 

“They’re not expensive so we don’t know what is going on,” said vendor Lara Murillo, 25, of the hand-painted American flag ornaments hanging amid ceramic gingerbread men and angels at her booth, Santa’s Pins. 

The $9.95 flags have been on sale for several weeks but although four or five people ask her about them each day, very few buy them. “It’s not how we thought they were going to be selling,” she said.