California retailers hope patriotism will spur sales

By Gary Gentile, AP Business Writer
Monday November 26, 2001

American flags, firefighters used to attract customers, encourage spending 


LOS ANGELES – California retailers pitched patriotism along with product as they kicked off what was predicted to be a sluggish holiday shopping season. 

There were star-spangled gift bags at one mall and New York firefighters flipped the switch on decorations along Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive. At Sacramento’s Downtown Plaza, shops were awash with patriotic displays: flags, posters and signs saying “God Bless America” and “United We Stand.” 

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

American themes were largely evident on the day after Thanksgiving on ornaments, 2002 calendars and other items as malls enticed customers to dig deeper despite recent layoffs and gloomy economic forecasts. 

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,” 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 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 from the store. 

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 country’s 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, but said she planned to be more conservative with her spending. 

“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 drive 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 Kareti said she spent the tax check she received as part of President Bush’s economic stimulus package on a new television. She and her son Kris walked by a Versace store on Rodeo Drive on Friday but didn’t plan to buy anything. 

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