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Promenade Cash Registers Slow to Ring

By Juliet McShannon
Staff Writer

Nov. 29 -- Holiday bells may soon be ringing, but cash registers in most retail stores on the Third Street Promenade were slow to ring on Friday, the traditional kick-off to holiday shopping and usually the biggest shopping day of the year.

Even with a line up of crowd-drawing events -- including a performance by the Santa Monica High School Orchestra and the arrival of Surfing Santa for kids -- many store employees stood around waiting anxiously for an expected flood of customers.

"Where are the people?" whispered one employee of a well-known retailer who declined to be named. "I know there are more people who are moving to the Westside, and I thought they would be out in droves today. It's been very quiet."

Although it is too early to tell how sales will hold up, Santa Monica may be part of a nationwide trend, according to experts.

The turnout of shoppers across the country Friday was "good but not spectacular," said Tracy Mullin, President of the National Retail Federation, the world's largest retail trade group.

Some retailers on the Promenade, such as Guess, reported an increase in business, although the showroom was nearly empty in the early afternoon.

"We opened at six this morning," said the co-manager of Guess, who declined to be named. "Business has been great. We are definitely up since last year."

The Gap on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard was one of the few retailers that had a crowded shop floor Friday afternoon.

"We are just as busy as previous years," said the store manager, who also declined to give his name.

Many of the outdoor vendors that line the Promenade were less optimistic. Gary Winter, a jewelry vendor for eight years, said it was the worst year that he had seen.

"If there's a shopping boom, my cash register hasn't felt it!" he said.

Winter blames the war with Iraq and its trickle down effect on the economy.

"Santa Monica depends on tourism, and there are definitely less this year," Winter said. "My livelihood depends mostly on impulse buys. I also can't spend until people buy from me. It's a vicious cycle."

Shoppers on the promenade said that they are shopping less, with some blaming the economy, as well as the war.

"Everyone I know is low on money at the moment," said tourist Elizabeth Duck, 26, from Washington D.C. "This year, my family is going back to the traditional meaning of Christmas. We're holding off on expensive presents and have decided to do 'Secret Santa' instead."

Local resident Jessica Lancaster, 26, said she blamed the economy for her cutback on spending. "The economy is dead," she said. "I'm jobless because of it. The war is definitely having an effect. I won't be spending much today."

Marivi Valcourt, marketing manager for the Bayside District Corporation, which runs the Downtown, including the Promenade, was optimistic.

"I don't see any difference between this year and 2002," Valcourt said. "It may have been a little slow during the day, but by the evening there were definitely more people out and about.

"It's been very successful," she said, "but too early to tell exactly how busy the retailers were."

Last year, the Promenade showed a healthy increase in the fourth quarter, compared to a weak 2001 following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the east coast, which dealt a major blow to the city's tourism industry.

The NRF predicted a rise in holiday spending this year, with a projected increase of 5.7 percent in holiday sales over last year. Sales are expected to bring in estimated revenues of $217.4 billion this holiday season.

Although the NFR estimates that the average consumer will spend $671 this year, compared with $648 last year, Americans are still spending conservatively, Mullin said.

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