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Gearing Up for the Holidays

By Ed Moosbrugger

Dec. 10 -- Encouraged by generally upbeat economic reports, Downtown Santa Monica retailers expect a merrier holiday season than last year.

“What I’m hearing and what I’m seeing are both positive,” said William J. Bubar, partner in Bubar’s Jewelers, which moved from Santa Monica Place to 4th Street last November. “I feel very strongly that we will do better than last year.”

Other retailers generally agree that the sales outlook is promising. “I’m optimistic,” said Mark Hennessey, owner of the Hennessey & Ingalls arts and architecture bookstore.

Hennessey, who moved his store to 214 Wilshire Boulevard from the Third Street Promenade in August, expects a good holiday season after completing a successful sales event in early November. “Things are fine” after the move, he said.

“Everyone’s pointing to a good Christmas,” said Adamm Gritlefeld, owner of Adamm’s Stained Glass & Gallery on 4th Street.

Gritlefeld reported that his stained glass business has been great this year, partly because low interest rates have encouraged people to do more construction and remodeling.

But the gallery part of the business has been up and down. Overall, he said, “I’m happy.”

Various forecasts by retail associations and consultants indicate that this will be either the best or second best holiday retail season nationally since 1999.

Positive signs include solid job gains in California and the United States in October, a surging national economy in the third quarter, increased inventories that indicate business optimism and reports that economists expect the recovery to continue in the fourth quarter, although at a slower pace.

But while the general outlook is good, not all signs are positive. Some national companies weren’t pleased with sales results in October and expressed caution about the holiday season.

Levi Strauss, for example, said in mid-November that disappointing October sales caused some retailers to buy less for the holidays, while Toys R Us said it wasn’t seeing increased consumer confidence.

Retail competition will remain intense because consumers still seem to be in a bargain-hunting mood.

Those bits of uncertainty are keeping retailers from going overboard with optimism about holiday sales.

“Hopefully it’s going to be a good one,” said Adam Shaffer, owner of the Undercover women’s apparel store on the Third Street Promenade. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed.” He noted in mid-November that business was down a little this year.

At the Puzzle Zoo toys and game store on the Promenade, owner Jay Demircift expects business to be up over last year, which “was not great.”

“I think it’s going to be okay – better than people think, at least,” he said.
Both Demircift and Shaffer said their buying to stock up for the holidays is on par with last year.

Bubar senses more optimism and enthusiasm, but cautioned that retailers can’t sit back and hope for the best.

“You still have to make it happen,” he said.

SANTA MONICA HOTELS climbed into the top spot in hotel occupancy rate in Los Angeles County for the first nine months of 2003 on the strength of solid results in August and September.

The city’s occupancy rate of 76.7 percent exceeded the county average of 69.5 percent through September, according to a report by PKF Consulting. That put Santa Monica just ahead of Valencia and the South Bay area.

While Santa Monica’s occupancy rate was down 0.5 percent from a year earlier, its average room rate rose 2.8 percent to $197.07 for the nine months, meaning that the hotels gained ground in room revenues.

By comparison, Los Angeles County overall showed a 2.3 percent rise in occupancy rate, but a 3 percent drop in average room rate, indicating a slight decline in room income.

In August, Santa Monica’s hotel occupancy rate jumped 6.9 percent from August 2002 to 88.8 percent. That was followed by a 3.9 percent rise in September from a year earlier to 72.8 percent for the month.

That was a welcome improvement over July, when the occupancy rate dipped 1.5 percent from July 2002.

Meanwhile, average room rates remained ahead of last year in both August and September.

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL Bookstore has completed its relocation to 1450 2nd Street from the Third Street Promenade.

Like another well-known independent bookseller, Hennessey & Ingalls, Midnight Special chose to remain in downtown when their Promenade lease expired.

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