Originally created 12/21/96

Retailers get green Christmas

Holiday sales are up nationally this year, unlike last year, and store managers, confident that buying will continue up until Christmas day, are making fewer last-minute markdowns.

Augusta store managers are optimistic, too.

"Sales are going well," said Nick Amato, city manager of J.B. White department stores in Augusta. "They're better than last year because there's two more days before Christmas. Last year Christmas was on a Monday and this year it's on Wednesday. I think we'll have a really strong weekend and a strong Monday and Tuesday."

David Stockton, Deans Bridge Road Wal-Mart super center manager, said sales were good on his end, also.

"It's going real, real well," he said. "I only wish I had a truckload full of Tickle Me Elmos. It's been the sleeper best-selling item this year. I don't think anybody thought it was going to do as well as it has. Toys in general have been very good selling items, and so have sporting goods, especially portable basketball goals."

This Christmas, said Mr. Amato, jewelry is a one of the hottest sellers.

"The Kidstone Collectables are a big seller this year," he said. "They're sterling charms with birthstones. Jewelry 's been a good item overall."

Edward Asbridge, general manager of the J.C. Penney at Augusta Mall, also said the jewelry department was doing very well - and so were the toys.

"We're also selling a lot of Space Jam and 101 Dalmatians merchandise," he said. "We're doing very well in Barbie merchandise, and the normal things you think of at Christmas are selling well like warm-ups and sweaters."

With the coming of the unusually cold weather, shoppers might rather stay in than hit the malls. But Mr. Asbridge disagreed.

"(Cold weather) will certainly help the sale of sweaters, coats and heavy-weight shirts," he said. "We've about sold out of thermal underwear."

Mr. Stockton thought the cold weather would not have an adverse effect on sales.

"We've noticed an earlier sell, and I don't believe the cold will have anything but a positive affect here," he said. "Everything seems to be selling even better than what we anticipated."

Mr. Amato agreed.

"The cold weather is a bonus," he said. "It gets people in the mood (for the holiday season), and the goods we're selling right now, like coats, sell better with cold weather."

But there is one thing that's the same from year to year: last-minute shopping.

In fact, 32 percent of all holiday purchases were made during the week before Christmas a year ago, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, a New York-based trade group.

"The seven days before Christmas are far better than any other shopping days," said Mr. Asbridge. "It'll be wall-to-wall people from now to Christmas Eve. Sales are up over last year, and I predict that it's going to be anywhere from 7 to 10 percent by the end of month."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.


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