Originally created 12/05/01

Augusta retailers say sales stood up



National figures for retail sales during the Thanksgiving weekend sagged this year, but area businesses say traffic during the kickoff of the holiday shopping season was at or above last year's levels.

Nationally, shopping was a bit soft as mall sales were down 1.5 percent Thanksgiving weekend and 2.6 percent in the first full week of the holiday shopping season, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Local retailers wouldn't reveal specific numbers, but said shopper turnout the day after Thanksgiving was as good as or better than expected.

Larry McCall, the general manager of Sears at Augusta Mall, said business was just about what he expected. Mike Autry, the general manager of Target at Augusta Exchange, said sales since the day after Thanksgiving are ahead of projections so far.

Stein Mart General Manager Gwendolyn Knight reported a "fantastic increase in business over last year."

Telecheck Services, which tracks check writing, found a 2.1 percent increase nationally from last year in sales made between Nov. 23 and Dec. 2. Checks account for about one-third of retail spending, according to the company.

With conflicting accounts and so many variables at play, industry analysts are avoiding predictions for the end of the holiday season.

"Thanksgiving weekend accounts for only about 10 percent of total holiday sales, so there is a long way to go," said Michael Baker, the council's director of research.

Traditionally, the season's two busiest shopping days are the Saturday and Sunday before Christmas - Dec. 22 and 23 this year.

Area retailers did say Augusta's unseasonably warm December has curbed consumer interest in winter clothes, which could lead to overstocking and, ultimately, big discounts.

"It has started well, but to be honest, I'm a little shaky about the rest of the season," Ms. Knight said.

Mr. McCall echoed her concern.

"We had a good turnout Thanksgiving weekend," he said. "But we're still waiting for cooler weather to get sales on our outerwear up."

SALES REPORT

Summary of national sales results for Thanksgiving weekend by category, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers:

APPAREL: Down 6.1 percent

FOOD SERVICE: Down 4.7 percent

FOOTWEAR: Up 1.5 percent

HOME FURNISHINGS AND FURNITURE: Up 5 percent

JEWELRY: Down 2.3 percent

MUSIC, VIDEO, AND HOME ENTERTAINMENT: Up 9.8 percent

STATIONERY, CARDS AND BOOKS: Down 6.7 percent

TOYS, SPORTING GOODS AND OTHER: Down 1.7 percent

TOTAL:

Down 1.5 percent

Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or john.banks@augustachronicle.com.