At a time when the nation’s economic downturn is threatening to spoil holiday shopping, retailers are scrambling to milk the season for all it’s worth.
In recent years, retailers have tried to get a jump on holiday sales by opening earlier and earlier on the season’s official post-Thanksgiving kickoff, Black Friday.
Last year, that meant Kohl’s and J.C. Penney stores in the Capital Region opened on Black Friday at 4 a.m., an hour earlier than the previous year. On Nov. 28, they will again open at that pre-dawn hour.
Highlighting retailers’ desperation, they are now beginning the Black Friday festivities even earlier. The Pittsfield, Mass.-based KB Toys will open 270 of its 460 stores at midnight on Black Friday, including those at Colonie Center, Rotterdam Square mall and Wilton Mall, according to the retailer’s Web site.
Boscov’s, the Reading, Pa., department store chain attempting to climb out of bankruptcy court, will keep its stores at Colonie Center and Clifton Park Center open on Thanksgiving Day. Susan Keegan, general manager of the Clifton Park mall, said Boscov’s will open next Thursday at 8 a.m. and close at 1 p.m.
A store manager told Keegan last weekend the move to keep Boscov’s open on Thanksgiving — unlike last year — comes in light of the chain’s new ownership. Reuters reported Wednesday that a family group lead by Albert Boscov and Edwin Lakin expect to close on a deal to buy the department store chain for up to $300 million in a Delaware bankruptcy court by Friday. A Boscov’s spokeswoman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
As a sign of the times, Rotterdam Square and Wilton Mall are holding pajama parties Black Friday morning. They will distribute $25 gift cards to the first 50 customers who show up in mall lounge areas wearing pajamas. The Santa Monica, Calif.-based Macerich, which owns Rotterdam Square and Wilton Mall, tested the pajama lounge promotion last year with some success.
“We think it’s going to be a nice and fun thing for our shoppers. They come here so early, and we’d like to reward them,” said Becky Valenti, the marketing manager at Rotterdam Square and Wilton Mall.
But the holiday season likely will be less fun for retailers. The National Retail Federation is forecasting holiday sales to grow by 2.2 percent to $470.4 billion. That sales growth rate would be the lowest on record since 2002’s increase of 1.3 percent and it would fall below the 10-year average rate of 4.4 percent.
The NRF, a Washington trade organization, attributed the softer holiday sales to waning consumer confidence, which will force shoppers to be more conservative in stores. The Siena Research Institute last week reported that New York’s consumer confidence reached a record low in October.
Food and gas prices have declined significantly since the NRF issued its holiday sales forecast in September, leaving consumers with more cash to carry to the stores. But federation spokeswoman Kathy Grannis said the 2.2 percent sales growth prediction remains unchanged. The nation’s high unemployment rate, which in October climbed to a 14-year high at 6.5 percent, and credit concerns will offset the effects of lower gas and food, she said.
“We’re expecting a fantastic holiday season. For the first time in many years, the entire interior of the mall is 100 percent leased,” said Keegan at Clifton Park Center.
The Clifton Park mall currently has 79 stores, compared to 54 a year ago. Mall owner DCG Development Co. two years ago turned Clifton Park Center into an open-air mall, an overhaul that created much new but vacant retail space.
Among the new stores at Clifton Park Center is Bike World USA, which Richard and Debbie Himmelwright will open Friday. The couple has temporarily leased a 4,500-square-foot space, in which they will combine their two separate businesses.
Richard Himmelwright is the owner of Freeman’s Bridge Sports in Glenville, and his wife owns a bike accessories Internet company called BikeWorldUSA.com. The Glenville sports shop will remain open.
“In the mall, we’re going to get a lot more action, so I’m expecting a good day,” Richard Himmelwright said of Black Friday.
The Schenectady-based Northeastern Fine Jewelry will again attempt to lure customers into its shops by offering them high-tech gizmos.
The retailer last year gave away iPhones and iPods to customers who made Black Friday purchases exceeding $1,000. This year on Black Friday and the following Saturday, Northeastern will give second-generation iPhones to customers who spend at least $999. Customers spending at least $1,099 can choose between a Nintendo Wii or iPhone 3G.
Representatives at the Capital Region’s two largest malls — Crossgates and Colonie Center — could not be reached for comment.
In Guilderland, Trans World Entertainment President and Chief Operating Officer James Litwak said the FYE chain store parent is preparing to confront the economic downturn this holiday season with some of its deepest discounts on music, movies and video games.
“The retail climate is difficult. If there’s one day they’re going to shop, it’s that day,” Litwak said.