By  on December 13, 2005

NEW YORK — Retailers have nothing to rave about so far this holiday season.

Traffic has been generally ho-hum and no hot gift items have emerged on the fashion front. But several retail executives on Monday said shopping surges could materialize by Friday and with luck last through New Year's, enabling them to hit sales goals. While there was some momentum noticed this past weekend, Black Friday's mad dash to the malls is a distant memory.

"The feeling is that business is tough," said one senior executive of a major national chain.

"I think it's slower than we had anticipated, but we feel sure that the next two weeks is going have required level of volume to meet our plans," said Andrew Jennings, president of Saks Fifth Avenue.

"We will have a better feeling about business toward the end of the week," said Michael Gould, chairman and chief executive of Bloomingdale's. "The very encouraging part of the whole holiday season is the level of self-purchasing."

Pat Murphy Kerstein, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer of Chico's, said, "This weekend really turned out a lot of shoppers. A lot of our customers are buying for themselves."

"There is still uncertainty," said another retail ceo. "Obviously, the snowstorm [last week] killed the Northeast. We got walloped. The general consensus is that there will be another late Christmas, but no one is panicky. No one is giving up hope, but people are starting to get nervous. It will come down to the last two weeks, and the week after Christmas is a big week."

On average, retailers planned for total sales gains in the 4 to 6 percent range, and comp-store sales of roughly half that. Among the trends keeping them above water: strong selling in handbags, jewelry, boots, Western looks, scarves, gloves, men's dress shirts, gift cards and electronics, particularly televisions, DVDs and iPods.

Retailers said the extra selling day this year and Hanukkah starting the same day as Christmas should translate to heavy last-minute shopping. The cold weather is already helping, but not when it's snowy or icy. Adding to the uncertainty, more messy weather is expected this week and the threat of a transit strike in New York City on Friday looms. (See sidebar.)

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