By and  on May 14, 2008

NEW YORK — Specialty stores' open-to-buys might be holding steady, but at this month's Moda Manhattan and FAME trade shows, buyers reported they are looking more before making decisions, waiting longer to place orders, and then only buying what they love — mimicking the behavior of their own shoppers.

If not ordering for immediate delivery, most buyers were scouting for fall, rather than holiday, at Moda and FAME on May 4 to 6 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Top-selling items were must-have novelty pieces that stood out in terms of color, shape or embellishment, and that didn't break the bank.

Carolyn Billet, owner of Maple Street Clothing in New Orleans, shopped Moda and FAME for her two customer bases: "women and college students." She was looking for early fall with a flat open-to-buy, and ordered novelty knits, boyfriend sweaters and jackets in purples, reds and charcoals at Moda.

"I'm being extremely selective because of the economy, so an item must be something I absolutely love, nothing on the cusp, for me to order it this season," Billet said. "Fringe items will be trimmed, and I am sticking with manufacturers who have been tested."

Thomas George, owner of E Street Denim in Highland Park, Ill., said he "worked a lot harder" at this round of shows, making sure that he was finding the best merchandise for his stores with his flat open-to-buy. But he said he was disappointed by the lack of risk vendors were taking.

"I don't think we've done a great job in our industry to make things exciting, and consumers are probably spending the same amount of money, but they are shifting out of our industry to travel, technology," George said. "Retailers also have to take some risk, and unfortunately, I didn't find enough out there that's moving it forward — anything that was 'oh my god.'"

Vendors reported strong traffic on Sunday, then a tapering off of visitors when Intermezzo opened. For example, sales were up 40 percent over last year for Don Hurowitz, the New England representative for better lines Maralyce Ferree Design, CTC and Ameeta, which all showed at Moda. He said buyers scoured his lines for "novelty, texture and color."


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