By  on April 14, 1994

SAN FRANCISCO -- Retailers played it safe at the Fashion Center's fall I market here this week. They were buying, but for many the focus was only on immediate goods, as they sought summer merchandise in breezy fabrics.

Many buyers said the action in their stores reflected a slow economic recovery. Still, they remained cautious, sticking to proven items and keeping a firm hand on their open-to-buys. Shorts, long and short skirts, T-shirts, palazzo pants and vests continued to top shopping lists.

The four-day market ended Tuesday, with Fashion Center management rating attendance flat with a year ago -- an improvement after the drops in traffic that had marked some recent markets.

Reflecting a common attitude among retailers, Pamela Griffin, owner of Folkways Imports, two women's boutiques in Eugene, Ore., said, "Business picked up for spring. We feel positive, but we are buying cautiously. Our open-to-buy is down 10 percent. That way, we can save money for immediates in June."

At this market, she was also shopping for immediate deliveries in popular styles, including palazzo pants, long vests and soft jackets in natural fibers. As for colors, Griffin liked rich neutrals as well as charcoal and steel gray.

"Business is picking up because I am lowering my prices," said Mary Francis, buyer for Martha's Vogue, a boutique here. She shopped for casual career separates, including long and short skirts, as well as cocktail dresses, and stayed within the $40 to $60 wholesale range.

Eloise Telfer and Jeanne Spitler, owners of Clothes Garden, a boutique in Capitola, Calif., were ordering sure bets, too, including casual sportswear by Russ Berens and Carol Anderson and sweaters by Chava.

Shopping price points of $10 to $70 wholesale, the two liked long and short skirts, wide-leg pants, leggings and loose tunics in natural fibers.

"Business has been slow, but it's picking up," Spitler said. "We depend on Silicon Valley as a customer base, and it is on shaky ground. A lot of companies are moving out of there."

Their open-to-buy was down at least 20 percent, she said. "We have to do much more focused buying these days."

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