SF MARKET'S UNCERTAIN FUTURE: A TOPIC BUT NOT OBSTACLE FOR BUYERS

Byline: Diane Dorrans Saeks

SAN FRANCISCO--With recent business bouncing back after Northern California's prolonged siege of rains and floods, retailers turned up at the June market at the Fashion Center here in a relatively confident mood.
Still, the uncertain future of the mart and the lack of variety to be found were primary topics of conversation. Traffic was on the down side as well. The four-day market ran through June 21.
As reported, the five-year-old Fashion Center, owned by Atlanta-based Portman Cos., is in the process of being sold to a local group. Its plans for the building have not been disclosed. The sale is in escrow with a target completion date of Sept. 29.
Gerald J. Sorenson, general manager of the center, estimated attendance was off 5 percent from last June. To some, though, traffic looked especially quiet.
"We're not surprised by the light attendance," said Max Watkins, president of the Golden Gate Apparel Association, whose 300 members make up the majority of tenant showrooms as well as the sales representatives who show in the building's exhibition hall. He said the June market was traditionally the slowest of the year, but Watkins--currently at odds with mart management over how to attract buyers--also complained about a lack of promotion.
Sorenson responded that telemarketing was done, visits were made to stores and a trade ad was run. A mailer was canceled and there were no hotel incentives, he said, because the joint promotional fund of the center and the association had run dry. The usual fashion show was also missing, although Sorenson and Watkins said this was the decision of the salesmen's association. Watkins said it was felt the money used for a show could be used for other draws, such as seminars.
Meanwhile, against the backdrop of uncertainties, retailers were getting buying done, with several new stores represented among the shoppers. Pat Zaro, owner of Zaro's boutique, which recently opened in Brentwood, east of San Francisco, said she was filling in for summer and starting her fall buying. While complaining about the relatively small number of showrooms, she said she had done some "serious damage" to her open-to-buy with vests, skirts and novelty jackets.
Sarah Miller, owner of Yuba Blue, a new store in Grass Valley, Calif., a town in the Sierra foothills, was buying fall and holiday novelty sweaters, velvet leggings and novelty cotton tops and shirts. The store specializes in women's wear for less than $100.

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