By  on April 29, 2008

At Jake, three upscale boutiques in and around Chicago, the city's winter weather and colder spring have affected sales more than the economic downturn.

"During warm spurts we saw business that was only slightly off from last year. However, the subzero temperatures and grey skies definitely kept consumers at home," said co-owner Jim Wetzel. "We have also seen a sharp decline with that aspirational client who is looking to make a onetime luxury purchase. They have disappeared from the scene."

Overall, Wetzel said, "customers are still gravitating towards higher price point items that have a lot of 'wow' or bang for the buck in terms of detail or embellishment. We have also seen a renewed interest in sharper priced items like premium denim, dresses in the $500 range and basics that retail at about $350. Strong sellers include sexy short dresses from Barbara Bui, items from Chris Benz in big bold colors and easy Bohemian styles from Isabel Marant."

Store sales at Saks Fifth Avenue on Chicago's Michigan Avenue are down, although not as much as competitors, said Michael Hawley, general manager. "Like the majority of retailers, our comparable-store sales trends have slowed recently," Hawley said. "For 2007, comparable-store sales rose 12 percent, while 2008 year-to-date sales [February and March combined] were flat.

"With flat sales, we are still significantly outperforming most other retailers," he added.

Hawley said the slowdown has been fairly broad based, with the biggest pullback coming from aspirational customers. Best-selling items at Saks in Chicago have been the trend items identified in its "Want It!" promotions, including bangles, shoulder bags, florals, tunics, maxidresses and slides, he said.

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