Charge! Everyone from impulse shoppers to big spenders whips out the plastic when tapped on the shoulder by the angel of conspicuous consumption. These 10 locales share two common denominators: residents with high incomes and proximity to a cornucopia of retailers. However, total bankruptcies for 2003 came to 1.66 million, a rise of 5.1 percent over 2002, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute, which cited figures from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. While business bankruptcies fell last year, personal bankruptcies rose, accounting for more than 98 percent of last year’s filings. Experts say credit-card debt and medical expenses are the usual culprits that force individuals into bankruptcy.

  1. STAMFORD-NORWALK, CONN.
    General credit card index: 125.21; spending potential: $82 million
    Population: 267,432
    Some of Connecticut’s downtowns have seen better days. This area, however, is luring retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart, which opened two units in Norwalk.
  2. DANBURY, CONN.
    General credit card index: 116.51; spending potential: $47 million
    Population: 164,112
    According to local organizations, Danbury ended 2003 with the highest retail sales in the state — more than $4 billion. The area has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, 3.1 percent as of September.
  3. SAN JOSE, CALIF.
    General credit card index: 115.32; spending potential: $363 million
    Population: 1,282,677
    While San Jose suffered when the dot.com bubble burst, things have been looking up. New malls indicate that developers think there’s more money to be spent. Westfield’s Shoppingtown Oakridge is just one example.
  4. HONOLULU
    General credit card index: 114.79; spending potential: $195 million
    Population: 692,698
    After a few lean years with fewer tourists due to SARS and the Iraq war, sales moved up in Honolulu. Low unemployment, an increase in personal income and low interest rates aided the rise. Also, Hawaii’s economy in many ways has been outperforming that of the mainland.
  5. SAN FRANCISCO
    General credit card index: 113.96; spending potential: $396 million
    Population: 1,417,604
    According to local officials, the luxury business in Union Square is on the rebound. Reportedly the area racks up yearly sales of $1 billion.
  6. MIDDLESEX-SOMERSET-HUNTERDON, N.J.
    General credit card index: 113.53; spending potential: $254 million
    Population: 913,022
    Hot air balloon champagne flights on weekends are a regular sight in this genteel corner of New Jersey. Specialty stores include What a Girl Wants in Bernardsville and Things We Like and Added Touches in Clinton. For serious fashion, residents travel to the Mall at Short Hills.
  7. ORANGE COUNTY, CALIF.
    General credit card index: 111.49; spending potential: $581 million
    Population: 2,123,519
    Consumers began opening their wallets after Thanksgiving, according to retailers at Fashion Island in Newport Beach. South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, which caters to luxury customers, is more immune to economic blips.
  8. BERGEN-PASSAIC, N.J.
    General credit card index: 111.07; spending potential: $286 million
    Population: 1,049,256
    Retailers are anxious to target the Bergen and Passaic County shopper. Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, J.C. Penney and Nordstrom are at Garden State Plaza. New Crate & Barrel, Ikea and Container Store units recently opened on Route 17. Parts of Route 46 have reached retail capacity, said local officials.
  9. NASSAU-SUFFOLK, N.Y.
    General credit card index: 110.99; spending potential $564 million
    Population: 2,071,088
    Nassau County has been hit with astronomic property tax increases in recent years, but that hasn’t stopped the stores from coming. The median household income for Nassau-Suffolk is $68,986 and jobs have been relatively stable.
  10. BOULDER-LONGMONT, COLO.
    General credit card index: 110.92 spending potential: $64 million
    Population: 234,747
    Boulder and Longmont have unique and successful downtown shopping districts. The question is what will become of them when Wal-Mart arrives, which seems inevitable as the company is considering a site in Longmont. Local retailers say they’re sticking to their knitting and stocking distinctive products.

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