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War Has Mixed Retail Impact in N.Y., Tokyo

NEW YORK — With the onset of the war with Iraq and the inclement weather Thursday, retailers throughout the city saw a fall off in foot traffic. <br><br>The situation wasn’t helped by much-tighter security throughout the city, with...

NEW YORK — With the onset of the war with Iraq and the inclement weather Thursday, retailers throughout the city saw a fall off in foot traffic.

The situation wasn’t helped by much-tighter security throughout the city, with checkpoints at bridge ramps and tunnels and police stationed on street corners and in subway stations.

“Our beauty week is in progress and while the first floor continues to be busy today, there is significantly less traffic on the upper floors. That’s likely due to world issues coupled with the weather working against us,” said a Lord & Taylor spokeswoman.

At Barneys New York’s Madison Avenue store, the traffic Thursday was off, and observers said the store seemed quiet throughout all its floors. “However, people seem to be coming in looking for a distraction,” said a spokeswoman for the store.

Stefani Greenfield, co-owner of the Scoop stores said that business was slow Thursday.

“It’s not only the climate in the world, it’s the climate in the city. It’s much slower than it has been in the last couple of weeks, but hopefully it’s weather-related too. It’s hard for people to take their attention off of what’s happening, but in the end we want there to be good business.”
— Anamaria Wilson

TOKYO — It was business as usual in Ginza, Omotesando, and other shopping centers here Thursday following the outbreak of war against Iraq. But retailers believe the war, if it’s a prolonged one, almost certainly will impact a business that already is struggling with the economic downturn.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the Far East, there was more fear over the mysterious flu bug circulating than over any impact from the war in Iraq. Many Asian countries remain opposed to the war, with antiwar demonstrations taking place throughout Hong Kong.

But the dominant feeling in Japanese retail and other business circles at this juncture is that it is going to be a short war.

A spokesman for Mitsukoshi Ltd. said the turnout of shoppers at its department stores in Tokyo and elsewhere was no different from normal days. “Of course, I am talking only about today,” the executive said.

This story first appeared in the March 21, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

A similar comment came from a spokesman for Takashimaya Department Stores, who said there was no abnormality in the number of visitors to Takashimaya stores Thursday following news of war in Iraq. Final sales results are not in from all the stores, but I can say there was nothing unusual in today’s business,” he said.

The restaurant on the second floor of Mitsukoshi’s Ginza store was full all day, while pedestrians and shoppers milled around the busy Ginza streets as usual.

If the war is a prolonged one, however, retailers said their businesses would be adversely affected by a possible decline in export trade, a chilling in consumers’ mood and a drop in personal consumption.

A top executive of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers’ Association has reportedly expressed strong concerns that the war, if it is prolonged beyond the one month that it took the Gulf War in 1991 to end, could seriously chill global market demand beyond immediate repair.

Another top industry leader, Kanji Shono, chairman of the Japan Petrochemical Industry Association, has reportedly stated that the U.S.-led war in Iraq may lead to a slowdown in the U.S. economy, growing uncertainties about the prospect for the global economy and soaring crude oil prices.

The Japanese government said it is taking a series of measures to ensure economic and financial stability against any possible confusion that may arise from war in Iraq. These measures include the establishment of a task force to ensure economic stability, securing oil supplies in cooperation with other nations, provision of sufficient liquidity by the Bank of Japan to banks, and allowing the Ministry of Finance to intervene in exchange markets if necessary. The action will also allow the Tokyo Stock Exchange to limit maximum daily price fluctuations if necessary.

Tokyo stocks moved higher Thursday for the third consecutive session on the general expectation that the war with Iraq will end quickly and decisively. The 225-issue Nikkei Stock Average lifted 144.01 points, or 1.79 percent, to close at 8,195.05. It was the highest close since March 6.

The yen’s exchange rate weakened to 120 yen to the dollar at one time Thursday, down 1.81 yen from the previous day, on the expectation that a short war in Iraq will have little affect on the U.S. economy. This prompted investors to sell yens and buy dollars.
— Tsukasa Furukawa, with contributions from Constance Haisma-Kwok, Hong Kong