There’s no bailout for retailers this holiday season. Despite slashing prices and extending hours, stores appear to be giving in to reality with just two days left before Christmas. The traditional late surge of shopping is nonexistent because of the deepening recession, which is likely to make this season the worst in memory.

Even with schools and many consumers on vacation, merchants are holding out little hope of recouping lost ground. “It’s really bad,” said Crawford Brock, owner of the luxury Stanley Korshak boutique in Dallas. “Everybody’s discounting, so the margins are terrible and sales are strong double-digit down with no real bright spots. It’s just miserable….I don’t think it will be better until the fourth quarter” of 2009.Stanley Korshak sells to affluent customers, but this season even the well-off don’t think it’s fashionable to make expensive and multiple purchases. “They are getting each other one gift or maybe a stocking stuffer,” Brock said. “Nobody’s doing the big Christmas. Everybody is terrified.”That goes for the moderate market, as well.“Results were disappointing during the critical week before Christmas,” said Keith Fulsher, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer of Dress Barn. “The weather [snowstorms during the weekend] has definitely not played in our favor. We continue to focus on managing our inventories. A few highlights however, are our social special occasion dresses, as well as career and casual jackets.”At the Maurices division of Dress Barn, Lisa Rhodes, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, acknowledged difficult business, though she added that embellished dressy tops and novelty screen tees in sizes 1-24, remain bestsellers in the tough environment.“We are probably off, but I haven’t looked at the figures — I’d rather not know,” said Connie Sigel, owner of Elements boutique in Dallas. “I have to say this much, I knew this was coming in March — Bear Stearns’ [demise] was a big wake-up call — so I cut back on my buy about 30 percent, so that helped tremendously.” The economic nosedive has “taken the thrill out of shopping because everybody feels bad for everyone else,” she said. “But most everyone has taken a hit in their portfolios, so everybody feels poor no matter how rich they are.”  

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