ATLANTA — Huge discounts from the major retailers bit into holiday business for most specialty stores shopping the Cobb Show here last week, and they haven’t recovered yet.


“The urban market didn’t do well because the big stores were dumping their goods,” complained Neil Rama, co-owner and buyer of Brite Creations in Atlanta. “The smaller stores can’t do that.”


“The holiday season was our worst in 40 years,” said Khair Askar, owner of New York Men’s Clothing in Boynton Beach, Fla. “We were giving away merchandise — selling at very low prices, and business still wasn’t good.”


As a result, some retailers are cutting back on buying again this year while still hoping sales improve. Askar, in fact, said he cut his budget in half, but this was due in part to the fact that he had to close three stores in the Palm Beach Mall because the mall foreclosed. He currently has two stores in Boynton Beach and a third in Palm Beach, Fla., that he opened to replace his mall stores.


“Retailers are having a hard time,” said Ira Eisenberg, president of wholesale apparel company Wise Buys, “but they’re coming out and buying for spring. They have to have spring merchandise and fresh product. Our business is OK but not great because our customers’ business isn’t great. The industry isn’t healthy.”


Many retailers also said they would skip MAGIC next month because of the expense.


The Cobb Show had 511 booths and several new lines to entice buying. These included skate brand The Elm, which is expanding into the urban and streetwear market; The Hundreds is Huge, a skate-streetwear brand; Habari Clothing, which launched in 2008 and is expanding into woven shirts, denim and sweats for fall 2011; Raider Jeans; Francesco Bianchi, which sells high-quality slacks and sweaters at moderate prices; Rebel Spirit; Invisible Bully, a new line by D.Roc supporting antibullying causes and that will have a full collection in August.


Retailers focused on shopping for off-price merchandise and closeouts at the show. “I’m filling in some items that are moving and also to freshen up merchandise in the store,” said Rama. He said his company will cut back this year, but he doesn’t know how much. “We’ll be very careful.”


Plaids were all over the show — shirts, shorts, jackets — and that’s what most retailers were buying. Rama said he’ll have plaid shirts for spring, as well as $20 to $25 T-shirts with graphics, to sell with Levi’s jeans.


Khair said his stores sell fashion and dressy suits as well as sportswear. “We’re just buying important things like basic black suits and white shirts…and we’re filling in on sizes we need,” he said.


Robert Cohen, chief executive officer of United Men’s Fashion in Buffalo, said his holiday sales were slightly down, which was about what he expected. He said his amount of buying would be about the same this year, and he was buying fashion suits and dressy looks in sportswear.


Reginald Chennault, co-owner of Vnj Designs in Riverdale, Ga., had a different story from other retailers. His business has been 80 percent custom, but now, he’s expanding the percentage of regular merchandise — jeans, sportswear, outerwear — to 40 percent, and adding 600 square feet of space for a total of 2,200 square feet.


“Our holiday business was fair, and we did better than last year,” he said. “We did a lot of custom business.” He was booking fall at the show, as well as buying shorts, hats and button-down shirts for spring. “We’re looking for a strong year,” he said.

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