NORTHEAST STORES SEE RESURGENCE OF SHOPPERS IN LAST PRE-YULE DAYS

Byline: David Moin — With contributions from Mark Tosh and Sharon Edelson

NEW YORK — After getting stymied by snow Tuesday and Wednesday, retailers in the Northeast cited a pickup Thursday, underscoring the outlook for a strong final weekend before Christmas.
Weather reports late Thursday also fueled optimism. The forecast was for mixed sun and clouds today and Saturday and temperatures approaching 40 degrees both days. Some flurries may be in the air, but shoppers shouldn’t worry. No accumulation is expected.
“This weekend was planned strong to begin with, with Christmas falling on Monday,” said Janice Suczewski, partner in Deloitte & Touche.”It’s going to be a good weekend, but I don’t think retailers will fully recover from the snow days of earlier this week. There’s been plenty of confirmation that Tuesday and Wednesday were dogs.”
“We had a tough time on Wednesday, but today [Thursday] looks very good,” said Mark Leonardo, manager at the Sears, Roebuck store in Middletown, N.Y., where there was about a foot of snow.
“There’s no question that traffic has picked up,” Leonardo added. “We expect a great next two or three days as people come out for last-minute shopping. We seem to be busy in all areas.”
At the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship, there was a line outside the store before it opened Thursday, which was characterized as a strong day by a spokeswoman.
“Today’s terrific,” said Craig Perry, general manager of The Mall at Short Hills in N.J. “The only day that was really significantly impacted was Tuesday.” Though customers stayed away Wednesday until about 11:00 a.m.
“Interestingly, the forecast Monday warning about the storm on Tuesday drove a lot of business Monday night,” Perry said. “The bottom line is that the storm won’t have a negative impact on overall business. It shifted business. If anything, the storm lightened traffic for this coming weekend and forced it earlier. People are shopping tonight and will be shopping tomorrow in anticipation of another snow storm and large crowds.”
Despite the weather, Bradlees at Union Square was busy all week, according to store manager Roy Polayes. “New Yorkers are a hearty bunch,” he said. “People were a little discouraged Wednesday morning, but otherwise the weather’s impact has been transparent.”
Polayes said he expected weekend traffic at Bradlees would be “the heaviest of the year.”
Bob’s Stores, a 34-unit casual and activewear superstore operated by Melville Corp., is bracing for a last-minute rush this weekend.
“Things are jumping,” said an executive at one Bob’s unit. He said Bob’s was very busy Monday before the snow hit, then quieted somewhat Tuesday and Wednesday.
His weekend prediction: “It’s going to be unbelievable.”
Philip Monaghan, Henri Bendel’s vice president of marketing, said Thursday, “We’ve definitely seen a recovery in traffic today,” at the New York and Boston stores which were hurt by the blizzard. But he added, “Wednesday was not as gloomy as one would have thought looking at the weather. The customers that were in the store yesterday fought the weather and were serious shoppers.”
“We were off to a very strong start in New York on Thursday,” Monaghan said. “Chicago was off to a very good start as well. Boston is back, the customer is definitely back shopping today and I think we will have a good day, but the stars are really in New York and Chicago today. For the weekend we’re going to see a lot of people making up for these lost days.”
As business picked up, so did the price promoting. Many retail ads smacked of desperation, with Macy’s advertising 20 to 50 percent reductions, and on top of that offering coupons for another 10 percent off most fashion items.
The main floor at Macy’s Herald Square was packed in the afternoon, and at around 2:30 there were 15 people waiting on line on the mezzanine to buy gift certificates. However, one clerk in the toy department complained, “On the Thursday before Christmas, it should be a madhouse at lunchtime. It’s not.”
Lord & Taylor ads warned there was “just four days left to save” and offered price reductions comparable to Macy’s, including the 10 percent off coupons. Sears had a lighter touch. Its ads proclaimed, “Let it snow! Let it snow!” to plug extended store hours. Yet Sears ads also promoted 25 to 50 percent off women’s, men’s and children’s and footwear.

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