WHAT THE RETAILERS SAY

Trina Tunstall, owner of the p.45 boutique in Chicago’s trendy Wicker Park neighborhood, is like many retailers who have been keeping a close eye on business as a result of the lagging economy.
She’s scaled back her sales goals for the boutique after seeing consistently high increases since opening three years ago.
“Sales are still steady and going up, but not as much as last year, when they were up 50 percent,” she said. “Now, increases are only in the teens.”
For spring, Tunstall said she’s projecting about a 15 percent sales increase, but even that might be ambitious, she noted.
Her holiday sales projections were also 15 percent, compared with a holiday increase of 18 percent in 1999.
“I hope we don’t see a real slowdown, but our customer base is a luxury customer, so they [tend to] keep on shopping,” Tunstall said. “Plus, we’re pretty much a destination store. If someone walks in that door, they have something specific they want, and they buy it.”
Scott Baskin, president of the Chicago-based Mark Shale, a seven-store specialty chain, said while he does not expect the slowdown of the economy to really affect his business, he’s still projecting lower sales increases for spring 2001 compared with spring 2000.
Throughout 2000, Baskin said Mark Shale saw consistent, double-digit-percentile increases. For 2001, he predicts those percentages could be slashed in half.
“But I don’t think everything is so terrible — the economy is still strong,” Baskin said. “People seem to be so driven by the ups and downs of the stock market. In truth, those represent paper gains and losses that don’t affect the day-to-day business.”
Baskin said he also expects the new looks this spring will lure customers to the stores, with a big emphasis on skirts and blouses.
“Customers have been wearing pants, pants, pants for a long time, and we think skirts will be really important,” he said. “And we also expect to see nice increases in blouses. Everybody has 10 twinsets, whereas a blouse is fresh-looking and most people don’t have them.”
While declining to give out any sales projections for spring, Marshall Field’s spokeswoman Lynne Galia said the store expected a very competitive holiday season, especially given the year’s softer economic climate overall.
And with a strong gift-giving sector, Galia said Field’s expected leathers and sweaters, both cashmere and knits, as well as accessories and fine jewelry, to perform the best over the holidays.
Leslie Gersten, owner of the boutique Sugar Magnolia situated on tony Oak Street, said while her business consistently does well because it features a large assortment of realistic, wearable clothing, she did not expect the holiday season to be as busy as holiday 1999.
“Last year, there was all that hype with the millennium, and I bought things that I never bought before. I sold more holiday clothes, more gowns and ballskirts — we did great, great, great,” Gersten said. “But I think people had that millennium bug and were going berserk.”
Gersten said she’s not bracing herself for stormy economic weather.
“People always have to take care of their needs, whether it’s getting their hair or nails done, and with clothes it’s the same thing,” she said. “Everybody needs something new, whether it’s a $20 T-shirt or the newest silhouette in capris. Anybody can afford that.”

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