- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2001

Retailers didn't disappoint the hordes of discount-hungry shoppers stalking stores and strip malls yesterday on the hunt for after-Christmas sales and bargains.
Nearly every outlet at White Flint mall in Rockville had sale and clearance signs hanging on the windows.
Bloomingdale's, filled with shoppers clutching additional coupons, posted sale signs marking down merchandise as much as 50 percent.
Talbots with merchandise priced 25 percent to 50 percent lower had long lines at the register. Sweaters and tops set up on tables were disheveled from all the hands that had been fishing through the stock.
"This is really exciting," said Sandy Wehunt of Rockville, who had never been to a "day after Christmas" sale before.
Mrs. Wehunt arrived at White Flint yesterday at 8:45 a.m. to exchange a sweater at Bloomingdale's for another size. She didn't find the right size but bought three other sweaters she liked instead. And that was just the beginning.
"Since I'm here, I've managed to cash in on other bargains," Mrs. Wehunt said as she combed through dresses at the upscale department store.
By midafternoon, she still had no intention of leaving the store any time soon. She said the fast-moving lines at the registers and the sales would keep her there a couple more hours.
That's exactly what retailers are hoping for this week.
Coming off a sluggish four-week holiday shopping period, retailers especially specialty stores in malls are longing for more business to help their bottom line for the year.
Sales during the last week of the year make up about 10 percent of the overall holiday retail sales, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Besides using the last six days of the year to improve the bottom line, retailers design the post-Christmas sales frenzy to lure enough shoppers into the stores to help clear the shelves for new merchandise.
"Retailers have to be concerned with getting their stores ready for the spring selling season, and they must sell everything by mid- to late January no matter what the cost," said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, based in Charleston, S.C.
Some analysts are predicting that this may be the worst holiday season for retailers in a decade. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, the worst holiday retail performance in recent years occurred in 1990 during the last recession when sales were flat.
A pre-Christmas surge in spending boosted same-store retail sales for the holiday shopping period to 2.2 percent, according to TeleCheck, which analyzes checks written at 27,000 locations around the country.
That's up about a half percent from the modest 1.8 percent increase in sales during the first 24 days of the season.
Discount chains like Wal-Mart and Target made out like bandits as shoppers flocked there instead of malls to find discounted merchandise throughout the season.
Wal-Mart reported yesterday that sales at stores open at least one year are now expected to be at the high end of its earlier forecast of a rise of 4 percent to 6 percent.
Online sales are expected to hit at least $13 billion this season, according to Jupiter Media Metrix, which conducts market research and analysis on the consumer online industry.
Yahoo said holiday sales on its shopping Web sites rose 86 percent from a year ago, and Microsoft said its MSN network of Internet services showed sales growth of 56 percent.
Traditional retailers are hoping their mega sales this week will catch shoppers' attention.
Macy's sales blitz includes 50 percent discounts on furs, men's suits and sportswear, and men's sweaters. Toys R Us was offering discounts of up to 80 percent. The Bombay Company is offering 25 percent off its entire store stock.
Shoppers were lined up at registers at Expressions, the Hallmark store at White Flint, taking advantage of the 50 percent markdowns on all Christmas merchandise, from wrapping paper and figurines to boxed cards and candy.
"The lines are longer than I've seen the whole season," said Todd Elling, a seasonal worker at the card shop, who was restocking the shelves of boxed cards.
"We've been continually restocking," Mr. Elling said. "We're throwing everything Christmas out on to the shelves."
Shoppers were buying up wrap and boxed Christmas cards for next year. Others waited for the post-Christmas sales to even start their holiday shopping.
"I didn't buy my kids anything for Christmas this year," said Nancie Yonker, with a half dozen items draped over her arm at the Old Navy on Rockville Pike.
Mrs. Yonker made an agreement with her three teen-agers that they would go shopping after Christmas to get more for their money.
"We are very frugal," she said. "We're finding everything is on sale."
This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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