- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2003

The dreary weather forced many Washingtonians to cancel their plans for a Memorial Day barbecue or beach visit, but they didn’t necessarily hit the malls to lift their spirits.

Traffic was light at local shopping centers yesterday. Several retailers had advertised sales on big-ticket items, such as furniture and mattresses, but the busiest merchants seemed to be salons, restaurants and souvenir shops.

“If the weather was better, we would be by the pool right now,” Lori Ettinger said as she, her husband, their 8-month-old daughter and a friend snacked on ice cream at Pentagon Row, a town square-style shopping center in Arlington.

While many stores advertise Memorial Day sales, retailers do not count heavily on the holiday. It does not rank as one of the top shopping days of the year, according to the National Retail Federation trade group.

According to a survey the federation released last week, 16.9 percent of consumers said they planned to visit the stores over the holiday weekend to take advantage of sales and promotions, but 45 percent were undecided.

The survey results suggested department stores and discount marts would see the biggest gains during the weekend. This was the first year the federation conducted a survey on Memorial Day spending, so previous data were unavailable.

The Ettingers bought some clothes in McLean during the weekend, but they didn’t take advantage of any of the big sales. The overcast sky was beginning to break yesterday as they sat down on a patio to eat their ice cream, but Mrs. Ettinger said it was probably too late to save the holiday.

Retailers were probably feeling the same way. A piece of notebook paper scribbled with the words “Back in five minutes” hung in the window of a Pentagon Row jewelry store.

A few doors down, the Mattress Warehouse was a little busier. The store opened at 9 a.m. yesterday, and by 2 p.m., it had received about 13 customers, manager Kim Johnson said.

At the nearby Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall, shoppers milled around stores, but few seemed to be buying anything. Traffic was sparse in Macy’s department store, which advertised sales on women’s sandals, men’s shorts and a mobile George Foreman grill.

Perhaps the shoppers were too busy pampering themselves.

The smell of polish and other chemicals wafted into the mall corridors from Modern Nails, where almost every seat was filled by women receiving manicures and pedicures. A manager said he was too busy to discuss the salon’s holiday sales.

The Regis Hairstylists salon was also packed.

Business also looked brisk at souvenir shops such as America, where Victorville, Calif., resident Kelly Marostica-Smith purchased a polo shirt with the National Security Council logo and a baseball cap that read “Commander in Chief.”

Mrs. Marostica-Smith, a middle-school guidance counselor who is chaperoning about 50 eighth-graders around Washington this week, dropped by the mall after seeing President Bush give a speech at Arlington National Cemetery.

The previous evening, she accompanied the students to a Memorial Day concert on the National Mall. “It was wonderful to see eighth-graders moved to tears by the music,” she said.

AAA Mid-Atlantic had predicted about 500,000 travelers on local roads, but a spokesman said that it was clear many motorists had abandoned their plans.

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