Sunday, November 29, 2015         


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Registers ring with confidence

Increased shopper traffic has retailers optimistic for a brighter holiday season

By Andrew Gomes and Kristen Consillio


A combination of deep discounts, pre-dawn excitement and, perhaps, heightened consumer confidence got yesterday's holiday shopping season off to an improved start this year in Hawaii.

Crowds of shoppers on Black Friday were bigger and spending more, according to a sampling of malls, stores and consumers.

"It seems like people are ready to spend money again," said Fred Paine, general manager of the state's second-largest mall, Pearlridge Center.

Paine said reports from tenants -- including Aeropostale, Champs Sports, GAP, GameStop, Marc Ecko, Jeans Warehouse and Up & Riding -- indicated that holiday sales got off to a better start than a year ago.

Around 11 a.m., seven hours after the first group of stores opened at Pearlridge, Paine said the mall was packed. "It's difficult to even walk through it," he said.

One of the earliest indicators of an improved kickoff for holiday shopping was outside Toys "R" Us in Aiea. The store opened at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving and attracted a line of customers estimated at about 1,000 people, up from roughly 800 last year.

First in line outside the store was area resident Jane Bonilla with her 10 children and seven grandchildren.

Bonilla, who had camped out since Wednesday evening, estimated her family would spend as much as $3,000 -- $500 more than last year.

Higher holiday gift spending is a good sign for the local economy, which has not shown much sign of more than tepid improvement beyond federal stimulus spending and a rebound in tourism.

Black Friday, traditionally one of the busiest shopping days of the holiday season, gets its name because the day's sales can push retailers into the black, or profit zone.

David Palmer, Toys "R" Us store manager, said he saw spending confidence among customers. "We're seeing sales of bigger-ticket items go up, as well as the number of items they're buying individually," he said.

Jon Ching, manager of the T&C Surf Designs store at Kahala Mall, said business was better than last year without many added promotional incentives.

Deborah Sharkey, spokeswoman for Pearlridge, said customers appeared to be splurging a little bit more.

"Our customers definitely feel more confident about the economy and about their income," she said.

Helping entice shoppers were specials that included half-price sales on some items at Toys "R" Us.

Other retailers around the state aggressively competed on price. At Ward Warehouse, several retailers promoted 20 percent off their entire store inventories.

Ewa Beach resident Christopher Dekdeken said he expected to save as much as $500 on certain items at Best Buy in Iwilei and had pitched a tent on Thursday outside the store to be at the head of the line.

At Roxy and Quiksilver stores at Ward Centers, all merchandise was 30 percent off.

"You have a lot of people looking for better deals because the economy is so bad," said Waipahu resident Julia Pang, who was with the horde at Toys "R" Us. "Christmas is like one of the biggest times of the year. ... (People) are willing to spend but it's all good deals."

Jackie Gambon of Waipahu figured she would actually end up spending less on gifts compared with last year because of deeper discounts offered by retailers fiercely competing for customers.

Besides deep discounts, more retailers opened their doors earlier to attract shoppers.

Sports Authority, Old Navy and Sears, normally closed on holidays, opened on Thanksgiving Day seeking sales in lean times.

The 10 p.m. opening on Thanksgiving for Toys "R" Us was moved up from midnight last year and 5 a.m. on Black Friday in previous years.

At Pearlridge all stores were open by 6 a.m. yesterday, after a handful led by anchors Macy's and Sears opened at 4 a.m.

Shirley and Troy Cheeseman were stunned to see a jam-packed parking lot at the Keeaumoku Walmart around 5 a.m.

The couple visiting from Australia had decided to give the American tradition of shopping on the day after Thanksgiving a try for the first time, hitting Walmart at 3:45 a.m.

"It was unreal, all the people," Shirley said. "We just wanted to see what it was like."

Twelve hours later the Cheesemans were still shopping after visiting three shopping centers. "My feet are killing me," Troy said.

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