Economy doesn't slow shoppers

Posted: Monday, November 26, 2001

The big sales, early-morning deals and store promotions Friday heralded the official beginning to the Christmas shopping season.

Traditionally, the Thanksgiving weekend brings shoppers and their money to stores in droves. But with the economic downturn the nation is experiencing this year, fears have arisen that it will be a tight Christmas for both buyers and retailers alike.

So far in the central Kenai Peninsula, that doesn't seem to be the case.

"We thought that the sales might be down just a bit. But sales were fine, in fact stronger than anticipated," said Terry Rahlfs, store manager at Fred Meyer in Soldotna. "(The shoppers) were earlier and stronger than in previous years."

Fred Meyer, Big Kmart, Gottschalks and Sears store managers all said Saturday that they had not yet experienced a downturn in sales compared to last year.

"We were pleasantly surprised," said Bryan Lien, store manager at Sears in Kenai. "That's what we've been hearing in the news, that sales probably would be lower, but we were pleasantly surprised with the turnout and sales results."

Shoppers braved the crowded aisles and parking lots at many area stores this weekend to take advantage of the after-Thanksgiving Day sales.

Clarice Kipp of Soldotna began her holiday shopping Saturday and said she had not noticed a downturn in sales activity and was not making any more attempts than usual to rein in her spending this holiday season.

"I always make an effort to spend less, but it never seems to work out," she said.

According to Kipp, Alaska's economy doesn't always follow what the country's economy is doing, so that may account for the difference in spending patterns here compared to the rest of the country.

"Alaska's economy has been different from the Lower 48 for years," she said. "They could have a downturn and we're still doing OK, and vice versa."

Linda Newland, store manager at Gottschalks in Soldotna, agreed that retailers in Alaska are not in the same position as retailers elsewhere in the country.

"We had a terrific day (Friday)," she said. "Our stores in Alaska don't seem to be impacted as much as Lower 48 stores are. We were busy from the time we opened the door."

Alaska Permanent Fund dividends could be contributing to Alaska spending totals. But even with the dividends, not everyone is carrying on with spending as usual.

Doris and Martin Williams of Kasilof were in Soldotna starting their holiday shopping Saturday. They were worried about the economy and their fears dictated the amount of money they spent.

"I'm making an effort to spend less this year," Doris said. "I didn't buy as much this year for my family. They have to learn to get along with less."

Doris buys Christmas presents for 10 people every year and usually spends $30 or more on each of them, she said. But not this year.

"This year I didn't get that many things. I got things they needed, not what would just lay around."

The effects of the national economic downturn hasn't hit Alaska yet, but it is coming, Doris said. The family plans to cinch its financial belt beyond the holiday season to play it safe.

"If we don't need it, we're not buying it," she said.

Doris budgeted money for Christmas shopping this year and is using the family's dividends to purchase presents.

"People would be without if they didn't have that dividend fund," she said.

Going in to the weekend, there were some fears about a drop in sales among retailers. Those fears may have been at least largely dispelled by Friday's and Saturday's shopping totals.

"I think any retailer has to be a little concerned and cautious and keep in mind what's going on in economy," Rahlfs said. "But it seem to have continued to be strong here."

Rahlfs anticipates sales totals to continue to be strong during the rest of the season as store competition heats up and more sales events are offered.

Other retailers echoed Rahlfs sentiments. Newland is cautiously optimistic, she said, as is Lien.

"I'm not too nervous with the rest of the year," Lien said. "The way it's started, it looks like a positive note and looks like that trend will continue through the rest of the selling season."

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