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Spending on Mother's Day gifts, outings headed for record levels

Judy Bellamy and Keva Green began celebrating Mother's Day early with a family shopping trip to Arundel Mills, where Bellamy treated her 29-year-old daughter and mother of two to new jeans and a jacket from Forever 21.

Next they headed to New York & Co. to buy a church outfit for Bellamy's mother. On Sunday, Green will take her mom to brunch in Fells Point. Later, Bellamy will take her own mother out for crabs.

Showering the moms in their lives with gifts and special times, the two Northeast Baltimore women are contributing to what is forecast this year to be the highest spending for Mother's Day in more than a decade, offering a bright spot in a largely gloomy retail landscape.

"Mothers Day is special because your mom gave birth to you, and you just want to take the time out to really show your appreciation of how much you really, really love them and care for them," said Bellamy, joined at the Hanover mall Thursday by her grandchildren, ages 10 and 11.

Mother's Day has even bumped Valentine's Day out of third place among consumer spending for specific holidays or events, following Christmas/Hanukkah and the back-to-school season, data from the National Retail Federation shows.

Dads apparently rank lower than moms on the spending scale, with Father's Day gift buying placing that holiday sixth.

This year, consumers are expected to push Mother's Day spending to a record of nearly $24 billion, with shoppers shelling out about $186 on average. Cards, flowers, lunch or dinner, gift cards, clothing and jewelry all rank high on a list of gift choices, with the biggest boosts expected for jewelry and personal services such as spas, according an survey for the retail federation by Prosper Insights & Analytics.

"More consumers are planning to celebrate the [Mother's Day] holiday and are willing to spend more since they are feeling more confident about the economy," said Ana Serafin Smith, a spokeswoman for the retail group.

The expected increase comes at a difficult, transitional time for retailers. As consumers shop and buy more online, the shift has left storefront retailers struggling with falling sales.

Despite relatively low unemployment, rising wages and a stronger housing market, "retailers are on their heels with many fighting for survival," said Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics, in a retail industry earnings report this week.

So far this year, retailers have announced 3,500 store closures and 14 bankruptcy filings, with more anticipated, Perkins said. Economic growth and consumer spending in the first quarter were among the weakest they have been in several years. The numbers of retailers expected to lose money during that three-month period has reached the highest level since the last recession, he said.

Amazon has been the biggest threat to most chains, Perkins said. Other culprits include a shrinking middle class, the shift to mobile spending, a drop in store foot traffic and deep promotions. Meanwhile, he said, millennials are spending more on experiences than physical goods, as baby boomers are retiring en masse and spending less.

Given that backdrop, strong spending on moms this year will go only so far toward helping retailers, said Marie Yeh, an assistant professor of marketing at the Loyola University Maryland's Sellenger School of Business and Management.

The women's apparel sector, one of the hardest hit, for instance, may not benefit, while jewelry stores might benefit as men look for gifts for their wives, Yeh said.

"When you look at gifts mothers get, it's usually not clothing, usually, it might be a favorite store's gift card," she said. "Most people tend to get Mother's Day presents that are more service-oriented, or flowers, or a gift card for a spa or massage.

"When you talk about those retailers suffering the most, I'm not sure it will help them out that much," she said.

Spending for most holidays has been increasing as retailers have become more competitive and promotional not just for Christmas but for holidays throughout the year, said Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Commerce, owner of web portal freeshipping.com, which offers deals from hundreds of retailers. Overall Mother's Day increases also are being driven by the experiential type of purchases, such as spa services, that millennials tend to favor, he said.

"We're seeing spending up, which is a positive, but the buckets it's landing in are different" from past years, Caporaso said.

Amaryllis, a jewelry store in Harbor East, benefits from selling products that people still want to touch and see in person, said AnnaMarie Fiume, co-owner. Customers come looking for jewelry typically a few days before Mother's Day or on the holiday itself, she said.

"It's not Christmas by any sense, however we do see an increase," in business that time of month, said Fiume, who recently opened a second location at The Shops at Kennilworth in Towson. "With Mother's Day, it's not that it's one expensive piece. People come in and they have mothers and grandmothers and mothers-in-law. Typically someone can come in and purchase for three people."

Not everyone is spending big this year. Rebecca Dreer, 20, who recently moved from Ohio to Fort Meade, where her husband is stationed in the Army, said this year she is paring back for Mother's Day as she deals both with budget concerns and distance from family.

Last year, she gave her mother flowers and chocolate-covered strawberries. This year she is sending cards to her mother and mother-in- law.

"I don't usually spend that much money on gifts," she said.

But others aim to indulge mom.

For Kristen Dizon, a 26-year-old nurse at the University of Maryland Medical Center, a Mother's Day gift should be "something that she wouldn't normally buy for herself, sort of like a treat-yourself gift. She doesn't really pamper herself very much. ... It's nice to treat her."

This year, Dizon said, she was able to spend a little more because she has finished nursing school and works full time. She settled on a Kate Spade cake cutter, "because she does a lot of baking."

On Thursday, Dizon was helping her friend, Elisabeth Claudy, 26, of Columbia, find something at the mall for Claudy's mother, maybe earrings or something for the garden.

"I don't have any good ideas," said Claudy, while browsing for handbags with Dizon and another friend. "She's one of those people who doesn't want anything, doesn't need anything."

Claudy said she hoped to end up with something her mom wouldn't buy for herself.

"I'm willing to spend the money on my mom just because, you know, you only get one," she said.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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