Shoppers search for seasonal bargains

Customers at Ross Dress For Less were seeing red today.

Actually they were bombarded with the red clearance-sale signs posted throughout the discount store, which is located in the Chadwick Manor Shopping Center just down the road from Security Square Mall.


Connie Pfister was at Ross bright and early today to take advantage of the after-Christmas sales.

"I hate crowds," said Pfister, who for a brief period was the only customer in the store after it opened at 8 a.m. Pfister said she was out so early to buy a present for her grandnephew born Dec. 17 in Portland, Maine.


The 65-year-old grandmother of 10 was strickly out for the bargains.

"The economy is slowing, and we all have to be careful on how much we spend," Pfister said.

Today, retailers continue the process of tallying the results of their Christmas season amid economists' predictions of a recession.

Nora Cartledge was at Hechinger's across from the mall before 9 a.m., searching for indoor and outdoor Christmas lights. Decorations have already been marked down by 50 percent.

"I was hoping to get a bargain but a lot of items are already gone," said Cartledge, who is principal at Coldstream Park Elementary School in Baltimore.

Managers at Ross and Hechinger's said the season was fairly good to their stores. They also said there was a rush of shoppers just before Christmas that helped them meet sales goals.

"This store did tremendous business during last week," said Daniel Villegas, assistant manager at Ross. Villegas said his location actually met its projected sales for the period before Christmas day.

"We were running at a decrease of our projected goals three to four weeks before Christmas," he said. "But last week things really picked up. I think people were scared to buy."


For the year, Villegas said the store may come a little under its projected goals but the shortfall won't greatly effect overall sales for profits for the year since Ross doesn't carry the heavy debt that has plagued other retailers.

Villegas said Ross buys its merchandise mostly with cash, which is unusual for a retailer. In fact, those discount stores without debt will probably do better this year because shoppers were really going for the bargains, he said.

"For us it was good year," Villegas said.

Nationally, retailers also saw evidence of consumers trading down. For example, Dayton Hudson said business was strongest at the firm's Target discount stores, where sales rose about 2 percent. Meanwhile, sales fell at the company's Dayton's, Hudson's and Marshall Field's department stores, which have more expensive merchandise.

Andy Esterson, assistant manager at Hechinger's, said its sales have reflected a "decent" season.

"People were buying appliances and gift certificates," he said.


The Christmas season is crucial to retailers, accounting for a quarter or more of annual sales and up to half of profits for some stores. But this year's holiday season arrived as the economy entered a downturn that many economists believe marks the end of an eight-year expansion.

In November, which begins the holiday shopping season, retail sales actually fell 0.1 percent, according to government figures.

"I spent less this year because I didn't know what the economy would do," said Cartledge. "Banks are closing down, gasoline prices are high and it makes you wonder what's ahead. And of course there is the threat of war."

Cartledge said she not only spent less but bought for fewer people.

"I got gifts for close relatives but I didn't get my staff gifts like I usually do. And, the friends I've talked with said they, too, cut back this year," she said.

Kathy MacLeod, who was shopping at Ross with her 14-year-old son, Chris, summed up what most shoppers said. They were much more cautious in their spending this year than in past years.


MacLeod, a nurse at St. Agnes Hospital, said she and her husband, who is a police officer, scaled down their shopping this season. "We have secure jobs but we were real conservative. We were hedging our bets to see what happens," she said.