ANNAPOLIS – Maryland retailers are hoping that the upcoming holiday season will not be dimmed by the economic downturn since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
Since then, the nation has suffered sluggish sales, but nowhere is it felt more strongly than in retail.
“We are as much in the dark as everyone else,” said Dian Daily, spokeswoman for Hecht’s department store. “We have never experienced anything like this. We are optimistic people still want to buy for their children during the holiday season.”
Hecht’s, with 21 stores in Maryland, is banking on consumer enthusiasm for the holidays to really deliver strong sales, said Daily. Her holiday wish echoes the sentiment of other state retailers.
There’s no question that Maryland has suffered since Sept. 11. Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening imposed $205 million in spending restrictions recently, to cover soaring security costs and plunging revenues. Heightened security statewide has cost $6 million, a figure that is expected to grow to $24 million by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
The state’s economists are awaiting results of December revenue figures, particularly from sales taxes, to determine if further cuts will be necessary.
Retail sales during the months of November and December typically account for 20 percent to 40 percent of annual sales. The surge in sales starts the day after Thanksgiving, when most retailers begin the Christmas shopping season in earnest.
From August to September, national sales dropped 2.4 percent, a 10-year low, according to the National Retail Federation.
October’s 7.1 percent increase in sales was skewed by interest-free financing on automobile sales and amounted to only 1 percent when autos were excluded, the Retail Federation reported.
Maryland’s October numbers are not available yet.
The slight improvement in October is enough to keep retailers optimistic, said Tom Saquella, president of Maryland Retailers Association. Based on a survey of its members, MRA is forecasting a 2 percent increase in holiday sales for Maryland.
“There’s no doubt that 9/11 and the following days were a severe blow just as sales were improving, but members have seen marked improvement since then,” he said.
Sales were slow even before Sept. 11, said Saquella. He said over the past three or four years retail has surged, but, like the national economy, sales slowly began to slide.
“The past couple of years have been such tremendous years and then it was like (retailers) sort of hit a brick wall,” Saquella said.
This year, merchandisers will be more aggressive in trying to court consumers for the upcoming holidays, with a lot of cost-cutting sales and special promotions, Saquella said.
Retailers are also behind the push for a brief dismissal of a sales tax over the holiday season as apart of the Bush economic stimulus package. Congress would reimburse states and localities for sales tax revenue lost during the period.
Regardless of the measure, Saquella said stores are hoping for a shopping surge: “(Retailers) know that this is a very important time of the year and they must move that merchandise.”