By Alexander Dworkowitz
Shoppers flocked to stores throughout Queens on Black Friday, which ushered in the start of the critical holiday shopping season. But many said they were spending less in a souring economy, tilted further downward since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
“I used to work at the Embassy Suites Hotel by the Trade Center,” said Michelle Choffin, a Flushing resident who shopped at the Flushing Macy’s on Roosevelt Avenue Friday. “Now I’m unemployed.”
Choffin, who is returning to college, said she usually spent close to $2,000 in gifts during the holiday season, but this year she will lay out less than $1,000.
Nevertheless, Choffin did buy herself a Swiss Army watch.
“Don’t even ask me how much it costs,” she said.
With terrorism having left residents of Queens jittery with concerns over security and possible future attacks, many are keeping a close eye on the economy to see how it will handle the loss in confidence. Consumer spending is a major indicator of the well-being of the economy, accounting for two-thirds of total U.S. domestic output.
The Friday after Thanksgiving is often referred to as Black Friday, because it is a day that can bring retailers out of the red and into the black. Holiday sales constitute between 25 percent and 35 percent of many retailers’ sales for the year.
Several surveys revealed lower expectations for Friday as well as the rest of the holiday season. An annual survey by American Express found that consumers intend to spend 7 percent less this holiday season compared to last year.
But the Telechek Retail Index reported that sales for the Thanksgiving weekend were not as bad as expectations. For New York State, sales increased 2.6 percent from the same time last year. Sales for the Thanksgiving weekend of 2000 in the state rose 3.1 percent from 1999.
“It’s slower, I would say, by a lot,” said Laura Vicera, the manager of the Pro Wrestling Shop at the Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst. Although shoppers began showing up at the mall at 4 a.m., Vicera said the early start made little difference.
“The mall could look busy, but people could be browsing and not buying,” she said. “This time last year you couldn’t even walk.”
Still, many were hopeful for retail sales. On Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average closed 354.20 points higher than it had on Sept. 10, the day before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Walmart stock rose 68 cents a share for the day, and the stock of Federated, the parent company of Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, rose $1.10 a share.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani appeared at the high-end Barney’s clothing store on 62nd Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan Friday, urging people to shop.
“I want to encourage people to make sure they get into the holiday spirit and come shopping in New York City,” he said.
Certainly, many shoppers followed Giuliani’s advice. At a Toys ‘R’ Us store on Jamaica Avenue in Jamaica, some said they were planning to spend more this year than last.
“I’ll probably spend a bit more because I have a new younger brother,” said Latoya Hannibal of Jamaica.
Richard Lagos, the manager of Tootsies, which sells boxer shorts, socks and other apparel at the Queens Center, said his customers were still coming into the shop.
“Business is pretty good,” he said. “Compared to this time last year, it’s about the same.”
But a retailer at the Toys ‘R’ Us in Jamaica did not have as good news as Lagos.
“I called other stores. It’s down all over,” said one manager of the store, who did not want to give his name.
Many shoppers were seeking better bargains this year. John D. Morris, a retail analyst for Gerard Klauer Mattison, keeps a sales index. Morris said 15 percent more merchandise was marked down this year compared to last.
Mary Ryan, a Flushing resident who shopped at the Flushing Old Navy store on Roosevelt Avenue, said she came to the discount store to find deals.
“Macy’s is too expensive and no help,” she said.
Ryan said she was planning to spend 20 percent less this year than last.
Linh Luu, a resident of Astoria, also said she expected to tighten her purse strings somewhat this year. She accompanied a friend to the Victoria’s Secret store in the Queens Center, but said she was not going to buy any of the store’s underwear.
“I feel I should only buy things that I need,” she said.
Reach Reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.