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Holiday sales a mixed bag this season for boro stores

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Despite analysts’ bleak assessment of this year’s holiday shopping season nationwide, Queens retailers were not so quick to write off their Christmas performances as a disappointment.

Across the borough, stores that rely heavily on strong holiday sales offered mixed messages on just how badly — or how well — they did at a time when economic hardship had already set a bar of low expectations.

“I didn’t see any change,” said Fred Fu, the president of the Flushing Chinese Business Association, who considered downtown Flushing’s holiday activity to be fairly comparable to last year. “It’s almost the same. I didn’t see any difference.”

But across the country the story was dismal.

One day after Christmas, the National Retail Sales Estimate by ShopperTrak RCT reported the holiday retail season would close 11 percent worse than last year.

With Thanksgiving falling late in November this year, the holiday season lasted only 26 shopping days, during which time sales totaled $113.1 billion. The 32 holiday shopping days in 2001 yielded $127.3 billion in sales.

“Sales expectations for this holiday season were relatively low throughout the industry given the tough economic conditions, threat of war and lingering weakness in the job market,” said Michael Niemira, a consultant with the NRSE. “As the season draws to its conclusion, it is now evident that those low expectations were justified.”

The season started off strong in Queens with long lines and busy cash registers at stores from Steinway Street to Jamaica Avenue and Queens Center Mall.

But the last-minute buyers did not come out in as much force as some had hoped.

Julie Wager, the president of the Steinway Street Business Improvement District, had estimated that sales for the first weekend after Thanksgiving were up about 4 percent from last year. But the trend did not endure.

“This wasn’t one of the great ones,” Wager said. “The expectation was that the last week would be a boom. It was not. It just flattened out.”

Leslie Brown, the president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, thought businesses on Austin Street fared well this year.

“We had a very, very busy holiday,” Brown said of her Austin Street toy store, Kids Line. “But we could always have more traffic, and I think post-holiday it’s been very quiet.”

At Queens Center Mall, which draws more than 21 million customers a year, marketing manager Dawn Simon said the few retailers she conferred with told her the season went better than expected.

“In speaking with a few of them they were pleasantly pleased,” Simon said. “I spoke with several in the women’s apparel category and their sales increased substantially over last year.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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