Bargains abound in borough

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After one of the worst holiday seasons in decades for retailers, Queens residents took to the stores in a post−Christmas rush Friday to cash in on the steep discounts offered to lure shoppers to business establishments throughout the borough.

“I got pants and tops that were more than half off,” Woodhaven resident Pauline Bernard said as she stood in line at the JC Penney store in Elmhurst’s Queens Center Mall. “Everything’s on sale.”

Also in JC Penney was Woodside resident Nathalie Brenner, who purchased a pair of corduroys 90 percent off the original price.

“It’s a rough time for everybody now — the shoppers, the stores, everyone,” she said. “I waited until today to do my holiday shopping. Nobody’s getting any presents until today or tomorrow.”

From big chain stores, like JC Penney and Macy’s in the Elmhurst mall, to smaller, locally owned shops like Dollar Chic in Forest Hills and Bay Cards and Gifts in Bayside’s Bay Terrace shopping center, stores boasted of slashed prices on everything from holiday decorations to clothes.

Area store owners and managers said this holiday season has been one of the grimmest they have seen in years, although they said the increased traffic the day after Christmas peaked their hopes sales could turn around. Queens Center Mall, Austin Street and Bay Terrace were flooded with shoppers all day, and some residents began searching for bargains as early as 5:30 a.m. at the mall.

“People are still spending money,” said Matt Alassaf, the assistant manager at Queens Center Mall’s JC Penney, the largest store in the chain. “You go into any department — the women’s department, the men’s department, the home department — and you see people are buying. People were lined up waiting when we opened at 5:30 in the morning.”

According to a report released by the International Council of Shopping Centers, store sales for November and December dropped by 2 percent, which makes this holiday season the weakest since at least 1970, when the index began.

Other retail research groups were releasing even more dismal numbers, and ShopperTrak said sales the weekend before Christmas were 5.3 percent lower compared to last year. Foot traffic in shops was down nearly 24 percent, according to ShopperTrak.

Forest Hills store owners said they were pleased with the number of shoppers out on the day after Christmas, but they remained worried about an economy that has prompted people across the country to scale back spending.

“Things are kind of scary right now, but at least we’re making rent,” said Forest Hills resident Diana Walsh, owner of Dollar Chic on Austin Street. “I’ve heard from other business owners that they’re taking out loans just to make the rent.”

Still, Walsh said she has sold more than 80 percent of her holiday merchandise and noted many shoppers had come into the store to purchase the gift wrapping and stationery that is 50 percent off.

Harold Mosberg, the manager of Bay Cards and Gifts in Bay Terrace, said his store’s discounts of 50 percent off or more drew crowds to the store.

“You just have to get through this,” said Nana Hayon, owner of Piccolo Mondo, a high−end children’s clothing store on Austin Street. “What goes down must come up. Things in the economy will go down a little more, but then they will come back up.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

Posted 6:33 pm, October 10, 2011
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