While East Valley stores didn’t have to deal with the turbulent storms of the East Coast and Midwest in February, the sagging stock market and worries about war kept local shoppers pinching pennies.
"Our stores are not seeing a drop in the number of transactions, but the value of the transaction is less, " said Sheila Hunter, marketing director for Fiesta Mall in Mesa. "Those who asked customers said it’s the whole sense of doubt and uncertainty about the future. This is a bread-and-butter mall. These people are watching what they spend."
Hunter said some mall retailers are meeting their sales goals or even bettering them, while others are down, but there is no specific category of retail that is doing better than another.
"Everybody is challenged right now," said Jeff Obstfeld, president of Scottsdalebased Iacon, which owns more than 60 mall-based sunglasses stores, branded as Sunglass Designs, Sporting Eyes, Occhiali da Sole and Oakley Icon. "The uneasiness in the economy is affecting everyone other than the people who sell duct tape and plastic."
But despite the gloomy outlook, Obstfeld said that sunny days, spring baseball and vacationers made Scottsdale Fashion Square second best in the country for his sunglass sales last week.
Vacationers typically are freer with spending money, he said.
Nationwide, Iacon’s sales were "up double-digits" Obstfeld said, although the company added stores and moved into new markets in the last year.
He did not divulge samestore sales comparisons, a typical measure of a retailers productivity.
The economic doldrums weren’t as easy on venerable retailer Sears. Sales in Sears department stores, which have been open at least a year, plummeted 9.4 percent in February, compared with February 2002. Spokesman Ted McDougal said Sears was hurt not only by the bad weather in the East and the threat of war, but also by a late Easter and the final leg of a nationwide store revamp.
Sears eliminated some lines — carpets, cosmetics and computers, for example. The company is replacing the hard goods with clothing and other soft goods, McDougal said, but in many cases the old merchandise was moved out and the new hadn’t arrived to fill the empty shelves.
"We’re just about there, and we expect the second half of the year to be much better than the first half," McDougal said.
The company finally got Land’s End merchandise into Valley stores last week, nearly a year after Sears acquired the clothing maker.
Obstfeld said Iacon is weathering the economic turbulence by "keeping to fundamental strategies and not panicking."
Hunter said Fiesta Mall and its retailers are trying to create an atmosphere that keeps customers feeling safe and comfortable, and waiting it out until the economy improves.
"You can’t pry people’s wallets open," Hunter said. "You just have to respect their decisions. And hopefully when it’s all over they’ll come back."