Gulf winds buoy spirits, but shoppers aren't in the mood to spend

COULD IT BE SPRING?

November 30, 1991|By Peter Jensen Sun reporters Michael J. Clark, Dennis O'Brien, Deborah I. Greene and David Conn contributed to this article.

What better day than the day after Thanksgiving to celebrate an Indian summer?

Perhaps yesterday's balmy temperatures were meant as tribute to the pilgrim's American Indian friends. Or maybe it was an attempt to get those of us who overindulged in roast turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie outside and shopping off a few calories.

No matter. Whatever the reason, the second to last day of November was just about perfect weather-wise in Baltimore -- a veritable post-Thanksgiving miracle bestowed upon a region that woke up to a bone-chilling record low temperature of 18 degrees just two days earlier.

(Memo to bosses everywhere: It was too darn nice to be cooped up indoors working on a day that ought to be a holiday to begin with. Next time, let's make this a four-day weekend.)

Baltimore-Washington International Airport reported a record high temperature of 71 degrees, two degrees above the previous record high, which was set last year.

Downtown Baltimore also came close to breaking a record. The high temperature at the Custom House was 72 degrees at 2 p.m., just two degrees shy of the record high of 74 degrees set in 1927.

The unseasonably warm weather is expected to continue through today. The same high pressure system that brought in the cold weather earlier in the week is now stationed offshore, pumping warm air from the southeast into the region.

"There's no cold air to stop it. It's air coming straight up from the Gulf of Mexico," said Richard Diener, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.

While the weather may have buoyed spirits, there was little sign it gave comfort to retailers, who were already fretting over gloomy economic forecasts for the Christmas season.

From Annapolis to Towson, the traditional first day of the holiday shopping season seemed as mild as the temperatures. After all, who can think about Christmas gifts while wearing short-sleeved shirts and shorts?

"This is Easter Bunny weather," declared Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins after greeting Santa Claus at the city dock in the early afternoon.

"Something like this doesn't happen too often."

Margaret Cangelosi of Ellicott City said the bright skies actually helped motivate her to drive to White Marsh Mall where she could be found shelling out $5 for a bright, green balloon for her daughter and then waiting in line to see Santa.

"So far, [the economic downturn] really hasn't affected us," said Mrs. Cangelosi, a federal employee.

The sidewalks of Main Street in Ellicott City were crowded yesterday afternoon as people browsed antique shops and boutiques. One store owner described them as "mostly lookers right now" who are hoping to find deep discounts.

"They are in a happy mood and no doubt the balmy weather has a lot to do with it," said Robert Costello, owner of the E. C. Cafe. "I have seen customers with small bags but not large items," he said.

Next door in Ruthie's Rhapsody, owners Ruth Ann and Fred Lentz said that they made some sales, but Mrs. Lentz admitted that customers "are not spending as much as they did last year at this time.

"The key word is cautious," she said. "People are looking around and will chew on their shopping ideas like cud before coming back to buy something."

At Cranberry Mall on Route 140 in Westminster, the parking lots were filled -- as were the stores inside -- but veteran shoppers seemed skeptical that retailers could be doing any better this year.

Bessie Fuhrmaneck and her husband, Francis, found the steady stream of shoppers in the mall easy to maneuver as they walked hand-in-hand.

"It's very slow for the day after Thanksgiving," Mrs. Fuhrmaneck said, "much slower than usual."

Not everyone felt constrained by the lack of winter weather. Bill Schap, an ironworker from Rosedale, carried a couple of overflowing shopping bags through the Hecht's store in the newly-opened Towson Town Center. The only change in his shopping pattern this year, he said, was a desire to find bargains.

At Owings Mills Mall, where you have to know someone important to find a parking space, pedestrian traffic inside the building was brisk. Noreen Startt, an Arbutus resident visiting Macy's, was confident the recession would not be noticed where it counts the most: "I think the kids will do OK," she said. "You don't want to gyp the kids."

Keith Minton, a landlord who lives in Butchers Hill, was out to make sure the lower-income kids who live in his properties do OK this yuletide. Mr. Minton was busy loading up shopping bags at the Kay-Bee Toy and Hobby Shop, which featured a storewide 10 percent discount and plenty of clearance items.

At last count Mr. Minton had about 50 toys in the bags. "I'm probably going to buy less for my own family, because they got plenty," he said.

One of the most popular stores in downtown Annapolis proved to be the ice cream parlor. Dick Buhler of Akron, Ohio, bought cones for his grandsons Zachary, 3, (mint chocolate chip) and Nicholas, 1 1/2 , (cookies and cream) and one for himself (chocolate almond) so that the family could sit outdoors and watch the boats and the tourists go by.

"It's kind of difficult to get in the mood for shopping," said Mr. Buhler. "It's too lovely."

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