Schaefer optimistic about retail season He expects sales to exceed last year's

December 15, 1992|By David Conn | David Conn,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer put on a happy face yesterday -- and a funny hat -- to spread a message of glad tidings for the Christmas season -- the retail season, that is.

Mr. Schaefer pointed to strong sales increases in the two weeks since Thanksgiving, despite the two shopping days lost to last week's winter storm in many parts of the state.

The governor and several business leaders predicted that when the final cash register rings on Dec. 24, the state's retailers will have far surpassed the sales levels of last year.

Mr. Schaefer said he had "met with a group of businessmen this morning, and they were somewhat elated by the purchasing [by] the people in Maryland."

"Things are much better in the shopping malls, but that doesn't mean we can't keep the pressure on," said Mr. Schaefer, who broke a long-standing vow not to wear silly hats in public.

Santa and Mrs. Claus crashed yesterday's news conference and presented the governor with a long, red hat with a blinking light on the end.

Mr. Schaefer obliged his guests by wearing the hat, but only briefly.

Thomas Saquella, executive director of the Maryland Retail Merchants Association, said his group's pre-Thanksgiving prediction of a 5 percent increase over last year's sales probably was conservative.

"I see no reason why we can't reach that 5 percent increase," he said, and possibly as much as 7 percent.

"At this point, we're probably running 4 1/2 percent to 5 percent ahead of this time last year," Mr. Saquella said.

"But we still face two weeks -- the most crucial time of the season," he added.

His hope was echoed by Donald Hutchinson, president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, who said the apparent sales increase "really is a statewide positive reflection of economic confidence."

But a survey by TeleCheck Services, which provides check acceptance and guarantee services, shows that Baltimore area retail sales from Thanksgiving through Saturday were up only 2.8 percent compared with the same period a year ago, while Washington area sales rose 1.7 percent.

Nationally, the survey shows a 1.5 percent drop in sales.

Still, "most of the shopping malls are ecstatic," according to H. Walter Townsend III, president of the Baltimore-Washington Corridor Chamber of Commerce.

At one mall, sales of Santa Claus photos were up 50 percent over last year, he said.

"We did get bombed [by snow] on Thursday and Friday," said Frank "Bud" Willets, director of the Allegany County chamber. "But I think we've recovered from that. . . . Some items are sold out," he added. "Those would be the snow shovels and snow blowers."

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