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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 24, 2001

11th-hour shoppers stick to budgets and bargains

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Traffic into Waikele Center was backed up past the first exit sign on H-1 out of Honolulu late yesterday afternoon as Leeward Christmas shoppers swooped in for some last-minute deals.

Shoppers at Kmart in Iwilei stream out of the front door as they make last-minute Christmas purchases. Bargain-hunting on O'ahu followed a national trend, retail analysts said.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

"It was backed up in the other direction, too," said Steve Wahlig, a Makaha resident who was second guessing his decision to make a quick stop at the Waikele Kmart, "I've never seen this place like this before."

The parking lot between the Kmart and Old Navy stores at the center was filled at about 4 p.m. yesterday, with cars circling to find empty spaces and parents herding children toward store entrances.

Most of the activity seemed to be centered on the Kmart and Old Navy side of the shopping area, with both of those stores doing brisk business. Across the street, at the brand name and designer outlet stores, the crowd circulated at a more leisurely pace.

"It's been steady on this side," a saleswoman at Levi's Outlet said. "But its not nearly as crazy as I've heard it has been on the other side. The biggest effect on us has been getting the traffic in and out."

Melanie Salvatera of Waipahu said she and her daughter, April, were trying to hold to a budget this year.

Like many Hawai'i residents hurt by hard times, Melanie's husband had been out of work for a while and household finances were tight.

The Old Navy store had provided the type of deals the Salvatera women were seeking, and Melanie seemed relieved as they left the store, clutching packages.

"It's OK," she said, nodding as she and April made their way back to her car. "I think they have cheaper prices at Old Navy this year. It was kind of expensive last year."

Dominique Kamei of 'Ewa Beach said she was focusing most of her last-minute spree on Kmart, buying toys, games and clothes for the children.

"It was a lot better last year," Kamei said. "I could spend more. A lot more."

Kamei said her family and the families of nearly everyone she knew had been affected by the layoffs and salary cutbacks that came after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Her boyfriend had lost a good-paying job at a taxi company and was now working as a pizza delivery man, Kamei said. Budgeting was the order of the day, and Kmart offered gifts at prices she could afford.

National trend

The bargain hunting on O'ahu was a reflection of the national trend, retail analysts said.

In what was supposed to be the biggest shopping weekend of the season, consumers remained frugal as they flocked to the nation's stores Saturday and yesterday, despite heavy discounting and advertising blitzes.

The restrained spending in the final stretch before Christmas wasn't the manic frenzy merchants had hoped for and cast a further pall on the shopping season, already expected to be the worst in at least a decade.

"This is supposed to be the ultimate peak Christmas shopping weekend, and I think it was even softer than Thanksgiving weekend," said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of the Charleston, S.C.-based America's Research Group.

Instead of the typical surge on the final weekend before Christmas, traffic and sales were up only slightly from the previous weekend, analysts said, and down from the same time a year ago.

As a result, holiday sales and profits for many merchants may come in below already modest expectations, said Jeff Feiner, managing director of Lehman Brothers.

Better bargains

Local shoppers Glenn and Shelly Freitas of Wai'anae said they'd hit nearly every shopping area on the Leeward coast yesterday as they made their way home from Honolulu. The Freitas said they were finding slightly better prices on some of the gifts they were buying.

"We seem to be getting more this year for the same money," Shelly Freitas said.

Shelly's work as a real estate agent had gone well this year after a long slump, so although the family still kept to a budget, they hadn't been as hard hit as some others by the events of Sept. 11.

The Freitas family seemed to see their Christmas shopping this year as both a tradition and a patriotic duty.

"No terrorist is going to stop us," Shelly said. "We're going to enjoy this holiday and keep it going."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.