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Queens Chronicle

How’s the shopping going so far?

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Posted: Thursday, December 3, 2009 12:00 am

Thanksgiving weekend 2009: Along with merchants all over the country who suffered the biggest sales decline in four decades, Queens retailers pulled out all the stops to keep the customers buying and the momentum going this year.

On Saturday afternoon at the Queens Center mall, in Elmhurst, there were crowds of shoppers but surprisingly, not too many shopping bags and holiday packages in sight, even though tempting sales were everywhere. Major complaints by frustrated shoppers were that lines were too long and that some stores had fewer cashiers and sales associates. And, of course, that these days, money is tight.

But not all was doom and gloom. Alex Haley of Forest Hills, a student at Aviation High School in Long Island City, had a positive experience on Black Friday.

“At American Eagle Outfitters, they had 20 percent off the entire store,” Haley said. “And at Modell’s I got ice skates that were originally $130 for $55. I spent more this year than in 2008 because I had money saved up from working. I found everything I needed and more.”

This brave shopper said he didn’t even mind waiting on line for an hour to get the sale items he really wanted.

Some retail workers also said things went well.

Anastasia, who lives in Jamaica and supervises the beauty category at Victoria’s Secret at the mall, said her section did well.

“Sales on Black Friday exceeded last year’s; we did $221 by the time I left the floor, compared to $188 last year,” said Anastasia, who, like many shoppers and sales people, declined to give her last name. “We exceeded our goal.” She also remarked that Victoria Secret’s Pink Room was very popular with customers.

At the Bay Terrace shopping center in Bayside, sales associate Olga Estrealla of American Eagle Outfitters said there were lines of people queuing up on Black Friday. It was a fun and exciting atmosphere throughout the day and “we made our goal that day,” she said. “Saturday was also busy but not as busy as Friday, and Sunday has been a slower start, but so far so good.”

The Bay Terrace parking lot on Sunday was full of cars but there didn’t seem to be a lot of people walking around with shopping bags and several of the stores looked emptier than one might expect.

Back at the Queens Center mall, one savvy shopper from Corona seemed very satisfied with her purchase; she bought boots at J.C. Penney’s that were only $30 on sale. “I definitely found what I was looking for and the price was better than I expected,” she said. “And there were a lot of cashiers and sales people.” Another shopper said she wasn’t crazy about the sales she came across.

At the nearby Rego Center mall in Rego Park, a sales associate at Sears, Tom, said the day and weekend had been a very busy one and there had been lots of activity throughout the weekend. Friday brought in especially heavy traffic, he said, though it still was not as busy as last year.

Retailers are suffering from competition from online sales, however. While the National Retail Federation said sales on Friday and over the weekend rose only 0.5 percent compared to last year, analysts reported that Internet sales were up 13.7 percent. Retail clothing stores took some of the heaviest losses, while online clothing sales jumped 26.4 percent.

One mom with three children, from Jackson Heights, who was waiting for the Q60 bus outside the mall, remarked, “Last year, on Black Friday, I got to the stores at 5 a.m. and was part of the stampede … I saved maybe $40 dollars in the end. This year, I just shopped online, got free shipping, saved on gas and didn’t have to get dressed and drag the kids with me.”

Austin Street and 71st/Continental Avenue in Forest Hills, always festive this time of year with snowflake holiday lights, was congested over Thanksgiving weekend, but not much more than usual. Again, there wasn’t an overabundance of people carrying store bags. There seemed to be a lot of activity at Banana Republic and the Gap; Sephora was busy as usual. NY Diamond Boutique, which just celebrated its first year of business in Forest Hills, displayed sparkling baubles at reduced prices to entice timid window shoppers seeking special holiday gifts.

A family from Sunnyside, eating at Forest Hills landmark A & J Pizza, commented on their financial situation. This year, they were sticking to their holiday lists and buying gifts that were more practical since dad was laid off recently. “We found some good deals at Value Depot, but we felt several of the other stores were still pretty expensive for us, even with the stuff on sale,” one of the family members said.

Metropolitan Avenue was strangely deserted Saturday afternoon, with barely a shopper in sight.

In Astoria, the reviews were also mixed. Foliya Leather store is situated on 31-89 Steinway Street, and despite the unseasonably warm temperatures so far this season, the store is still able to accommodate shoppers’ needs with the wide array of clothing products they sell, from heavy coats to lighter jackets. A sales associate said Black Friday was “crazy busy, but we’re not like the big retail stores — we had a very quite Saturday.” But the owner, Nissim Efradi, said business wasn’t good and that he was suffering because of it.

Just a few blocks away on Steinway a saleswoman at the Gap, Maria, said that Black Friday was “insane,” and they had a very busy weekend with lots of sales on most items. However, she said, other years had been busier, including last year.

Kevin Lynch and Peter C. Mastrosimone contributed to this article.

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