Thursday, September 11, 2003

Retail sales rebound finally from attacks

By Randy Tucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington left consumers shell-shocked and in no mood to shop, crippling the retail industry nationwide at the time.

Two years later, U.S. retail sales have rebounded dramatically and are expected to be up about 200 percent today from Sept. 11, 2001, suggesting that consumers have regained much of the confidence they lost after the deadliest assault in modern U.S. history.

According to a new report from ShopperTrak RCT, which publishes a weekly snapshot of chain-store sales, retail sales will reach almost $2 billion today, compared with $1.89 billion on the first anniversary of the attacks last year and $655 million Sept. 11, 2001.

Already reeling from the recession that began in March 2001, the retail industry lost an estimated $655 million on the day of the attacks and $5 billion in sales in the first two months afterward as consumers shunned the stores and shopping malls, fighting jitters about a possible second attack at a public place.

"Right after it happened, people didn't know how to react,'' said Jerry Weller, general manager at Northgate Mall. "They were shocked and appalled and a little uncomfortable about shopping at the mall because they didn't know what might happen next. That led to a pretty soft (holiday shopping) season.''

By September 2002, consumers had begun flocking back to the malls as the nation started to dig its way out of the recession. Heightened security measures at malls and shopping centers alleviated some fears about shopping in public places.

The sales outlook remains optimistic for the second half of this year after 19 consecutive weeks of year-over-year sales growth that dates back to May 3, and better-than-expected results in late summer and during the back-to-school shopping period, said Michael P. Niemira, lead consultant for ShopperTrak and senior economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Ltd.

"Although some of the catalysts for the July and August spending increases are now missing, such as the heavy clearance sales, (with) back-to-school spending and federal tax rebate checks, the sustainability of relatively healthy consumer spending is still firmly in place,'' Niemira said.


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