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Published: Tuesday, 8/5/2003

Back-to-school time buoys area retailers

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Area retailers have struggled with a sluggish economy for nearly all of 2003, but most hope the back-to-school shopping season will rejuvenate sales.

``It's too early to tell right now how it will go, but we plan for it to be about a 3 percent increase over [August] last year,'' said Tom Curavo, owner of the Stride Rite Bootery on Monroe Street.

``Last year, back to school made August my best month. Next week will be our peak week but I believe we'll still be strong right through the end of the month.''

The National Retail Federation, in Washington, said store officials have a right to be optimistic. Its survey found that families with school-aged children will spend $14.1 billion on supplies and clothing leading up to school this year, or an average of $450.76, up from $441.60 last year.

Some spending, the group said, will come from the $13 billion in tax-credit checks the federal government is sending out this month.

Locally, some retailers said they experienced back-to-school shopping as early as two weeks ago, but most said it began in earnest last weekend.

Al Grabowski, an assistant manager at Meijer on Central Avenue in Sylvania Township, said, ``Right now we're selling everything from the gym shoes to clothing to school supplies to college items like rugs, microwaves, and silverware.

``It's much better than it was a year ago.”

``Sales have been beyond expectation,'' said manager Tina Williams. ``People are not just buying the uniforms. They're buying the book bags, lunch bags, book covers, and shoes.''

Although some private schools start classes earlier, most area public schools, including Toledo's, start the last week of August. The upcoming dates led some shoppers to the stores already.

``Statistically, we had a significant spike in foot traffic,'' said Todd Hipler, manager of Westfield Shoppingtown Franklin Park. ``Most of the retailers said this past weekend that they're already starting August very strong and they're hoping the momentum continues through the end of the month.''

Managers at popular mall stores like Claire's Boutique and Abercrombie & Fitch reported a jump in sales this weekend.

J.C. Penney at the mall had a “super” weekend, said store manager Ray Martinek. ``We're anticipating a pretty good gain for August at this point, and we're still not in peak season yet,'' he said.

Other stores benefiting include those selling office supplies. ``There was a definite increase in traffic this weekend,'' said Brad Kaufman, an assistant manager at Office Depot on Monroe Street.

``There were a lot more families coming in than you would typically see, and we have back-to-school special displays set up in the store,” he said. “Those are getting a lot of attention.''

At the Old Navy store in the Springfield Commons shopping center in Springfield Township, manager Rick Reed reported a strong surge in customers and sales. ``This was the start of a big continuous push. It should get bigger from here on out. I think this is going to be a big year,'' he said.



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