The women's shoe department at Nordstrom's looked like the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange on a good day, and there was Ann Lay right in the thick of it. She wended her way through row after row of sales racks, picking over shoes with pointy heels, no heels, straps, bows and glitter.
Lay, a doctor at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, stopped by the Glendale Galleria to buy a bathing suit for a vacation in Maui next week. Not finding a swim suit she liked, she browsed through the shoes, then the clothing. By the time she left, she had spent more than $100 on a purse and a silk scarf.
Though she suffered modest losses in the stock market plunge two weeks ago, she doesn't believe gloomy predictions that a recession may be lurking around the corner. "If there were layoffs, if there were pay cuts, then I would worry."
Lay's attitude seemed to be shared by the small army of shoppers in Glendale Wednesday, on what some mall merchants said was the healthiest shopping day they've seen since Oct. 19--the day the Dow Jones industrial average slid by more than 500 points.
Since then, the nation's retailers say they have been closely watching sales to see whether the stock market's plunge will have any lasting effects on consumers and their buying habits. Retail sales between now and Christmas are considered an important gauge of consumer confidence in the economy.
A week ago, the mall was so vacant that "if you left the store, the only other person you'd pass was another mall employee going to lunch," said John Byrant, manager of the Toys International store. "Now the customers are starting to come back."
One customer who came back was Marilyn Giannone, and her 18-year-old son Kevin. They stopped by the toy store to check out an $169 radio-controlled car that Kevin wants for Christmas. "We'll buy it," said Giannone, as a store clerk pushed a button that made the car scoot along the carpet.
Giannone, an Eagle Rock housewife, had other shopping plans; she's buying a $310 model railroad dining car for herself. "Christmas is on!" she declared. As for the stock market, she's full of optimism. "We lost some money, but it's only on paper. It'll come back."
The stock market slump has given electronics company executive John Guy a new reason to spend. "If people stop spending money, the economy is in real trouble," said Guy, 61, as he sat on a bench in the mall and ate a Haagen Dazs ice cream sundae.
Guy says he went to the mall to get his shoes shined, but ended up buying a $1,200 camcorder as a Christmas present for his 30-year-old daughter. That's more than he would ordinarily spend, "but we have a responsibility to support the economy." Besides, says Guy, his daughter can use the gift to film his new grandchild. And this weekend, Guy said, he intends to "go down to Bullocks-Wilshire and buy my wife three dresses instead of one."
Barbara Detlor, a nurse at Glendale Adventist Medical Center who was shopping with Lay, said she was there to cure her blues about the market. "I bought all this, and I'm still depressed," she said as she lifted two shopping bags stuffed with shirts, a wallet, clothes for her two children, shoes, a purse and stockings. "Actually," she confided, "I really didn't understand what was going on with the stock market until my husband explained it to me."
Detlor, 33, says she and her husband worried at first that the market might affect a refinancing of their home in Shadow Hills, but it didn't. "Everything worked out fine."