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Fourth of July parties may set sales alight

More are expected to celebrate the holiday this year than in 2008, according to a National Retail Federation survey. That's good news for stores.

July 02, 2009|W.J. Hennigan

Shoppers stiffed Mom, Dad and the Easter Bunny but appear to be giving Uncle Sam extra love this Fourth of July.

More Americans are planning celebrations, with the requisite spending, this year than last July 4, according to a National Retail Federation survey.

The trade group found that almost 63% -- or 144 million people -- plan to host or attend a cookout, barbecue or picnic. That's 5 million more than in 2008.

The news is music to retailers, which have suffered more than a year's worth of disappointing holidays during the current recession.

"It's a pleasant surprise," said Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the retail group. "More people are looking to celebrate with family and friends."

Grannis said one of the possible reasons for the jump is that July 4 falls on a Saturday this year. Many Americans will look to take advantage of it by spending the weekend together.

"People have been hit hard this past year," she said. "They're looking to unwind and finally have some fun."

Sandra Rivera, a cashier at a Party City store in Atwater Village, said her store expected to sell out of flags, bunting and other Fourth of July items.

Cora Ovikian was picking up items at Party City for two July 4 parties -- one at work and one at her daughter's house.

She came out with two bags overflowing with red, white and blue products. One of the items was an Uncle Sam suit that she plans to wear at both parties, despite the catcalls she knows she'll receive from her children.

"They always tell me to take the costumes off," said Ovikian, 58. "Last year, it was just a tie and they still said it."

Ovikian's store bill totaled about $65. But she also bought hot dogs, chips and soda at an Albertsons supermarket. All told, she spent about $200, but it didn't bother her.

"It's a celebration," Ovikian said. "I'll be with my family and friends. I can see on their faces how happy they are. To me, it's worth it."

Brent Schoenbaum, a partner at accounting firm Deloitte & Touche's consumer business division in Los Angeles, said many Americans were beginning to share a rosier view of the economy. He pointed to recent upticks in U.S. consumer confidence surveys.

"Any bounce in consumer confidence will certainly lend itself to a jump in sales," Schoenbaum said.

He added that weather would be an important factor. He said warm weather was more inviting to people looking to shop or attend a barbecue.

Johnny Quesada, a 30-year-old security officer from Los Angeles, figures he'll spend more than $600 by the time his celebration is finished.

He bought about $250 worth of fireworks in Las Vegas and dropped an additional $150 buying food at Wal-Mart. Almost $50 went toward red, white and blue children's outfits at Walgreens. Then he stopped by Party City to pick up six tiki torches for about $20.

He'll spend even more on the drive he's planning to Ensenada with seven family members.

"I have no problem spending the money," he said. "I have a job. My family's doing well. Why not enjoy it?"

Quesada won't have as much company on the road as he would have had last year. An Automobile Club of Southern California survey found that the number of Southern Californians on the road is expected to fall 3.2% compared with last year.

The expected decline comes despite the fact gasoline prices are more than $1.50 lower than at this time last year, when prices stood at $4.63 a gallon.

This news doesn't bother Patti MacJennett, senior vice president of marketing for LA Inc., the city's convention and visitors bureau. She said more people spending time at home translates to more people spending money at home.

"The more people in town, the better," she said. "If they spend money here, the better it is for the economy, which is better for us all."

william.hennigan@latimes.com

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