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Retailers hope to be nurtured again by Mother's Day

After feeling orphaned the last couple of Mays, florists, jewelers and restaurateurs are optimistic that families will show their love for moms in a bigger way this year.

May 07, 2010|By Sharon Bernstein, Los Angeles Times

It's all about Sunday. Flowers in bright shades of pink, purple and orange are on hand, and designers are busy crafting dramatic new bouquets and arrangements at Mark's Garden in Sherman Oaks as the big day inches closer.

In Beverly Hills, Lawry's the Prime Rib restaurant has doubled its normal contingent of waiters, hosts and other staff, anticipating 1,500 diners and a three-hour wait for those without reservations. Boxes of candy are piled high at Godiva chocolate stores.

As Mother's Day approaches, jewelers, florists, restaurateurs, card shops, bookstores and merchants of all kinds throughout Southern California are geared up for an onslaught of customers. But at the cash register, the holiday remains a big question mark.

Normally it's an important day for retailers, but it's still too soon for merchants to know for sure what's in store for them this time. Most are expecting a slight improvement over last year, when traffic dropped precipitously during the economic downturn.

"We are betting on Mother's Day," said Jouni Passi, who owns Burbank Spa & Garden in Burbank, a day spa whose business has been hit hard. "We're not yet booked, but we are getting calls all the time."

Nationwide, dutiful sons, daughters and husbands on average are expected to spend just under $127 celebrating their mothers Sunday, according a survey by the National Retail Federation.

That's about $3 more than last year, but still not as much as what people were spending during the economic boom.

"People are still being very price conscious, making sure that they're making good spending decisions," said Ellen Davis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. "But we are seeing a bit more of an appetite among consumers for discretionary spending."

For flower shops, Mother's Day and Valentine's Day are far and away the most important of the year — even bigger than the winter holidays.

At Mark's Garden, business has been relatively flat through the downturn, said co-owner Richard David, but it's starting to creep up. For the first time, the shop is highlighting its Mother's Day arrangements on its website, he said.

At restaurants, a busy Mother's Day will signal that strength is returning to the industry after two very difficult years, said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president for research at the National Restaurant Assn.

Last week, the organization reported that restaurant revenues were up about 3% in March over the same month last year, the first such increase in months. "Mother's Day this year will certainly shape up to be the best Mother's Day since at least 2007," Riehle said. "Operators are definitely marketing to pent-up demand."

Business at the Beverly Hills Lawry's has been down about 12% since the downturn hit, said general manager Todd Johnson. The restaurant was busy last Mother's Day, but overall sales were down slightly. This year, he expects about the same amount of business. Lawry's is opening earlier and closing later to meet demand.

The Panda Inn chain of Chinese restaurants offers a Mother's Day brunch every year at most of its Southern California restaurants, said regional director Patrick Eng. Mother's Day is the busiest day of the year for Panda Inn, Eng said, surpassing Valentine's Day and the winter holidays.

This year, he said, overall sales have been up slightly, and the chain is approaching Mother's Day with a sense of optimism. "I think we probably hit bottom some time last year," he said. "Things have slowly progressed."

About 80% of Americans are expected to celebrate the holiday, spending about $14.6 billion, according to estimates by the National Retail Federation. Of those, two-thirds are expected to go with flowers, about half with brunch or dinner, and one in four are heading for the jewelry counter looking for bracelets and earrings.

Slightly fewer people say they are shopping for gifts this year. But those who are say they will spend more than last year, fueling retailers' hopes for a modest recovery.

At the Glendale Galleria this week, candy shops, jewelry merchants, and department stores bore signs promoting Mother's Day sales. But few shoppers seemed to be seeking items for Mom.

"It's really very tight," said Lourdes Rivera, a saleswoman at Zales Jewelers at the Galleria. "Before you buy these things, you have to buy food for your family."

Sisters Marcia and Jennifer Fernandez, both of Glendale, said they planned to give their mother cash or gift cards from Target. Marcia, 28, who graduated from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in June but has yet to land a job, said she expected to spend about $40.

Michael Hathaway, a teacher at John Marshall High School in Los Feliz, said he plans to visit his mother in Ohio rather than buy her a gift. He's spending about $1,700 on the trip, a bargain considering it includes five nights for himself and his mom in a nice hotel, but way more than he spent on a gift of body lotion last year.

"I figured I could either buy something ridiculously priced that she might not like," he said, "or I could go there and we could spend time together."

sharon.bernstein@latimes.come

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