Back-to-school brings local shoppers back to stores

  • Charlie Sabella, right, 10, shows a shirt to his grandmother, Gail Sabella, and brother, Tony, 12, as they shop for new clothes for school at Sears, in Santa Rosa, on Thursday, August 15, 2013.
    (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

As students around Sonoma County make their way into schools this month with new zebra-striped backpacks or lunch boxes decked out with their favorite cartoon characters, retailers are reporting lukewarm sales for the back-to-school shopping season.

Sales at chain stores were lackluster from mid-July to mid-August, with sales slipping and then picking back up again from one week to the next, according to data compiled by the International Council on Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs.

The tallies at cash registers as parents and pupils gear up for the year are generally seen as a reflection of the state of the economy and a sign of what's to come in the upcoming holiday shopping season.

"Muscle shirts" and shorts were on the list of targets for Petaluma grandmother Gail Sabella and her two grandsons as they shopped in Sears in Santa Rosa.

"We just came for a few things, and we're leaving with a lot," Sabella said. "We've found some good deals."

The pace of shopping during the back-to-school season has been about the same as last year, said Jessica Mitchell, general manager for the Sears at Santa Rosa Plaza.

Meanwhile, retail giant Macy's reported weaker than expected revenues for its quarter ending Aug. 3, prompting CEO Terry Lundgren to call the results "disappointing."

Nationwide, shoppers expect to spend about $635 this year on back-to-school items, down 8 percent from last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

For some local shoppers, a recovering economy has given them more confidence to spend money this year. Hiwot Woldemariam of Santa Rosa planned to spend about $400 on her son's and daughter's jeans, T-shirts and other school supplies.

"I think we're spending a little more than last year," Woldemariam said after shelling out for clothes at Old Navy. "It's more comfortable. We feel a little more relaxed."

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