Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Cautious Optimism Reigns in Gift Industry

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Cautious Optimism Reigns in Gift Industry

Article excerpt

San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO _ It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas as store owners shopped for hot gift ideas at a trade show.

"Talking" rubber stamps, rubber jack-o'-lanterns and Boris Yeltsin dolls were among the hundreds of novelties manufacturers hawked at the San Francisco Gift Show, which closed Wednesday after a fivey stint at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Retailers said the soft economy has sapped demand for pricey gifts that perform no utilitarian function. But oddball items that show some creative flair, or that emphasize concern about the environment, were still hot.

"I'm not cutting back on my buying," said Iris Fuller, owner of Fillamento, a San Francisco gift store. "But I'm buying things that have a function.

"When the economy is slow, people buy things they can use rather than things they need."

The 104th seminual trade show will generate a total of more than $40 million in sales for 1,700 gift manufacturers and their representatives. But retailer attendance dropped about 10 percent to an estimated 27,000 this year from 30,000 last August, according to a spokeswoman for the show's organizer, Western Exhibitors.

"Attendance is down partly because we raised the standard for credentials of buyers who can attend," she said. "And then there's the weak economy."

Retail sales for the gift industry have nearly doubled to $21.5 billion over the past five years. But the number of gift stores in business has dropped more than 10 percent in the past year to an estimated 45,000 nationwide, according to Phyllis Sweed, coblisher of Gifts Decorative Accessories magazine in New York.

Jenny Hammons, whose San Francisco company represents about 18 gift manufacturers ranging from greetingrd makers to book publishers, estimated that the show will generate about 10 percent more business for her this year than it did in 1991. However, she said retailers are buying more carefully this year for the crucial fourtharter Christmas season, which often accounts for half of annual sales.

"They have to try harder this year," she said, "so nobody is stocking up on new merchandise that isn't a proven seller. …

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