A white Saturday before Christmas may be thrilling for children and poetic for crooners, but today's anticipated snowstorm was bringing on a straight-up case of the blues for holiday retailers.
Mall owners and merchants across the region were groaning as forecasters predicted up to a foot of snow because, just like the day after Thanksgiving, today is one of the biggest shopping days of the year.
And if you can't get out of your driveway, then chances are that neither can tens of thousands of other last-minute gift-buyers and store employees who would normally give retailers the surge of sales they expect as procrastinators try to polish off gift lists.
"We don't like it," said Albert Boscov, chairman and chief executive officer of the 39-store Boscov's department-store chain headquartered in Reading. In addition to tweaking its Sunday-Monday-Tuesday advertisements to include specials on snow boots and sweaters, Boscov said his management team yesterday was praying.
"Prayer is No. 1," said Boscov, 80, "because you hope that it won't hit as badly as they're predicting."
Though Boscov was half-joking about the prayer bit, the fact is that the weekend before Christmas draws some of the highest numbers of shoppers of the year. And with retailers still smarting from the recession, mall owners and managers were doing everything they could to avoid a disaster.
"For the season to be as good as it can be, it's important for shoppers to get to our property this weekend," said Les Morris, a spokesman for King of Prussia Mall co-owner Simon Property Group. The Indianapolis-based company also has ownership stakes in the Franklin Mills, Montgomery, Oxford Valley, and Granite Run malls.
"If you truly get a significant snowstorm, you're going to be shut down," Morris said. "That's just the way it goes."
But at Simon's jointly owned Oxford Valley Mall, no one was talking just yet about shutting down. Officials said they planned to gauge the situation inch by inch. They had contacted plow crews and booked hotel rooms for the operations manager and maintenance chief, said spokeswoman Patricia Gillett.
"This is a very important weekend," Gillett said, "so we're going to do whatever we can to get ourselves open."
Industry watcher Stephen Hoch of Penn's Wharton School said retailers will suffer more if the storm is so large that its impact keeps people out of stores for days. Otherwise, he said, retailers will make up lost Saturday sales over the final week. "If it's just a one-time, eight-inch snowstorm, I think people will just postpone it and go shopping the next day," Hoch said, "or they'll do it in advance."
That's exactly what Pennsylvania State University undergraduate Anthony Schaffer, of Levittown, was doing yesterday at Oxford Valley Mall with his mother, Veronica Millar: gift-hunting a day earlier than scheduled. "We switched the plan," said Millar, 42, who lugged bags with her 18-year-old son. "Today was baking cookies. It's now tomorrow."