Strong back-to-school sales expected for LI

Kimora Caldwell, 9, and her mother, Xiomara, shop Kimora Caldwell, 9, and her mother, Xiomara, shop for school supplies at Walmart in Farmingdale. Photo Credit: Kristy Leibowitz

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The back-to-school retail season on Long Island is getting a boost as the clock winds down and shoppers scour stores and websites for supplies, clothes, footwear and electronics.

Nationwide, sales are forecast to increase nearly 6 percent this summer over last. Consumers are expected to spend an average of $669.28 per household to prepare children in grades kindergarten-12 for the new year, up 5 percent from $634.78 last year, according to the National Retail Federation. It estimated total back-to-school spending, including purchases for college students, will reach $74.9 billion.

"All early indication once again has Long Island outperforming the national average, which is no surprise," said Marshal Cohen, retail analyst with The NPD Group, a Port Washington-based market research company.

The back-to-school shopping season, from July to September, is the second busiest shopping season of the year behind the winter holiday season for many local retailers, such as office supply stores, traditional department stores, electronics and specialty apparel sellers.

"It is very important for many stores because it gives them the surge that they need to get through to the end of the year," said Julie Marchesella, president of the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce.

The busiest shopping days for back-to-school items are usually the last few days of August, but this year the spending is expected to last well into September, Cohen said.

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"There is going to be more business after school starts because consumers will return to buy what they need," Cohen said. "On Long Island, I wouldn't be surprised if September was bigger than August."

This school year, almost 90 percent of back-to-school shopping nationally will be in brick-and-mortar stores, compared to 8.1 percent online, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. It found about 73 percent of consumers plan to research online and then purchase in a physical store.

"People are becoming smarter shoppers," said David Shiffman, executive vice president of research for MediaVest USA, a Manhattan-based digital communications firm. "People are looking for discounts, value and sales, and using online research to find products at the right price."

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To remain competitive, retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. put up 10 percent more items at discounted prices compared to last year and offered about 3,000 items for $3 or less, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Molly Blakeman said.

Low prices lured Sophia Brisco, 40, of West Babylon, to the Farmingdale Walmart. Like some other parents, Brisco prioritized purchasing school supplies for her three children, ages 6, 11 and 13, then some basic wardrobe necessities.

"I like to get it done all at once," said Brisco, who is nine months pregnant. She held a list and pushed a shopping cart topped off with composition notebooks, folders, binders, pens and markers.

To stand out in the competitive retail market, small business owners need to enhance the local shopping experience and offer benefits that wouldn't be available to shoppers online or at larger retailers, Cohen said.

For Peter Pastorelli, owner of Value Drugs in Huntington, back-to-school sales are up 20 percent so far compared to last year, but he expects this week and next will garner the biggest sales. He sells general merchandise and has the supply lists for many of the surrounding local schools, Pastorelli said.

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"They know when they come here they can get exactly what they need without having to worry about it, and they can have their back-to-school list filled within four minutes," he said. "Our service is what makes us different from everyone else."

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