Back-to-school shopping is mostly business as usual

Rebecca Nussbaum, 13, and her sister Zoey, 7, Rebecca Nussbaum, 13, and her sister Zoey, 7, of East Northport, shop for school supplies at the Staples in Commack. (Sept. 2, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

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Bookstores on Long Island Monday promoted sales of student readers that reflect the new Common Core academic standards, and electronics shops were pushing ink cartridges to print student essays.

But for most families out on last-minute back-to-school shopping trips, priority purchases were more traditional: pencils, notebooks, glue sticks and the like. Across Long Island, 33 school districts are scheduled to open Tuesday and another 21 Wednesday.

Monika Kotara of Kings Park said she was grateful that a shopping list provided by kindergarten teachers was relatively short. Kotara's list included seven items, along with a plea not to buy backpacks equipped with mobile rollers.

"We just moved here, so everything is new to us," said Kotara, as she roamed the aisles of a Staples store in Commack. She was with her daughter, Olivia, 5, who is due to enter kindergarten Tuesday morning.

"I'm nervous," the mother said, glancing at her daughter, who appeared unfazed. "I'll probably cry tomorrow."

Business was brisk at the Commack Staples -- and equally so at a sister store 6 miles away. By lunchtime, the line of shoppers at the store in Huntington stretched down an entire aisle and around a corner.

Some national business analysts have expressed concern, however, that the fall shopping season could get off to a slow start. In mid-August, Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, reinforced such concerns when it reported that quarterly sales and profits, while rising, had fallen short of expectations.

On the Island, many parents and educators are equally cautious on the question of whether their communities and school districts are truly emerging from the economic downturn that began in 2008.

"I hope we're coming out of it -- it's still tight," said Matthew Walling, a school custodian who was shopping with his family in Commack.

Mark Nocero, superintendent of Eastport-South Manor Schools, said that his district, like many, was adding new college-level courses this year, and was hiring several teachers. Nocero credited an infusion of state financial aid for allowing his district to do this.

"But the problem you have, when you have a good year, is whether you can sustain it," Nocero added.

There was no lack of commerce, in any event, at Broadway Mall in Hicksville. By 2:30 p.m. one corner of a Target store dedicated to school supplies was so crowded with shoppers that their carts sometimes became gridlocked between rows of shelves.

Tina O'Keefe, who was at Target with her husband and two teenage children, said she usually shops for school supplies around this time of year -- in part, because she finds it difficult emotionally to accept her teens' imminent departure for classes.

"We wait until the last possible second," said O'Keefe, who lives in the Levittown district. "And then, it's chaos."

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