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Holiday Haul Goes to High-End Retailers

The situation is apparent to those benefiting from it.

"The rich are getting richer," said Warren Bernard, 49, a Bethesda real estate investor, who said he sees growing local demand for the houses he builds, which have prices starting at $1.25 million. Bernard said he and his partners tear down small, older houses and sell their bigger, fancier homes to the local entrepreneurs, corporate executives, professionals and others whose household incomes are bubbling higher.

Jack Yeaton of New York shows some of the gifts he has purchased for the holidays. This season, the divide between rich and poor has widened. (Richard Drew -- AP)

But at the same time, Bernard said he feels it's a "tragedy" that his North Chevy Chase neighborhood has become unaffordable to teachers, electricians, government workers and other middle-income workers who are not enjoying rapid wage gains.

Outside the tony Mazza Gallerie shopping center in Northwest Washington, an Alexandria woman who declined to give her name carried multiple Neiman Marcus bags. She insisted she is cutting back on spending and giving more to charity. "We have so much stuff," she explained.

One man carrying bags from Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue Men's Store said he is a chief financial officer at a European manufacturing company, and that his rising salary has paid for a new house, new furniture, new wardrobe and new entertainment system this year. But he declined to be publicly identified as doing so well, saying with a laugh that he could not give his full name "on advice of my lawyer."

The results of high-end wage gains are apparent throughout the Washington area, where ritzy retailers are thriving on one of the most buoyant regional economies in the country.

Sales "are robust" this year at EuroMotorcars in Bethesda, which sells Mercedes-Benz, Bentley and Rolls-Royce vehicles, said Gil Hofheimer, who manages the Bentley and Rolls division.

One popular seller this season is the new Bentley Continental GT, which goes for around $165,000, he said. Bentley sales alone are up more than 700 percent, he said; the company will sell more than 100 of the vehicles this year, compared with 12 last year.

Sales are up 27 percent so far this year at the Tiny Jewel Box, a family-owned jewelry store that specializes in vintage items, said chief executive Jim Rosenheim. That compares with a 16 percent increase in sales last year.

Annapolis Yacht Sales President Garth Hichens said sales are "well up over last year." The company sells about 140 sailboats a year, ranging in price from about $30,000 for the small and used to around $500,000 for the big and new.

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