Retailers reeling from slow sales in May and June didn't seem to get the boost they had hoped for yesterday with the extra holiday shopping day -- at least not in the Washington area.
Despite Independence Day sale promotions, crowds were light in some metropolitan area shopping malls.
The official holiday, the day after the fireworks, was a source of hope for retailers hurt by slow retail sales in recent months -- including sluggish Father's Day sales. Soft sales came despite a strong consumer confidence index, which increased eight points in June to a two-year high.
Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Consulting Group and publisher of Barnard's Retail Trend Report, said on Friday that retailers would try to market the holiday.
"Offices and businesses for the most part are closed, and people have the weekend off," Barnard said.
But Barnard said turning out shoppers would be a tough sell -- and it appeared to be.
At the Montgomery Mall Hecht's, Pamela Hamilton, 38, decided to brave what she expected would be a busy shopping day with her son, Matthew, 3, and friend, Andrea Stewartson, 36, who brought her four children. But the pair were pleased to find they had plenty of room to maneuver.
The women pushed red plastic mall strollers designed to look like fire trucks and stopped briefly in the shoe department -- the busiest section of the store.
Hamilton, an attorney who is moving to Barbados, went to Hecht's for MAC makeup and other amenities she would not be able to buy in the Caribbean.
"Normally on a weekend or holiday like this it would be crowded, but [the crowd is] light," Hamilton said, nodding approval as Stewartson tried on a pair of shoes. Hamilton said she was disappointed by the sales, which she thought would be better.
Mall parking spots were found easily, and in most stores checkout lines moved relatively quickly.
"Consumers today are confident but weary," Barnard said. He said increased interest rates and high gas prices were serving as shopping deterrents. "Consumers will be slower to respond than they might have been otherwise."
Hecht's -- like other retail stores -- advertised holiday sales that included summer clearance items.
But disappointment with the savings seemed a constant theme among shoppers yesterday.
Gwen Hayden, 54, shopped at the Best Buy in Arlington with her husband, daughter Faith, 21, and son Micah, 17. The family had gone in search of electronics for Faith and Micah's dorm rooms -- both are enrolled at Howard University for the fall semester.
But Hayden said they didn't buy much.
"I haven't seen a sale yet," she said.
Weather may also have played a part in the slow sales of recent months. In May and June, cool, wet weather helped cause a slump in sales, according to Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers.
"The weather has not been favorable nationally for seasonal goods," he said. "It's been relatively wet in the South, not lending itself to outdoor activities, and it's been relatively cold compared to last year." Seasonal items -- including clothes and air conditioners -- have been selling slowly.
Yesterday, John Taberski, 27, sat in a massaging chair at the Brookstone at Pentagon City. The Pentagon City mall was busier than some others in the area, but Taberski still said he was surprised the scant crowd.
"I guess the weather kept people away," Taberski said, adding that he looked forward to enjoying the sun and warm weather later. "In fact, I feel kind of guilty for being here now."
Frank Guzzetta, president and chief executive of Hecht's, said bad weather favors holiday sales.
"We wish it would rain all weekend," Guzzetta said. "It's a sad thing to say, but that would be the dream -- the customer wouldn't have anything to do but shop."
According to Niemira, even if the Independence Day retail sales were strong, it wouldn't be enough to lift retailing out of its slump.
"Retailers said they had an awful Father's Day, and that won't be recouped by July 4th," Niemira said.
Frank Badillo, a senior economist at Retail Forward Inc., said slow sales this week would not have a huge effect on the year's retail sales.
"The summer months for a lot of sectors aren't necessarily the biggest months," Badillo said. He said the biggest retail seasons are back-to-school and the winter holidays.
Retailers should not lose hope, he said.
"Consumers are gaining confidence. We are seeing jobs rebound and gasoline prices go down," Badillo said. "That should help retailers post strong gains through the second half of the year."