The holiday shopping season, which traditionally starts the day after Thanksgiving, is expected to be 5.5 percent better for Orange County retailers this year, a Chapman University economist predicted.
Stagnant wages are the only drag on the local economy for retailers looking forward to holiday season profits, said Esmael Adibi, director of the A. Gary Anderson Center for Economic Research at Chapman.
“There’s just one negative, but a whole bunch of other things that are positive,” Adibi said.
Wage growth “has been very anemic throughout this recovery,” but Orange County is seeing more previously unemployed residents getting jobs.
“Total employment is higher compared with last year,” Adibi said. “So total income has risen, the pie got a little bigger. That is a good indication of higher spending.”
Economists call it “the wealth effect,” which is a combination of rising home values, a surging stock market and consumer confidence, Adibi said.
“The last positive element is lower gas prices,” Adibi said. “It’s like a tax cut. This will probably be one of the best years since the recession.”
Traffic and buying have already surged this month, indicating a strong holiday shopping season, said Stacie Ellis of the Irvine Company, which owns the Fashion Island, Market Place in Tustin and Irvine Spectrum Center shopping centers.
Most of the holiday-themed fun will be at the Spectrum, Ellis said.
“Our theme this year is Orange is the New Black Friday,” Ellis said.
At midnight, the Spectrum will open and feature free valet parking. The shopping center has a carousel, “trackless trains,” an ice rink and a repeat of a Disney attraction near the movie theaters that Ellis says tops last year’s show.
The “Disney tree” will feature music from “It’s A Small World” as well as a re-creation of the theme park attraction’s facade. “Happy Holidays” is written in 22 languages at its base and a version of Mickey Mouse — think “Fantasia” — will play conductor.
Disney has concocted a new LED-lighting system that features 16 million colors, Ellis said.
“I got to see the show last night fully complete and my gosh it was so cool,” Ellis said. “My daughter is 5 and she’s going to freak out. Compared with last year, I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding. This is amazing.”
New this year at the Spectrum will be “Selfies with Santa,” which are offered to shoppers at no cost. The shopping center features a California-cool Santa in a custom-built Crystal Cove-inspired beach shack with orange trees in front, Ellis said.
At Fashion Island, hip clothing stores that cater to youths such as Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters will open at midnight.
At South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa Williams-Sonoma is opening its new flagship store on the Bear Street side, said mall spokeswoman Lee Healy.
“It’s completely state-of-the-art with a cooking school, demonstration kitchens, some new innovative lines and much, much more,” Healy said.
—City News Service
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