Shoppers walk across Santa Monica Boulevard

DOWNTOWN — With the holiday season winding down, shoppers were out for last minute deals this week. Yet, local retailers held out little hope for a substantial sales boost.

Many shop managers were just thankful they’d survived the year.

“Things have been slow, but people are still buying so I think we’ve had a decent turnout,” said Jane Walker, who manages the Montana Avenue location of Three Bags Full, a sweater shop where some garments cost $1,200. “It wasn’t terrible — let’s put it that way. It was OK, which is huge right now.”

Walker said business is down 30 to 40 percent at the store, though lately there’s been an uptick in sales. The weak economy has led to a change in her customers’ habits, she said.

“It’s kind of the old way of shopping — you buy things that are better, you buy less … the buyer [has become] a savvier buyer,” she said.

Consumers concerned about the economy and in search of deals, though, may be disappointed this year, said Jack Kyser, an economist with the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.

He said stores are grappling with the recession by limiting their inventories and probably aren’t offering steep markdowns like in previous years.

On the Third Street Promenade this week, some shoppers said they were spending less than in previous years.

“I look more carefully now at the prices than I did several years ago,” said Libby Johnstone, who was in town for the holidays from England.

Amber Richane, of Santa Monica, said she’s being careful to keep track of how much she spends on gifts this year.

“My husband and I created a budget, and we’re going to stick to that budget,” she said. “[This year], it’s more [about] doing stuff for people, and spending time with people than a dollar amount.”

While shops report significant sales drops, perhaps the hardest hit Third Street racket has been the charity businesses.

“The Christmas spirit has died, sir,” said Montel Johnson on Wednesday, after another failed attempt to convince a passerby to donate to the Los Angeles Mission, a nonprofit that provides services for the homeless on Skid Row.

A moment later, though, he reconsidered his assessment.

“A lot of people want to give, they just really can’t afford to,” he said.

In 12 years on the job, he said the 2009 holiday season has been the worst for donations. A four- to five-hour session on the promenade used to net $300. Now he’s lucky if he gets $60, he said.

Shoppers nationwide were expected to cut back this year, with the National Retail Federation projecting holiday retail sales would decline 1 percent compared with 2008. Holiday spending last year was already down 3.4 percent from the year before. In the past 10 years, though, retailers have averaged annual holiday sales growth of 3.39 percent, according to the group.

Kyser said, in Los Angeles County, total spending will probably be in line with last year. While most people are spending less, the population increased in the past year, he said.

While there are a few bright spots for local retailers — a new convention center hotel in Downtown Los Angeles could mean more visitors to beach towns like Santa Monica, for one — Kyser said he’s expecting the new year to bring another wave of store closures, with mom-and-pop shops hit the hardest.

Karen Damskey, who owns high-end knitting shop L’Atelier on Montana Avenue, said after 20 years in the neighborhood she may not be able to extend her lease next year. Holiday shoppers haven’t made much of an impact on business, she said.

“Normally our business is considered recession proof,” she said. “This time that didn’t happen.”

Though most of her customers are affluent professionals, said she’s seen business fall off 55 percent in the past two years.

On Main Street, Jane Kifer, who manages bead and jewelry shop Ritual Adornments, tried to put a positive spin on the holiday shopping season.

“It’s been surprisingly decent, considering the economy,” she said.

Afterall, Kifer said, her shop has been one of the lucky ones. High rents and falling sales have led to 10 retail vacancies on the block, she said.

Derrick Oliver contributed to this report.

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