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Region's shoppers keep with tradition

by James Fisher

REGIONAL WRITER

Holiday shopping at malls and department stores is taking a back seat to Internet shopping this year, according to several national retail sales watchdog groups.

Residents of North Central West Virginia, however, seem to have spurned the Web and are remaining loyal to local stores.

"We've been very busy and have had robust sales," said John Wilshere, co-manager of the Wal-Mart SuperCenter in Clarksburg. "It's been very hectic and just as busy as usual."

The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally considered the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and tends to be the busiest. After descending on the stores for the special discounts, shoppers nationwide have turned their attention to the Internet to complete their Christmas purchases, according to figures from TeleCheck Services, Inc. and the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Numbers show that nationwide, sales at malls and retail shops are down anywhere from 2-7 percent from this time last year, while Internet sales are up a whopping 140 percent.

Except in North Central West Virginia.

While precise figures were not released, both Wilshere and Meadowbrook Mall marketing director Jennifer Wilson said that the volume of holiday traffic is the same, if not better, than last year.

"Women's apparel is very strong and toys are always a big seller," Wilson said. "Overall, the mall is doing very well. I think we had a record number of people for the day after Thanksgiving, although things have slowed down a little."

"I think that people in this area are a little bit different," she said. "Even though people are getting more computer savvy, as a whole we have an older population and I think they're a little more skeptical."

The well-documented problems that some e-retailers experienced last Christmas season, coupled with a natural skepticism by residents of West Virginia, have combined to keep Mountain Staters off the Net and in the stores, Wilson said.

"Last year, when some of the bigger Internet retailers dropped the ball, I think some people became a little hesitant to buy online," she said. "I also think that people around here like to see what they're buying. It's like it's not real unless they can feel it."

Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com.

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