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Shoppers load up on back-to-school stuff

Retailers expect to see slight decrease in spending this year

STERLING – It’s another holiday season of sorts for retailers.

While not as much money is spent as during the winter holidays, back-to-school shopping season is the second biggest of the year for retailers.

According to the National Retail Federation, back-to-school shopping accounts for 11 percent of consumer spending each year, compared to the 19.2 percent that comes from the winter holidays.

How much does the average family spend on back-to-school goods? About $634.78 this year, the National Retail Federation said. That’s down from $688.62 a year ago.

Retailers are doing their best to combat that drop.

This year marked the first time that Walmart had a “Back-to-Class Cyber Monday” special. Playing on the popular Monday-after-Thanksgiving online sale day, the retail behemoth offered online customers up to 60 percent off back-to-school merchandise, with early access given to its Facebook fans, who could log on the Sunday before.

Kohl’s is playing into the retail surge in a different way, with its “Kohl’s Win Great Things Back-to-School Sweepstakes,” which runs through Sept. 2. For every $30 spent, customers are given a scratch-off game piece, similar to the annual McDonald’s Monopoly game, that gives them the chance to win prizes like iTunes gift cards and JanSport backpacks.

Amy Thibodeaux, 14, and Hanneh Chromek, 13, lifelong friends who met at church camp while in the third and second grades, spent this past Wednesday afternoon shopping at Northland Mall in Sterling. Although neither had started back-to-school shopping, both intended to do so this weekend. They named Kohl’s and J.C. Penney as places they were likely to visit, although they said J.C. Penney has better jeans.

This fall, Hannah is on the hunt for dark, fitted jeans; “anything with flowers”; flats with embellishments (“I love bows!”); cowboy boots; and cross-body bags.

For Amy, things are a little different: she digs TOMS shoes and graphic T-shirts.

At the mention of the band One Direction, both girls squealed in excitement.

Their likes hold true to the trends being seen by managers at local retailers.

Trista Miller, an assistant manager at the Sterling Walmart, has watched the back-to-school trends.

“What’s big this year is the ‘Teen Beach Movie’ (Disney Channel), ‘Monster’s University,’ One Direction – we have a lot of One Direction that the kids are going crazy over – and ‘Duck Dynasty,’ too,” Miller said.

Walmart also is seeing a large request for tablets, especially for the college crowd, Miller said. And for school supplies? “Anything neon,” she said.

At J.C. Penney, store manager Clay Phillips is seeing big buys in novelty T’s, camis and printed leggings. And the One Direction backpacks are flying off the shelves, he said.

Alex Baussman, the manager of Urban Outlet Incorporated (UOI), sees big prints, tank tops, camouflage shorts and neon being huge for men for fall.

“The brighter the color, the better,” he said.

For women, UOI is seeing big sales in maxi skirts, cardigans, tribal prints and oversized sweaters. Volcom book bags also are a huge item, Baussman said.

Daisy Rogers, a 16-year-old student at Milledgeville High School, drives 30 minutes roundtrip to UOI whenever she wants to shop. Other than that, she heads into Chicago, where she frequents stores like Hollister, American Eagle and Abercrombie & Fitch.

“I pretty much get everything here,” she said at UOI.

For the fall, Daisy is looking mostly at vintage looks.

“I really like everything they sell,” she said. “I love all of the neutral looks, and the bright colors, and I love their scarves – those are probably my favorite.”

First day of school

Some schools in the Sauk Valley already are in session. Most start classes next week. Here’s a look at start dates for area school districts:

Aug. 14: Oregon CUSD, Rochelle Township High School

Aug. 15: Rock Falls High School, Erie Community Unit School District

Monday: Sterling Public Schools, Morrison Community Unit District, Amboy Community School District, Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico Community Unit School District, Newman Central Catholic High School, River Bend School District

Tuesday: Rock Falls Elementary District 13, Montmorency School, Ashton-Franklin-Center School District, Chadwick-Milledgeville CUSD, Eastland CUSD, Rochelle Elementary District 23, East Coloma Nelson School District #20

Wednesday: Dixon Public School District, West Carroll School District, Bureau Valley CUSD, Polo Community Unit School District

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