DECK THE MALLS WITH CROWDS OF DOLLIES

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There's no place like stores for the holidays.

Several surveys indicate consumers are in a spending mood, ready to rush department stores, discounters and specialty stores in their search for the perfect gifts.

Promotions and sales abound as retailers try to lure more business. Home-related products and services are expected to be strong, along with apparel.

Toy marketers are especially upbeat, expecting gains of 10% to 12% in part because families are turning to basic toys and games.

This is the season when the food-by-mail industry racks up 70% of its annual sales. The segment is lagging the overall catalog industry's growth rate, and is seeing consolidation mixed in with new marketing strategies.

"Food is a fashion business," one analyst said, taking the segment to task for being slow to adapt to changing consumer tastes.

If more proof is needed of the upbeat mood, just ask Marshall Loewenstein. The third-generation owner of Loewenstein Poultry claims to have accurately forecast retail sales for 40 years, based on the number of holiday gift turkeys he sells. This year, orders are up a mouth-watering 10% to 12%.

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