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Prices Keep Falling


During the holiday season, the streets of local downtowns should be bustling with shoppers toting heavy bags stuffed with gifts. This year, however, tells a different story as the economic crisis has forced many people to watch more closely what they spend.

"I see the cycles of business, but this is the worst holiday business we have faced in 25 years," said Michael Yun, president of the Central Avenue Special Improvement District, a Jersey City group promoting economic revitalization.

Betsaida Christian Bookstore in Union City has been feeling the effects of shopper disillusionment. Manager Isel Villaverde said it's been a tough year. "We have to lower prices in order to sell anything," she said surrounded by "30 percent off" signs on the
bookshelves and bins of cassettes being sold for $1 each. "We're just giving them away," Villaverde said.

Mark Santiago, an assistant manager at X-treme Sports, an apparel store in Jersey City, said customers are pinching pennies. "People are conscious and they are second-guessing their purchases," he said. "When I first started here a few years ago, the store was packed around this time."

At Manhattan Jewelers in Union City, cases are adorned with signs promoting 30 to 50 percent discounts. "The 50 percent sale is the lowest we've ever had," said Justo Gandara, who's managed the store for 20 years. "It's tough to compete with the prices at the chain stores."

Jewelry is a luxury item, he added, and "a kid's presents from Toys 'R Us are just more important than mom's diamond ring right now."

At the very least, the jewelry repair side of the shop has been doing better business. Instead of buying a new watch, he says, more customers will just want to have an older watch repaired. For the almost-Christmas shopper, the bargains seemed very tempting.
There was a buy-one-get-one-free deal on pants and shirts at Jos. A. Bank in Hoboken.
But not every merchant is feeling the pinch.

"It's been easier for me, because I offer a service instead of selling something," said Lisa Buccianti, owner of Diamond Dog Grooming in Bayonne. "As long as you have a skill to offer, people will pay for it." And the booze business appears to be thriving.

"Business has been very good," said a grinning Armando Fragso, owner of Fragso Liquors in Union City. "When things go bad, people buy liquor."