Valley's back-to-school shoppers hunt for bargains

Heading back to school this year means new backpacks, shoes and tighter budgets for many Northern San Joaquin Valley shoppers.

Waterford resident Adriana Vega headed into T.J. Maxx with deals on her mind. Vega said she probably will spend half as much as she did last year on school clothes for her son, 12-year-old Jesus. She also has shopped around more, hitting such stores as Target, Kohl's and Ross.

"We're doing bargain shopping," she said. "It's harder on a budget, so we're looking at every available option and all the advertisements."

Back-to-school shopping has been slower this year because of the still-stalled economy. The International Council of Shopping Centers, an industry trade group, found that same-store sales at more than 30 of the top national retailers fell 5 percent in July compared with July of last year.

August is the month when many students head back into the classroom, and the group predicts a 4 percent drop for this month from August 2008. The results do not include the nation's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, which stopped reporting monthly same-store sales in May.

Some of the more popular brand-name retailers -- including Macy's, Abercrombie & Fitch, Wet Seal and American Eagle Outfitters -- saw double-digit declines in same-store sales from last year.

But at the same time, such bargain retailers as T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and Ross lured more shoppers and saw sales climb by about 4 percent.

The thrift-minded trend is echoed by many area shoppers who are on the lookout for good deals.

Salida resident Jennifer Wik brought her 5-year-olds, Katie and Luke, with her to the Target on Sisk Road to get them ready for first grade. Wik said she probably will spend about 50 percent less than last year on back-to-school attire.

"We're not spending nearly as much," she said, "and we're going to more stores."

At Vintage Faire Mall, Renee Barrera, shopping with her daughters Deserae and Cristina Sepulveda, said she isn't too worried about her budget, despite the poor economy.

"I've been saving money on the side for their school supplies," Barrera said. "I'm not just shopping the sales, though if I can get a deal, it's good."

She already has bought daughter Deserae, a seventh-grader, two pairs of jeans at Aeropostale thanks to a buy-one, get-one-free sale.

With parents watching their pennies, some teens also have started looking at their bottom lines.

Sixteen-year-old David Negrete and a group of friends were trying on sneakers at the Show Palace in the mall recently. The Central Valley Christian junior said he was spending his own money to buy shoes.

"I'm looking to see if they are on sale because I don't want to spend that much," David said. Still, when deciding between two pairs, he favored the regularly priced pair.

Brothers Michael and Jeremy Lopez were in the mall shopping for shirts and shoes. The Ceres residents were using their money and money their mom gave them.

"I'm just buying whatever. I'm not worried about sales," said 16-year-old Michael Lopez. "But I'm also spending less than last year."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at or 578-2284.