Low Dollar Draws European Shoppers to U.S.
ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
Guard those TiVos. The British are coming. So were the Irish, the Canadians and any foreigner for that matter looking to spend some extra cash.
NPR's Anthony Brooks has the story.
ANTHONY BROOKS: Once upon a time, the dollar was king, and Americans could float through Europe and enjoy great culture, food and shopping all at a discount. But now, as The New York Times wrote last weekend, the lowly dollar has turned Manhattan department stores into something like a Tijuana street market for Germans. That's pretty much the case at many shopping malls across the country.
Ms. JENNIFER ROTIGLIANO (Senior Marketing Director, CambridgeSide Galleria Mall): We're definitely seeing an uptick in international traffic in the mall.
BROOKS: That's Jennifer Rotigliano, the senior marketing director at the CambridgeSide Galleria Mall in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She says after 9/11, foreign shoppers virtually disappeared. But now, thanks to the anemic dollar, they're back.
Ms. ROTIGLIANO: You can usually spot them. They have tons of bags. They're buying empty suitcases and filling them up, electronics, apparel, everything that you can think of, they're getting everything.
BROOKS: That's what Connie Scully(ph) and Olivia Lane(ph) are doing. They're here from Dublin, Ireland, where the euro was worth an all-time high $1.50.
Ms. CONNIE SCULLY (Tourist): This is a great time to be shopping in America. The things are fabulous, and the town is spectacular.
BROOKS: So what are you finding? What are you interested in buying?
Ms. SCULLY: Everything.
Ms. OLIVIA LANE (Tourist): You know, a lot of the Hilfiger, Polo and Guess type-jeans. Things like that, (unintelligible) outfits and then, particularly, my four-and-a-half year-old is looking for a Nintendo DS Lite.
Ms. SCULLY: Kids clothes, shoes, handbags, and makeups, Nintendos, you, if you're for sale.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BROOKS: And you're here just to shop pretty much?
Ms. LANE: Pretty much, yeah, have a little trip away from the kids. And the husband.
BROOKS: And the husbands, yeah.
Ms. LANE: Absolutely.
BROOKS: If shopping in the U.S. is a good deal for people carrying euros, it's also a good deal for Canadians whose currency is now on par with the U.S. dollar for the first time in years. And it's even better for people like Sue Thompson(ph) from London.
Ms. SUE THOMPSON (Tourist): You could say we'll get nearly $2 to our pound, nearly everything is half-priced here, especially the Timberland boots we find which is very good, about 130 pounds in England.
BROOKS: And what do they cost here?
Ms. THOMPSON: About - well, they're about $130.
BROOKS: So, literally, half price.
Ms. THOMPSON: So, literally, half price, yeah. You can't get better than that really.
BROOKS: Pat Moscaritolo, who heads the Greater Boston Visitors and Convention Bureau, says last year, the number of foreign visitors to Boston jumped by 24 percent over the year before. And he says thanks to the weak dollar, the numbers are continuing upward this year.
Mr. PATRICK MOSCARITOLO (President and CEO, Greater Boston and Visitors and Convention Bureau): Interestingly enough for a destination that views its primary selling message as culture, arts, universities, history, what we're finding is almost a third of our overseas visitors are coming here, specifically, to shop. That's their number one activity.
BROOKS: Moscaritolo says, as Americans feel the pinch this holiday season, all those foreign shoppers could help retailers make up the shortfall. The U.S. Department of Commerce says international visitors are spending more money in the U.S. than ever before - as much as $10 billion a month.
Scott Krugman is vice president of the National Retail Federation. He says the cheap dollar and all that foreign spending should help retailers this year, but not everywhere.
Mr. SCOTT KRUGMAN (Vice President, National Retail Federation): I don't think this is going to impact retailers across the country. But I think this is going to affect retailers in specific geographical locations. States that are bordering Canada have a big benefit here. But this is also going to affect states that depend heavily year round on tourism.
BROOKS: In fact, the U.S. Department of Commerce says the weak dollar is attracting record numbers of foreign visitors to certain key tourist destinations this year. Cities like New York, Boston. Washington and San Diego are seeing big increases in visitors from Europe, Australia, South America and China. So the weak dollar - a symptom of economic malaise at home - might bring some holiday cheer to at least part of the U.S.
Anthony Brooks, NPR News.
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