Shoppers fill Houston malls

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New preliminary numbers are out about the retail crunch. Spending Pulse, a group that tracks total sales paid with credit cards, checks and cash, is reporting holiday sales fell between 5.5 and 8 percent compared to last year. Cut out auto and gas sales and they dropped 2 to 4 percent.

Shoppers are out this weekend, looking to take advantage of the bargains. Some stores are marking items off up to 80 percent. While the decline in holiday retail sales was far worse than analysts expected, Houston area shoppers were out in droves Saturday in search of bargains and they found them everywhere they went.

"We just came out to see all the great deals going on right now," shopper Gwen Gayden told us.

"All the stores have 40, 50, 60 percent off everything," added shopper Josh Anderson. "If you couldn't buy it before, buy it now."

On the heels of what some are calling one of the worst holiday sales seasons on records, retailers are pulling out all the stops, now offering deep discounts in hopes of making up for a lackluster holiday shopping season.

Even with this latest shot in the arm, the forecast remains grim. One industry group predicts nearly 150,000 stores nationwide will shut their doors by the end of this year, with another 73,000 going out of business in the first half of 2009.

Luxury goods saw the most dramatic decrease with sales plunging more than 34 percent. Yet with the stores as crowded as they are this weekend, many shoppers are staying optimistic.

"I think when everyone stops panicking, we can sort of get moving again," said shopper Carla Velencia. "Everyone needs to go out and shop."

One of the casualties of the struggling economy is Mervyns, which is set to shut its stores after this weekend. The retailer has been closing its outlets since declaring bankruptcy earlier this year. The store is liquidating its remaining inventory, trying to make money to pay off its creditors. About 100 stores that are left are set to close the next few days.

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