Recession and war--they are a combination Americans have experienced before. While the departure of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was dominating the headlines, TIME anticipated a gloomy CHRISTMAS SELLING SEASON.
Anxious consumers may be strolling the aisles, but they are holding on to their wallets more and more tightly. Fears about possible war in the Persian Gulf are piling upon recession worries and news of spreading corporate cutbacks. One consumer sounding after another is recording the development of a batten-down-the-hatches mentality. Since Iraq invaded Kuwait, consumer confidence has fallen to its lowest level in 44 years... To help stir warm Christmas sentiments and loosen those purse strings, stores are emphasizing family ties this year. Montgomery Ward has donated $2 million worth of VCRs and videocams to the U.S.O. for American troops stationed in the Persian Gulf...The J.C. Penney's in East Brunswick, N.J., is kindling the holiday spirit with a giveaway. Customers can get a $10 discount on new coats by turning in any old coat; the used garments are then donated to the needy. Retailers are also bolstering service, in the hope that they can hold on to the customers they have. At Saks on Michigan Ave. in Chicago, says store manager Joan Tillman: "We treat each and every sale as if it is a true gift to us."
--TIME, Dec. 3, 1990