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How strong was Santa's magic for nation's retailers?

If there is any retailer that can appreciate the economic rebound, it's Boscov's.

The closely held company, which is celebrating its centennial this year, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008, at the height of the worst economic decline since the Great Depression. CEO Albert Boscov, the son of company founder Solomon Boscov, came out of retirement a year later and not only rescued the chain but enabled it to start growing again. The company, which generates about $1 billion in sales, had a 2014 good holiday season.

Estimates for holiday sales show an increase of 4 to 5.5 percent over 2013. But so far, it's too early to see if the retail figures are worth cel...

"We had a very strong season," said Jim Boscov, the company's president and Albert Boscov's nephew, in an interview with CBS MoneyWatch. He declined to provide specifics; Albert Boscov was traveling and wasn't available for comment.

"We saw is a lot of happy people. It seemed like the mood was brighter for everyone. ... (The strength) was pretty much across the board."

Jim Boscov credits his uncle with instilling a "personality of fun" at the company, which has 43 stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Ohio. Boscov's has also taken the unusual step of reopening locations that have previously been shut.

Indeed, the question on the minds of investors as the 2014 holiday season draws to a close is how strong Santa's magic was for many retailers given that U.S. consumer sentiment in December reached its highest level since 2011. This represents a shift in sentiment from earlier in the season when a reported 11 percent decline in Black Friday sales spooked Wall Street. Many economists, however, claimed that the data failed to account for shifts in shopping pattern and holiday sales overall would be fine.

The National Retail Federation expects holiday spending to rise 4.1 percent to $616.9 billion this year, the biggest increase since 2011. MasterCard SpendingPulse's report forecasts that spending rose 5.5 percent, fueled by strong demand for jewelry and women's apparel. Experts caution that economists analyze holiday sales differently and that one forecast may not necessarily be comparable with another one. Retailers such as Walmart and Toys "R" US declined to comment on their holiday results before they release their quarterly earnings.

Meanwhile, retail sales continued to expand at a brisk pace even on Christmas Day, when IBM estimates sales went up 8.3 percent. ChannelAdvisor estimated that the online sales rose 14.1 percent on a year-over-year basis from Nov. 28 to Dec. 21; comScore estimates the gain at 15 percent. Amazon.com, which is under pressure from Wall Street to bolster its financial performance, estimates that 10 million people tried its Amazon Prime shipping program for the first time.

"Things look very good," said Chris G. Christopher, an economist with IHS Global Insight, in an interview. "There is some upside potential with regards to retail sales."

UPS and FedEx, which both came under fire last year for failing to anticipate the surge in demand from online shopping, seemed to have learned their lessons from last year and made the needed improvements in their networks.

"... air and ground operations ran smoothly, demonstrating the value of our additional investments in capacity and technology," Atlanta-based UPS said in a statement to MoneyWatch.

Memphis-based FedEx added that it expects to "continue to experience significant demand for our service following the holiday ... and our networks are ready to deliver."

As for Boscov's, the family-owned retailer is planning to continue its slow but deliberate expansion plans as it tries to stay ahead of its numerous larger rivals who have swallowed up many chains in recent years.

"Realistically, we are no going to open a store in California tomorrow because no one knows who we are," said Jim Boscov.

More details on: cbsnews.com


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