State of Business: The Customer Comes Back

"Consumer confidence has begun to reappear," beamed Bernard Gimbel, berry-eyed boss of Manhattan's Gimbel Bros. Over at Macy's, Chairman Jack I. Straus was quick to match the Gimbel grin. Said he: "Our Christmas sales this year will come close to or break the season's record." From Burdine's in Miami to the Bon Marche in Seattle, U.S. retailers last week reported the same phenomenon: with "big ticket" items such as TV sets leading the way, department stores sales spurted 6% above last year's levels during Thanksgiving week, and many stores have done even better since then.

No one really knew just...

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