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Spending: Consumers buy less and save more

Consumers are keeping a tight grip on their wallets, which doesn't bode well for retailers this year.

Retail sales will likely dip 10.6 percent from 2008 levels in Horry County this spring and 13.8 percent in Georgetown County, according to Coastal Carolina University research economist Don Schunk. By the time the year ends, sales should level off to a 5 to 7.5 percent drop across the two counties.

"Consumers are spending less, there's just no doubt about it. They're saving more," said Doug Woodward, a research economist at USC's Moore School of Business.

To stay afloat, retailers are slashing prices, offering discounts and finding ways to market themselves through e-mail or on social networking sites.

Many have been forced to consolidate, close or file for bankruptcy, and Woodward said to expect more of that in 2009.

Barbara Streeter, owner of Pops Glass Station studio and gallery in Conway, has found one way to bring in a little extra income: She joined efforts with an artist who used to have a store next door but closed in part because of lackluster sales. She sells his art in her store, meaning she gets the extra traffic and he gets to avoid rent costs.

"I expect [sales] to be better than last year ... but I don't expect us to be doing real, real well until 2010," said Streeter said. "We're kind of positioning ourselves to be ready when that happens."

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