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Fresh from a strong Black Friday weekend, sales at Pacific base exchanges continue a brisk pace as shoppers buy laptops, flat screen TVs and, yes, even handheld mixers.

Store managers said Tuesday that holiday sales are higher than they were a year ago, and they credit considerable discounts and early bird specials for the boost.

"I think people were planning, pinching their pennies and saving" and waiting for the sales, said Anna Iosefo, Army and Air Force Exchange Service store manager at Misawa Air Base, Japan.

Iosefo said sales were up 22 percent for the three-day Thanksgiving weekend as the store took in about $660,000.

Discounted laptops and 32-inch LCD TVs were the hottest sellers in Misawa, followed by Coach purses, toys and jewelry, she said.

"We had a great balance of sale items this year, but customers really came in for the electronics," Iosefo said.

The video game "Wii Fit" sold out early Friday morning at the Navy Exchange at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, said general manager Candy Matthews. They’re also in short supply worldwide, with online retailers Best Buy, Amazon.com, Gamestop.com and the Exchange Online Store all listing the item as out of stock.

She said weekend sales overall were 16 percent higher than last year.

"I didn’t expect it to be so strong," she said.

Nor did Eddie Devlin, AAFES general manager at Camp Zama, Japan: "It was much busier than usual, and customers were in real high spirits."

While demand for electronics continues to drive consumer spending, sales of kitchen appliances have also been gaining traction this year.

Matthews said the exchange’s housewares department saw a 75 percent jump in sales this year.

Belgian waffle makers, pot and pan sets, and indoor barbecue grills were hot wish-list items for shoppers at exchanges on Okinawa.

Holiday spending at the Camp Foster, Okinawa, exchange jumped 45 percent this year compared to last year’s three-day Thanksgiving weekend sales, said AAFES store manager Pat Sprow.

The sale of nearly 100 handheld mixers at Foster’s exchange over the weekend was as 250 percent jump, compared to the same time last year, Sprow said.

"It’s just amazing. It just caught me by surprise," Sprow said.

One reason for the high interest in kitchen items may be the later arrival of new servicemembers and their families to the island who are in need of wares, said Robert Rice, AAFES store manager for Kadena Air Base’s main exchange on Okinawa.

Aluminum pots and pans flew off shelves, making it an unanticipated hot deal, Rice said.

"This was an unusually strange PCS season," Rice said. "Then you know, it’s just tradition to shop at Black Friday to see what you can get on that day, you might as well buy what you can."

Rice said Kadena’s main exchange had the highest overall spending increase of any AAFES store — with a 58 percent bump in sales over the weekend compared to last year’s sales. They beat out the Fort Lewis, Wash., which usually holds the title.

Stateside, consumer confidence trails at a modest pace as economists predict this will be one of the weakest holiday seasons in years.

Black Friday spending rose 3 percent from a year ago to $10.6 billion, but then slipped 0.8 percent to $6 billion the next day, according to ShopperTrack, RCT, a retail industry tracking firm.

Total spending over the three-day shopping period is estimated to have risen only 1 percent from the period last year — making it one of the smallest Black Friday gains in recent years, ShopperTrack said.

At the Osan exchange in South Korea, shoppers are thinking before they buy, said AAFES general manager, Steve Pena.

"I think customers are really researching their purchases more this year, whereas before they were more free-spending," he said.

Post-Thanksgiving sales were running 2 percent above the same period last year, and business volume for 2008 is staying even with the previous year, Pena said.

Since entertainment electronics are typically hot commodities, the exchange ensured it was better stocked than last year, particularly in its iPods.

So far no shortages, Pena said.

"We have plenty this year," he said. "Those items were a hard commodity to buy last year."

At Yongsan Garrison, South Korea, the iPod Touch was in short supply. Shawn Dorcy, general manager of AAFES at Yongsan, blamed production shortages and said his team is working with AAFES headquarters to get more.

Dorcy said sales in the South Korea/Guam area were up "considerably" over last year and he expects "a solid holiday season."

Stars and Stripes reporters Ashley Rowland, Bryce Dubee, Franklin Fisher and Vince Little contributed to this report.

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