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by Eileen Mozinski

A simpler holiday season might be back in vogue for families this year as a nation teetering on recession braces for what some experts are certain will be a sluggish retail season.

The all-important holiday shopping blitz begins in earnest this week with Black Friday — the day retailers traditionally post the kind of sales volumes that can make or break a year.

U.S. consumers are expected to spend an average of $832.36 on holiday shopping expenses, up a “paltry” 1.9 percent from last year, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2008 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey.

It is the smallest increase in planned consumer spending since the survey began in 2002, according to the report, released in October.

“Retailers are going into this holiday season with their eyes wide open, knowing that savings and promotions will be the main incentive for shoppers,” said NRF President and Chief Executive Officer Tracy Mullin in a statement. “No one is canceling Christmas because money is tight, but consumers will be sticking to their budgets and looking for good deals when deciding where to spend this holiday season.”

The bleak national projections aren’t enough to stifle the upbeat spirit of some local retailers.

“I think locally it’s going to be a very good year,” said Eric Dregne, store manager at Younkers.

“I am positive about this year and I think there are a lot of things in our favor,” he said. “The Dubuque market seems to weather downturns in the economy better than other markets.”

The store’s plan for the holidays includes an aggressive promotion schedule, according to Dregne, who said the sales offered this season won’t diverge much from the kinds offered last season.

Younkers Community Day on Nov. 15 kicked off the holiday season and provided a chance to start gauging the season’s traffic and sales, the store manager said.

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