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by Jeff Brooks

Ocala — Considering all the city-sponsored events and planned promotions by local retailers, this could be one of the most festive holiday seasons in Marion County history.

Now, merchants are just hoping folks turn out for the fun and do a little spending this holiday shopping season, which might be a considerable challenge as consumers are battle the worst financial crisis in seven decades.

The Commerce Department reported that retail sales fell by 2.8 percent in October, the biggest drop on record, surpassing the old mark of a 2.65 percent plunge in November 2001 that occurred after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The dismal report on retail sales was worse than the 2 percent decline that analysts expected. It marked the fourth straight decrease, the longest stretch of weakness on record.

That has retailers bracing for what could be the worst holiday shopping season in decades with economists forecasting a recession that could turn out to be the steepest since the 1981-82 downturn. And a survey of the nation’s big chain retail stores found that retailers suffered through the weakest October in at least 39 years.

Local retailers certainly understand the apprehension, but they say forget the numbers.

“What we’re seeing and what we’ve gotten from our numbers at the stores is the market is not hurting very much in Ocala,” said Trent Comer, marketing director for Tampa-based United American Realty, Market Square at Heath Brook’s developer. “It’s not the best season, but not anything like the news is forecasting.”

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