August 25, 2009

Wow, that's pretty bad. I don't think I've even heard of this happening before. Pens and pencils?

NEW YORK - To gauge consumers' strain, look no further than the rows and rows of plastic bags awaiting layaway payments at Kmart. They are filled with back-to-school basics — not just T-shirts and jeans but notebooks, magic markers and pencils.

It is unheard of for layaway rooms to be so packed at back-to-school time and for the packages to include relatively cheap school supplies.

A record number of shoppers, shut off from credit and short on cash, are relying on Kmart's layaway program to pay for all of their kids' school needs, said Tom Aiello, a spokesman for Kmart's parent Sears Holdings Corp. Layaway allows shoppers to pay over time, interest- free, and pick up their merchandise when it's paid in full.

"It's a sight. In the past, we would see layaway start to pick up around Halloween" as people get a jump start for Christmas, said David Travis, manager of a Kmart store in Conover, N.C.

Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp. said its layaway business is stronger than a year ago. And e-Layaway.com, which offers online layaway services for about 1,000 merchants, has seen its business double from the same time last year. Customers are setting aside even $25 calculators and $30 backpacks.

The word "layaway" had more than double the interest among U.S. searchers in August 2009 than it had in August 2008, according to Google Insights for Search.

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