Mainland visitors join the spree as retailers and restaurateurs report better-than-expected turnover For most, the Lunar New Year is a time to relax with friends and relatives. Not so for retailers and restaurateurs such as Lam Law, executive manager of the Choi Wan Hin Seafood Restaurant in Quarry Bay. And this year was no exception, with Mr Lam describing it as satisfyingly busy. 'At the end of the year, the economy was better, so lots of companies are having annual dinners,' Mr Lam said. 'Families are also having family dinners.' Mr Lam's comments underscored the heightened spending that accompanied the New Year festivities this year, lending an even rosier glow to Hong Kong's economic recovery. In the two weeks leading up to last week's holiday, stores were jammed with shoppers, including mainlanders looking for good deals and warm clothes to fight off the cold. Chains such as Sasa and Giordano reported double-digit sales growth over last year. 'It's a little bit better than I expected,' said Yu Pang-chun, chairman of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association. Mr Yu, who is also director of the Yue Hwa chain of retail stores, said padded jackets were the big sellers last week because of the cold snap. He said sales for the fortnight preceding the holidays probably rose 10 per cent or more, judging from his own stores' receipts and conversations with other retailers. Mr Lam said business at his restaurant had also risen about 10 per cent over the holiday period, with a typical table of eight to 10 people spending $3,000 on average. Hosting 600 to 800 diners each night, he said his biggest single booking recently was for a group of 400 people. 'From my point of view, the economy is getting better and the bull market is stabilising, so spending will slowly get better,' he said. Cosmetics chain Sasa said yesterday sales leaped 30 per cent from January 22 to 25 compared with last year's holiday period. The company attributed the higher sales to spending by mainlanders, with 944 transactions made with yuan-denominated credit cards totalling $1.2 million from January 18 to 25. Meanwhile, Giordano's sales in the three days preceding the holidays showed double-digit growth compared with the same period last year, said Alison Law Chui-yin, assistant to the chairman. As in previous years, the shopping surge may not last after the holidays. But economists and analysts are betting that it will not drop off as sharply. 'It's traditionally after the peak season that there'll be some slowdown, but given that the economy seems to be on the right track, we should see a better year for retail,' Mr Yu said. Professor Hung Wan-sing, associate professor of economics at Hong Kong Baptist University, agreed. 'In general, people are willing to spend the money,' he said. 'It seems there are lots of good signs, like the stock market and the property market. The unemployment rate has also dropped a lot. People have some hope.'