By Garrett Glaser Correspondent
CNBC

The president of the National Retail Federation representing 1.4 million merchants said Wednesday — even on the brink of war — that she takes strong issue with those arguing for Israeli-type security at malls and shopping centers in the U.S.

Traci Mullin told us plenty is already being done to protect consumers — much of it invisible — but it’s still there.

I think malls and retailers across the country have instituted the highest possible kinds of security,” Mullin said. “Granted we don’t have uniformed officers with … M-16s at the ready. I think that would be very discouraging for consumers and it would be a very hostile shopping environment.”

Many in the industry agree with Mullin, but not all. Last week, we were the first to tell you about the advice of professor Harvey Kushner, head of the criminology department at long island university and a government security consultant.

He told a private conference call of mall owners and big investors a week ago today that - according to his sources - malls today are now the number one soft target for terrorism in the U.S.

Among the improvements needed immediately, he said, are routine wand-scanning and metal detectors for all entering malls — more of what they do in Israel. Also, he recommends more security guards that are better educated and better paid, as well as more sharing of information between public agencies and mall security.

Consumers jittery
No matter where you come down in that debate, there’s little disagreement about consumers attitudes on going shopping right now. We surveyed all the surveys we could find this morning, and all show the same thing. Consumers are jittery, and not especially in the mood to spend. Retailers expect a radical decline in sales for one to three days as Americans stay glued to their TV sets. They will likely return to stores slowly, not all at once. And one study showed consumers maintain they’re already spending less on leisure activities, which is somewhat surprising since usually people want an escape if they’re feeling stressed.

“We were startled to see that as many as 30-40 percent of people indicating they’re spending less across a wide variety of entertainment and leisure kinds of activities, things like eating out at restaurants, going to the movies,” said Jon Swallen, senior vice president at market research firm Universal McCann.

“The areas that are going to be most affected are the categories that are going to be most affected are things like consumer electronics, small and major appliances and also areas like jewelry,” said Marshall Cohen, president of NPD Fashionworld

“We have been expecting this to be a challenging retail time, and its certainly proving to be that. It will continue to be that for at least a couple of weeks,” Mullin said.

One other point: The shopping center industry held a big mall-security conference in Chicago over the weekend where no press allowed. But I’m told the biggest news that came out of it can be summed up in four words — better training for guards.

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