This week's snowstorm brought more than an end to dry weather, it brought a change in buying habits in downtown Salt Lake City. Members of the Downtown Retail Merchants Association are optimistic about the economic prospects of the Christmas season.

In 1986 and 1987, according to Ev Gray, association executive director, snow was sparse before Thanksgiving, and people didn't feel much like shopping for Christmas when the temperature was 50 degrees and the only snow was found on Christmas cards.This year is different. According to members of the association's board of directors, the snowstorm has encouraged people to buy winter-related items as well as Christmas gifts in order to get the best selection possible.

The snow also means out-of-staters won't cancel their reservations at downtown motels and hotels or the ski resorts. "When the skiers are in town, everyone feels better," said Shermin Payne, director of marketing for the ZCMI Center.

Daniel R. McNeer, general manager of the Crossroads Plaza, said this week's snowstorm is a positive sign for the downtown area because people are buying winter coats, umbrellas, scarves, hats and other winter merchandise. He said in Canada, bad weather hurts shopping but in Salt Lake City it helps.

Payne sends people into the ZCMI Center parking terrace daily to look at license plates so he can find out where people are coming from. This year there are plenty of people from out of state visiting downtown, an indication of a successful Christmas-selling season.

Overall, the directors are encouraged at the selling outlook for the downtown area 51/2 weeks before Christmas.

What is the association doing this Christmas season to stimulate sales and make the downtown area a fun place to shop?

Boyd S. Ware, manager of Deseret Book Co. and association president, considers the Salt Lake downtown area to be distinctive because of the cooperation between two major malls, ZCMI Center and Crossroads, and the Central Business Improvement District.

Debbie Reverman, marketing director for Crossroads Mall, said as with other holidays, there will be coordinated newspaper, radio and television advertising projects between the two malls and independent stores as well as several special coordinated promotions.

There will be several "lights on" ceremonies Nov. 25 at both malls between 5:15 and 6:15 p.m., so people can see them all, Reverman said. The traditional Santa Claus parade will be Nov. 19.

In addition to the 22,000 parking spaces (most of them free) and the bus service to downtown, the area offers the most festive Christmas setting, Ware said.

There is another difference in this year's shoppers. Clothing sales are up because retailers are giving customers what they want, Reverman said.

Jerrie Seiler, owner of Nanci's, said retailers must listen to what their customers want. She said sales have been so good in her store that she already is out of some Christmas merchandise and is reordering.

Reuel Ware, owner of Reuel's Photo Blue, said his sales have increased and some customers are purchasing expensive merchandise he didn't think would sell easily.

Shopping in downtown over the years has dictated public celebrations. The Thanksgiving parade was moved to the Saturday before Thanksgiving, because the Saturday after is a big shopping day. The parade was moved back to alleviate the downtown crunch caused by the meeting of the two groups, Reverman said.

Shoppers haven't complained about the Christmas decorations going up in November this year, because they are Christmas shopping early, too, according to Ev Gray.

Also, people don't consider that it takes several hours to decorate a small store and several days to decorate a mall or the streets and it all must be done in advance of the "lights on" ceremonies, said Boyd Ware.