Survey predicts gloomy holiday for retailers; also: Mall of America gains popularity, Rybak stumps for downtown shops, and Target investor pitches new plan

‘Tis the season, so it’s time for another all-retail edition of the Business Agenda:

Average household spending in the Twin Cities this holiday season is forecasted to be down almost 12 percent from a year ago, according to a new survey by the University of St. Thomas’ Institute for Retailing Excellence. More shoppers say they’re ditching the malls and turning to the Internet and catalogs to buy gifts this year. That’s a “double-whammy effect — a smaller slice of a smaller pie” for the region’s major shopping malls and smaller retailers, the report says. (For more detail on it, see my post here.)

Also noted in the survey: The Mall of America has passed up Rosedale and reclaimed its spot as the most popular mall destination in the Twin Cities. Year-to-date sales through September were up 3.5 percent, the mall’s spokesman tells Finance and Commerce. The MOA continues to announce high-profile store openings despite the slumping economy. The American Girl opening sparked a frenzy last week. Two new stores open this weekend: Columbia Sportwear and NikeStore.

Mayor R.T. Rybak wants to remind shoppers that downtown Minneapolis is open for business, with free parking on the weekends. The mayor stars in a frantically paced YouTube video promoting the free, no-strings, no-minimum-purchase parking at Gaviidae Commons. The reason it’s worth watching: During a shot in front of Neiman Marcus, R.T. leans in and whispers to the camera: “This is where Sarah Palin spent $75,000.”

Target shareholder William Ackman unveiled his revised pitch Wednesday for the retailer to spin-off its real estate holdings. It calls for Target to create a separate real estate investment trust that would lease the land back to the retailer. Unlike the previous version, Target would retain part-ownership of the real-estate company. One skeptical investment director tells “You can’t cut up the pieces of the pie and make it worth more money.”

More Target: The retailer is recalling a set of children’s dive sticks it imported from China and sold over the summer. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says the dive sticks could remain in an upright position at the bottom of the pool, posing an impairment hazard to young children. The multi-colored dive sticks were sold in bundles of three. Consumers should return the toys to Target for a refund. Questions can be directed to Target at 1-800-440-0680.

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