As the holiday-shopping season officially kicks off today, retailers in Fairfield and neighboring Westport are cautiously optimistic that sales will be slightly higher than last year.

But with the economy still sluggish, some area restaurants don't expect as many holiday parties as they hosted last year.

David Kiselstein, co-owner of J. Albert Johnson Jewelers on Black Rock Turnpike, expects a 10 percent increase in holiday sales from last year because the shop increased its inventory of diamond jewelry. That already has boosted this year's sales to date, he said

"We are cautiously optimistic that this year's holiday sales will be above and beyond last year," said Kiselstein, who owns the store with his wife, Judy.

Today is Black Friday, so called because the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas often determines whether retailers will finish the year in the red or in the black. Nationwide and across the state, retail experts predict an increase of almost 3 percent in holiday sales from last year.

Howard Diamond, co-owner of Fairfield Center Jewelers, said he expects businesses in downtown Fairfield to be busy with shoppers this holiday season.

In addition to jewelry, retail experts predict the top-selling gifts this season will include electronics, apparel and gift items -- and, as always, toys.

David Marsillio, second-generation wner of Marsillios TV & Appliance on Black Rock Turnpike, is expecting 2011 holiday sales to be 5 to 10 percent higher than last year's.

"A lot of people are coming back to local stores for service and expertise because they've been burned by the big box stores," he said.

Best holiday sellers in electronics at the store, which also sells major appliances, should be large LED television sets, Marsillio said.

"People usually just want the latest technology," he said.

Spending on electronics this holiday season is expected to reach an "all-time high" with all the new tablet computers, e-readers and other devices on the market, according to a recent report from the Consumer Electronics Association. Shoppers are expected to spend $246 on average -- about a third of their holiday spending -- on electronics, with computing products "leading the way," the report states.

Most area jewelers are expecting to do as well -- if not a little better -- than last holiday season.

Howard Diamond, co-owner of Fairfield Center Jewelers, said he hopes to have the same or better revenues this holiday season compared to last year. But local patrons keep coming into his store, he said, despite the unstable economy.

"We're surprised because everyone is competing for the dollar," said Diamond, whose shop has been on the Post Road since the 1950s. He expects full-year 2011 sales to be 8 to 10 percent better than last year.

At the Silver Ribbon jewelry store in Westport's Playhouse Square, owner Lida Ghiorzi said she hopes holiday sales will be 10 percent better than last year's.

"I believe we have the right price points for people," said Ghiorzi. But she predicts full-year sales will be just "a little better" than last year because August's tropical storm and October's early snowfall held back spending.

"I believe October would have been better but many people had no electricity and were concerned about feeding their families," she said.

Jaime Camche, owner of Westport jewelry store J L Rocks for the past 10 years, is hoping this year's holiday sales will at least match revenues netted during the 2010 holiday season but is concerned because gold prices have soared.

"I think we'll focus on other metals such as titanium and silver," she said. Still, she expects personalized jewelry in 14-carat gold and silver to sell well this year. "It's just a trend these days."

Area clothing stores are also forecasting better sales for the 2011 holiday season compared to the 2010 period.

"Even though it's a challenging economy, we know customers with disposable income will want something unique," said Regina Kirshbaum, co-owner of Agabhumi, a retailer of Balinese clothing and accessories with stores in Westport, Stamford, Santa Monica, Calif., and Barbados.

Kirshbaum and her husband and co-owner Michael, are predicting a 10 percent increase in holiday sales compared to last year.

Naresh Mansukhani, who owns Fairfield Clothiers with his wife, Magdalena, said he will be happy if they exceed last year's holiday sales by 10 percent this year.

"My business seems to be directly connected to the Dow," Mansukhani said . "If the Dow does well, I'm doing well."

Toy stores depend heavily on holiday sales, and Blinn's, which has been in downtown Fairfield for a half century, is optimistic.

The store is banking on a new cable TV ad campaign to generate greater revenues, said Mark Crofutt, the store's owner.

"We're hoping that'll propel us to new heights," he said. "It goes up and down from year to year, but when it's Christmas season in Blinn's, it's always crazy and it's a wonderful thing."

Recently-opened Fairfield University Bookstore in downtown Fairfield is expecting strong holiday sales because consumers still want to buy books as gifts despite the presence of e-readers on the market, said Karen Petras, the store's manager.

I believe there's room for everyone," she said, adding that the store's holiday events and author talks should attract patrons. "Those are things that bring people in and create the excitement."

Several area eateries are not as cheery about the holiday season.

Patrick Jean, the owner of Brasserie, a French restaurant on Sanford Street for the past year-and-a-half, does not expect as many holiday parties this season compared to last year because many firms are downsizing and looking for ways to save money.

"It's still early, so I don't know if they will book at the last minute," said Jean, who previously ran St. Tropez, another French restaurant, in the same spot for 13 years. "I've got my fingers crossed."

Bryan Malcarney, the owner and chef of The Blue Lemon in Westport, said he hopes party bookings for this holiday season will be better than in 2010, but his industry faces challenges.

"The Great Recession has made people more cautious about making reservations," he said.

Businesses in downtown Fairfield should do very well this upcoming holiday season because the area has a lot to offer shoppers looking for the perfect gift, Diamond said.

"There's a great vitality down here in Fairfield with the mix of retail, food and banks, so everything just feeds off each other," he said.

But when asked to comment on the expected holiday retail climate in downtown Fairfield, the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce had nothing to say.

Retail activity for this holiday season should be better in Westport's downtown than last year due to the arrival of new shops along Main Street, said Bob LeRose, president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association.

Statewide, retailers should do a little better this holiday season than last year with an increase of 2.8 percent due to pent-up demand from consumers hedging back on shopping earlier in the year in response to the state's new sales and income taxes, said Tim Phelan, president of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association. The federal debt-ceiling debate and the recent tropical and snow storms also put a damper on spending, he said.

Nationwide, holiday sales for retailers are expected to go up the same percentage to $465.6 billion compared to the 2010 season, according to a recent report from the National Retail Federation. The association said it expects an "average" season for retailers, given the expected hike is slightly higher than the 10-year average increase of 2.6 percent yet far below last year's increase of 5.2 percent over the 2009 season.