As the holiday-shopping season officially kicks off Friday, retailers in Westport and neighboring Fairfield 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.

Agabhumi, a downtown Westport shop featuring Balinese clothing and accessories, is expecting holiday sales for this year to be 10 percent better than during the 2010 holiday period, according to co-owner Regina Kirshbaum.

"Even though it's a challenging economy, we know customers with disposable income will want something unique," said Kirshbaum, who owns the business with her husband, Michael.

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.

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

David Marsillio, second-generation owner of Marsillios TV & Appliance on Fairfield's Black Rock Turnpike, is forecasting holiday sales for 2011 to be five to 10 percent higher than last year's holiday season.

"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 sellers in electronics at the store, which also sells major applicances 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.

Area jewelers are expecting to do as well -- if not a little better -- this holiday season compared to the year-ago period.

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,"Ghiorzi said. 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."

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," Diamond said. He expects his full-year 2011 sales to be 8 to 10 percent better than last year.

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

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.

"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."

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

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

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

Patrick Jean, the owner of Brasserie, a French restaurant in Fairfield, 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."

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 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 storm and snowstorm also put a damper on spending, he said.

Nationwide, holiday sales for retailers are expected to increase 2.8 percent 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.