By REBECCA SLOAN
Kindergartners or seniors, every student wants to start the school year looking cool.
Of course, what qualifies as cool changes like the weather, but this year, according to area merchants, cool kids will be carrying backpacks, iridescent notebooks and Britney Spears gear.
"More and more kids want backpacks," said Pete Rouzzo, a manager at OfficeMax in Niles. "A new kind of backpack that you pull on wheels is really popular, and so are Nik & eacute; brand backpacks."
Lisa Snyder, a manager at Wal-Mart in Warren, agreed.
"Backpacks are popular among kids of all ages, and backpacks on wheels are popular for younger kids," Snyder said. "Girls want bright-colored backpacks, like purple or pink, and boys want more conservative colors."
Speaking of eye-popping colors, Snyder said anything glittery or iridescent is flying off Wal-Mart's shelves.
"Glittery, iridescent, bright-colored pens, notebooks and folders are selling fast," she said.
Kris Gorosics, a manager at Staples in Niles, said bright, plastic pencil boxes are selling so fast that employees can't keep them in stock.
Other hot items at Staples include black notebook paper and gel pens that have glittery ink that shows up when used on the black paper.
"Everyone wants the black notebook paper and the gel pens. Little kids and high school kids too," Gorosics said.
Popular pop star: Gorosics said items promoting Britney Spears are also hot sellers at Staples, and she suspects the flashy pop star is responsible for this season's mania toward bright, iridescent colors.
"Bright, colorful Britney stuff is really hot this year. Even the little kids don't want Barbie stuff -- they want Britney stuff instead," Gorosics said. Although Britney is big, especially among pre-teen and teen-age girls, Gorosics said Staples' Harry Potter line hasn't been selling very well.
"Harry Potter is a loser this year. His stuff is moving really slow," Gorosics said.
Snyder said back-to-school products promoting the young Mr. Potter aren't doing so well at Wal-Mart either.
"Everyone probably assumes the Harry Potter stuff is really selling fast, but it's not doing as well as expected," Snyder said.
But despite glossy, glittery gear and merchandise that promotes hip, hot pop stars, certain back-to-school items never go out of style.
Standard supplies such as crayons, markers, filler notebook paper, scissors and three-ring binders are as popular now as they were 10 years ago.
"Most of the time, these are the supplies that sell first. Every kid needs the basic pens, paper and pencils, no matter what the latest trends are," Rouzzo said.
Dull to dazzling: However, new gadgets that give a fresh spin on these traditional standbys, such as glow-in-the-dark pens and miniature pencils, can push plain ordinary pens and pencils out of the limelight, Snyder said.
"Glow-in-the-dark pens are really popular this year among younger kids. They want those over the ordinary pens," Snyder said.
Metal lunch boxes haven't gone out of style either, and even though some associate these clunky lunch boxes with preschoolers and kindergartners, this year the high school students are buying them too.
"Believe it or not, high school kids seem to think the metal lunch boxes are really cool," Gorosics said.
Five Star brand notebooks and backpacks are also popular among high school students.
Gorosics said her 15-year-old son will accept no other brand.
"He has to have the Five Star. The generic brand costs a quarter, and the Five Star costs $5, but that is what he has to have, and I am the one who ends up forking out the cash," Gorosics said with a laugh.
Buying the best: And if you think college students don't care what brand of notebook they carry across campus, think again.
Five Star notebooks are also popular with college students. "You might not think college students care about what the coolest notebook is, but they do," Gorosics said.
Another popular item with collegiate bodies? Computers.
"Lots of parents come in with their college-age kids and buy them a computer," Gorosics said. "Laptops are especially popular this year."
Gorosics said the peak season for back-to-school shopping starts around the second week of August and ends the third week of September.
"Parents get ready; here we go again," she said.