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Local stores: A happy holiday in sales

Holiday spending has risen about 6 percent over 2010 nationwide, with clothing and jewelry purchases leading the way, according to published reports.

Several area merchants for the most part agreed with that conclusion when contacted this week.

Excluding autos, retail sales increased 5.5 percent to $584 billion from Nov. 5 through Dec. 24 year-on-year, its best performance in five years, MasterCard Advisors’ Spending Pulse said earlier this week.

Several area merchants said recent holiday sales were up overall, and most added consumers appeared “cautiously optimistic” as they shopped.

George Hayes of True Value in South Boston said “Sales were definitely up this year for the holiday season.”

“We had good sales in Christmas decorations and housewares, and go-karts and so forth did well,” he said.  We also sold a lot of these infra-red Sun electric heaters.

Tight credit affected sales of some big-ticket items such as ATVs, but overall sales have been good,” he added.

“We’re pleased.  There seems to be an upward trend and a little more confidence in the economy,” said Hayes, who said “cautious optimism” could describe the mood of shoppers.

“I think the new Congress will concentrate on lowering the deficit spending, and I think that will help things a lot,” Hayes added.
David McCollum of McCollum-Ferrell Shoes in South Boston said, “There’s no question we did better.”

“Last year we missed a Saturday before Christmas because of the snow.  With that amount of snow, parking was limited, and we did better this year.”

His store had several items shoppers were after, with brand names such as Dansko, Northface and Lucchese.

“We had items people wanted, such as Lucchese boots, which are hand-made out of Texas,” said McCollum.

“They’re upper end, but people are going to buy what they want.  As far as sales go, they were certainly better than last year.”

In addition to Halifax County residents, out-of-town shoppers help as well, according to McCollum.

“We have so much out of town business, because there are very few sit and fit stores, and that’s what we are.

“We draw so many people from outside Halifax County, and that ‘s a tremendous part of our business.

“People thrive on service.  We’ve done it for 65 years, and it’s not going to change because it works for us.”

McCollum said November was a good month, followed by a short “lag period” from Dec. 1 to the middle of the month, but after that things picked up considerably.

“The week before Christmas was very strong, and the Friday and Saturday the week before Christmas was “boom,” he said.

“Honestly there were later shoppers.  There again, it was because of the products we carry.”

McCollum also termed consumers’ mood as cautiously optimistic.

“Locally, it’s very cautiously optimistic, but we draw from outside, and that helps us.”

Steve Manning, manager of Goody’s Family Clothing in South Boston, said business was “real good.”

“Being open for a year, we didn’t have anything we were up against, but we had plans and projections, and we beat them pretty strongly, so we were happy with the season,” noted Manning.

Manning said his store sold out of several categories of clothing.

“If we would have had more we would have done better,” he explained.

“The men’s area had gifts, a big item for Christmas. We sold out of certain categories, including a type of fleece hoodie.  We sold out of those things, got another shipment and sold out of them, also.

“All cold weather stuff did well.  Whatever days we were slow due to snow or bad weather, we made up in other days.”

“Not being here last year, we can’t compare any other way than to typical store-based (sales), and on that, it was much better,” Manning pointed out.

“I’m surprised how people are spending, and they seem to be more optimistic, even not knowing from last year.

“They base everything next year from last year, and hopefully we’ll have more merchandise.

“The way my store has performed, we should be getting more merchandise next year.”

Holiday sales at Fincher’s Inc. in South Boston also were improved over last year, according to owner/manager Ben Fincher.
“We had a good season, the fall generally was improved over the first part of the year, September on through December, not overwhelming but definitely an improvement over last year,” Fincher said.

“We did pretty well with musical items, guitars in particular, and we sold right many guitars compared to previous years.
“But, it was pretty much things we carry, appliances, electronics, and of course it’s the busiest month for us for shipping UPS.

Fincher wouldn’t go as far as some others who see consumers as optimistic, that coming from a downtown South Boston merchant.

“Other merchants downtown know you’re competing more every year with the Internet, and with musical merchandise with us.  It started with mail order, then catalogues, and now the Internet,” he explained.

“With the increase in Internet sales that doesn’t bode well with us or any kind of retail establishments other than the ones with a presence on the Internet.

“You can buy stuff on line or in-store, and I don’t think (Internet) will take over all retail, but I think it will limit appeal.

“It offers a convenience, especially if you know what you want, but overall, I would say sales are definitely better this year.”

Tom Raab, owner of Electric Service Company, had a slightly different view of holiday sales at his store.

”They were about like last year, not a lot of change, and with a little activity right before the end, but the economy is still slow,” said Raab.

Raab thought sales of recliners and sofas did well.  “It looked like a lot of people were doing remodeling in kitchens, so we had some appliance sales, and bedding always does well,” he added.

As far as overall sales, Raab didn’t note any great increase.

“But, I can say not any great decrease, either, so it’s about equal to last year,” he explained.

“I would say the traffic as far as people was down, and those that were here were ready to buy.

“There weren’t a lot of what I call lookers.  Everyone who came in knew what they wanted to buy.”

Laurie Aldrich of the Virginia Retail Merchants Association  (VRMA) said that consumers across the state were cautiously optimistic this holiday season.

“The majority of folks that we’ve spoken to have seen either sales better than or the same as last year,” Aldrich said.

She agreed purchases of jewelry and clothing were strong but noted a large jump in furniture sales around Black Friday and beyond, according to merchants the VRMA had spoken to.

“Furniture sales were way up, 20 percent or more,” said Aldrich.

“There was a lot of traffic out this year.  They said Cyber Monday really wasn’t all that this year for some of the merchants.

“It sounds like some of the shoppers were beating the pavement rather than shopping online.”

Shoppers appeared to have a more targeted approach, she added.

“Shoppers have been shopping more carefully,” Aldrich explained.  “People across the board have been shopping more carefully, and I can see why they would do that through the holiday season as well.”