Christmas shoppers delight local merchants

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 24, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Business is good this holiday season, many local retailers say.
Surprisingly good.
“Sales have been just wonderful, out the roof,” said Missie Alcorn, co-owner of Caniche and The Lettered Lily downtown.
Alcorn estimated sales are up 35 percent over last year.
“It’s really a tribute to our community and their support and loyalty to local businesses,” Alcorn said.
Just the Thing owner Glenda Dyson said her downtown shop’s holiday season has been “really, really good.”
“What I’ve seen more importantly than sales is that people are really embracing shopping local and keeping shops going,” Dyson said. “They’re saying, ‘I don’t have to drive to Concord or Charlotte.’ ”
Nationwide, the holiday sales forecast was good, with ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based research firm, predicting sales for the November and December period combined will rise 3.7 percent compared with the same period a year ago.
The shop-local mantra repeated by retailers and business leaders seems to have taken hold this year, pushed by Downtown Salisbury Inc. and the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, which includes reminders on its Facebook page, emails and newsletters to frequent local businesses first.
“I like to think it’s going to have an impact,” Chamber President Bob Wright said. “People are realizing they can’t help the economy in Rowan County if they shop in Charlotte.”
Friday morning, men filled K-Dee’s Jewelers, where business is up 7 percent overall and 11 percent for diamond stud earrings. Owner Ken Dietz said every year during the four days before Christmas, most customers are men shopping for last-minute Christmas gifts for their wives.
For the first time, the downtown shop posted signs reminding people of the economic impact of shopping local. For every $100 spent at a local independent business, $25 more stays in the community, according to a 2008 study commissioned by Local First.
Word is spreading, Dietz said, and sales have almost recovered to pre-recession levels.
“Every customer who walks through the door is a blessing,” he said.
Not all business booming
Not everyone is having a better year than last. At Yoder’s Amish Market on Statesville Boulevard, sales are down 10 percent to 12 percent, owner Rick Smith said.
“I’m pretty sure it’s the poor economy,” he said.
The store will survive, and sales in Salisbury are equal to sales at the original market location in Yanceyville, where they’ve been open for 20 years, Smith said. The week before Christmas was busier than usual, so that might push December sales closer to 2010 figures, he said.
Sales continue to lag at Carolina Golf Mart on the I-85 service road. The shop hasn’t recovered from the Great Recession, co-owner Mike Apone said.
“We’re so far away from what we used to do,” he said.
For the fourth year in a row, sales are down 40 percent to 50 percent from a pre-recession Christmas season, Apone said.
The business survives because both Apone and co-owner Bob Timm work in the shop to keep expenses low, Apone said. The Internet has hurt the business because people who buy online pay no tax, and now most websites offer free shipping, he said.
Although golfers can try out a new driver at the shop before they buy and Carolina Golf Mart can match online prices, it’s tough to compete with websites, Apone said.
Adults doing without
Rowan County and Salisbury were hit harder during the recession than other communities, and people are spending their discretionary income on gifts for children, not adults, Apone said.
“Adults can do without,” he said. “People take care of their kids first.”
At Windsor Gallery Jewelers on West Innes Street, owner Carol Rabon said she’s having a “much better” Christmas season than last year.
She attributed the boost to an increase in advertising, including coupons in the Salisbury Post, radio spots and a direct mail campaign.
“We had done them before, but now we are running them more frequently,” Rabon said.
Many customers have commented they are trying to shop local this year, and several have said they want only items made in America, she said. More people are showing an interest in North Carolina jewelry artists as well.
And rubies are hot this year, in everything from pendants to rings to bracelets.
“I have never had so many requests for rubies,” Rabon said.
An increase in advertising also helped boost sales at Creative Teaching Aids, where business is up more than 15 percent over last year, Business Manager Steve Misenheimer said. The downtown shop spent 25 percent more this year on marketing in radio and print, he said.
“And it’s paying off,” Misenheimer said.
The shop also has benefited from a trend away from regular toys to educational games, he said.
Peanut Doodles, a new scrapbooking and art supply store downtown, can’t compare sales to December 2010, when the business was closed for most of the month, co-owner Lisa Campbell said. But since moving to Salisbury in January, sales for the whole year are better than they were in Lexington, she said.
“We’ve seen a sizable increase,” Campbell said, attributing the boost to higher visibility and more foot traffic. “We are very happy we moved.”
Art selling well
The Green Goat Gallery in Spencer has had a strong Christmas season, owner Anne Waters said.
“I have really been pleasantly surprised by the sales of original art,” she said. “Getting a painting for Christmas is a luxury.”
The gallery has built a reputation as a go-to shop for special gifts for Christmas, anniversaries and birthdays, where people can find a one-of-a-kind treasure, Waters said.
“A lot of regular and loyal customers are taking care of their shopping list here,” she said.
Store sales are up nearly 5 percent at Godley’s Garden Center & Nursery on Statesville Boulevard, owner Bill Godley said, and outside sales of trees, shrubs and perennials also are higher than last year.
“To reach that, you have to get creative,” Godley said. “It’s a learning curve, being in this economic environment, that is challenging.”
Godley said he’s asked suppliers to drop prices if he pays them up front, then he passes those savings to the customers. Suppliers have been “very anxious to negotiate,” he said, and the shop has offered deeper discounts to customers than last year.
Consistent advertising on a weekly basis and in-store promotions have stimulated activity, Godley said, and Mother Nature has helped.
“We haven’t had a bad Saturday weather-wise since early September,” he said. “Last year, on Dec. 15 or 16 we were at 10 or 12 degrees. When it’s really cold, there’s no movement.”
Carolina Golf Mart hasn’t had to cut its staff, although part-time workers get fewer hours than they did before the recession, Apone said.
The shop used to have strong sales before Christmas and after the holidays as well, when people used gift certificates and came from out of town to shop the after-Christmas sale, he said.
Apone said he didn’t know whether the golf shop would ever have another December like those days.
“We still stock the store like it’s still going to happen,” he said. “We don’t want it to look empty when a customer walks in.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.