Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 1, 2013

SALISBURY — With five fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, the race is on for shoppers — and retailers — to make the most of an abbreviated holiday shopping season.
Always the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving came as late as it possibly could this year, putting consumers and sellers alike in a squeeze with just 26 shopping days before Christmas.
“This is definitely difficult for us,” said Toby Hagmaier, owner of Southern Spirit Gallery and president of the Downtown Merchant Association. “Unfortunately, people haven’t realized it until this weekend that they only have such a short time.”
The holiday shopping season can make or break an independent merchant, Hagmaier said.
“That’s what we live on the rest of the year,” she said. “It really is a big thing.”
With only four Saturdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas — one less than usual — many downtown retailers will open Friday nights and Sunday afternoons through Christmas to make up for the loss.
“We are scrambling to take advantage of every single day,” Hagmaier said.
The shopping squeeze helped push many national retailers to open on Thanksgiving Day for the first time ever this year, a controversial shift that many consumers decried but others supported, lining up just a few hours after gobbling turkey for doorbusters at big box stores.
Salisbury store manager Mike Edwards said Walmart is aggressively cutting prices, especially on the weekends, until Christmas.
“We are being very proactive in stepping up sales prices,” Edwards said. “We have put this sense of urgency in it.”
The holiday shopping season always is rushed, but with fewer days to find and purchase gifts, this year the pace is even more frenzied, he said.
“One hour of shopping now is like a whole day the rest of the year,” Edwards said. “We have to make sure the store is staffed and stocked, or we will lose those customers.”
Belk manager Lynda Lefler said retailers have been preparing for the shopping squeeze.
“It’s something that everyone’s aware of, and I think we all are expecting the intensity to be more because of it,” Lefler said.
Belk and Walmart were among retailers that opened Thanksgiving Day to good results, Lefler and Edwards said.
“I’m very optimistic for the holiday season based on what happened last night and today,” Lefler said Friday. “Our new location is outstanding, and we are getting great feedback from customers.”
Edwards said the Salisbury Walmart and other locations in the area are seeing sales increase over last year at this time.
“They’re not double digits, but we’re getting the sales figures that we’ve anticipated,” he said. “We are ahead of last year.”
Many small business owners are also doing more than usual to get shoppers into stores during the critical holiday season, according to a recent nationwide survey by the National Federation of Independent Business and American Express.
According to the survey, 32 percent of small business owners started their holiday promotions earlier than last year, and 67 percent offered discounts on Small Business Saturday.
Shoppers pressed for time should turn to local businesses during the holiday shopping crunch, said Elaine Spalding, president of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce.
“This is even more reason why the citizens of Rowan County should support our buy-local campaign, because it’s much easier to pop into a locally owned business and get wonderful customer service and get out of there without any hassle,” Spalding said.
For every $1 spent in a locally owned business, 68 cents stays in the community, she said.
Because of the limited number of days before Christmas, Spalding said it’s more important than ever to support friends and neighbors who own businesses in Rowan County.
While some people are mapping out their strategy for the 23 shopping days left before Christmas, others say they are taking the abbreviated shopping season in stride.
“I am too blessed to be stressed,” Denise Evans wrote on the Post’s Facebook page.
“Christmas is not about presents, so the number of ‘shopping days’ is of no consequence,” Brian Walker posted.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.