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Holiday shopping season ended with mixed results for local retailers

SALISBURY — Local retailers had mixed results this holiday season, with two big box stores reporting a disappointing December while some downtown merchants saw sales jump.
Nationwide, retail sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas grew at the slowest rate in four years. Sales rose 2.7 percent, compared with 3 percent a year earlier, and the number of people walking into stores fell 14.6 percent, according to retail industry ShopperTrak.
In Salisbury, holiday sales at retail giant Walmart fell 4 percent from 2012, manager Mike Edwards said.
The holiday season was “not to our expectations,” he said.
Edwards blamed the shorter shopping season — 2013 had six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than 2012 — and the unseasonably warm weather.
“We didn’t sell enough cold-weather clothing, like winter sleepwear and robes, stuff that people like to give for gifts,” Edwards said.
To make up for December’s loss, Edwards said the Salisbury Walmart is selling more merchandise on clearance and “making hotter prices on clearance items,” he said.
So far, it’s working. Walmart’s sales are up almost 2 percent in January, he said.
Magic Mart’s holiday season fizzled after starting out with a bang on Black Friday, manager Deon Lester said. Sales were up 25 percent on Black Friday and 35 percent for the week of Thanksgiving, he said.
“But December as a whole could have been a lot better,” Lester said.
Not only was the shopping season shorter, but people’s shopping habits have changed, he said. Rather than heading out on a shopping trip to see what strikes their fancy, people are looking for specific items and, more importantly, specific bargains.
“They’re just not shopping like they used to five years ago, when they had to have one of everything,” Lester said. “They don’t have to have 100 gifts under the tree anymore.
“They buy things they feel like that person really needs.”
Lester said Internet sales also hurt Magic Mart, which is exploring launching a retail website to better compete for online shoppers. Nationwide, online sales were up 17 percent on Thanksgiving and Black Friday compared to the year before but slowed down toward the end of the season and ended December with an overall 10 percent increase, according to comscore.com, an Internet analytics company.
The short holiday shopping season, sluggish consumer spending, stagnant wages, weather issues and other problems helped contribute to the sluggish holiday season nationwide wide. Retail sales during the holiday season rose for the fourth consecutive year but at the slowest rate since 2009, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In downtown Salisbury, however, several merchants reported stronger sales than in 2012.
“It went really, really well,” said Glenda Dyson, owner of Just the Thing Learning. “We had a really good Christmas season.”
Just the Thing recently moved into the Literary Bookpost at 110 S. Main St., a change that Dyson said has benefited both businesses. This holiday season was “much, much better for both stores,” she said, with an increase in sales compared to December 2012.
“This was the best holiday season I have had since I opened in 2007,” Dyson said.
Eric Phillips, owner of Skinny Wheels Bike Shop, said he sold 34 bikes between Thanksgiving and Christmas, more than one per day.
“We did pretty good, I say,” he said. “Especially being here only four months prior.”
Pottery 101 owner Cheryl Goins said although the rain in December did not help, her shop ended the year up from 2012.
“It wasn’t a huge amount, maybe 10 or 15 percent,” Goins said.
An unusually strong November helped, she said.
Maia Smith’s, who owns Maia’s, does not rely exclusively on retail. She also offers alterations and custom clothing design. But Smith noticed a change this holiday season in people’s buying habits.
People were spending less on jewelry, buying fewer gift certificates and asking for layaway on high-dollar items like evening wear that costs $250 or more.
“People wanted to stretch out payments more often this year,” Smith said. “Traffic was slower than usual for December.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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