It's that time of year, when retail stores roll out the latest and greatest merchandise in hope that something will catch a consumer's eye for a holiday gift.
Analysts are expecting a tough year for retailers, but some local stores maintain high hopes for the 2008 Christmas shopping season.
According to the National Retail Federation, U.S. consumers plan to spend an average of $832.36 on holiday-related shopping, which is up 1.9 percent from last year's $816.69. This is the smallest increase in consumer spending since the survey began in 2002.
"No one is canceling Christmas because money is tight, but consumers will be sticking to their budgets and looking for good deals when deciding where to spend this holiday season," foundation President and CEO Tracy Mullin said in a news release.
Despite the forecast, several area retailers are hopeful that shoppers are still in the holiday gift-giving spirit.
"I think as far as toys go, parents and grandparents don't want children to feel the effects of what's going on with our economy," said Juli Means, the owner of The Toy Box in Surrey Center.
Customers have already started their holiday shopping. She believes they want to make Christmas "fun and loving as usual."
"It's my hope for children that no one will notice a difference, and they won't feel the stress of what's happening," she said.
Ms. Means doesn't think the economy will significantly affect toy stores, but she isn't sure about other retailers.
Ruben's Department Store at 914 Broad St., like many retailers, is expecting slightly slower holiday sales, owner Jeff Gorelick said.
"I think you'll see a lot of people this Christmas, instead of buying a whole lot of things, buying necessities," Mr. Gorelick said.
Though Ruben's suit business is the same as last year, sales of accessories, including shoes, ties and handbags, are up, he said. Men's and women's hats, both casual and dressy, are also hot items.
"We've found this year that people are more interested in buying dress-up clothes than going out buying a T-shirt and jeans," he said.
Shoppers are bargain-hunting this year, and 40 percent of National Retail Federation survey participants said that "sales or promotions is the largest factor in determining where to shop."
Glenda Booker, an employee at High Cotton By Design, said the women's specialty boutique will hold its annual after-Thanksgiving sale and maybe a pre-Christmas sale.
"Last year was a busy holiday season. We're expecting with the economy for it to be a bit slower, like everybody else," Ms. Booker said. "I think we'll be OK. Like other businesses, we'll just have to putter along with it."
The store, at 4405 Evans to Locks Road, sells high-end women's apparel such as designer jeans.
"They're costly, so some people are going to put those as not-so-important items," she said.
Tammy Jackson, the owner of Consign Design, said the shopping season will bring new business to her store.
"I really think that it's going to go well. I feel that I have a lot to offer," Ms. Jackson said.
The consignment store, at 318 Baston Road in Martinez, sells used, upscale home dÃcor, curtains and furniture. The business has items for all budgets, ranging from $20 to $900.
"I think I'm in a wonderful position because of the economy," Ms. Jackson said. "We should all be watching our dollars, anyway. I have an array of people from different pay scales coming in who are pleased. It thrills them that they're saving money."
She opened her business in June, so this is her first holiday shopping season. She hopes for strong sales but isn't relying solely on her November and December business.
"I'm not dependent on any season. I think it's a good business to have year-round," Ms. Jackson said.
Reach LaTina Emerson at (706) 823-3227or email@example.com.
HOW MUCH WILL YOU SPEND?
This year, the average person will spend the following on holiday gifts:
Where customers will shop:
Discount stores: 69.7 percent
Department stores: 58.0 percent
Clothing store: 37.3 percent
Electronics stores: 37.3 percent
Source: National Retail Federation