Although the holiday retail forecast calls for marginal gains on a national scale, local business owners remain optimistic that the year’s busiest shopping season will be a jolly one.
Toni Jerome, the owner of Re-Fresh in downtown Aiken, said holiday sales are already running slightly ahead of last year and she is preparing for another busy Black Friday, the store’s biggest shopping day of the year. Jerome estimates that 40 percent of her business comes between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But Jerome said she’s concerned that there are just 26 days between the holidays this year, which is about five fewer days than normal.
“The one challenge that all of the retailers have this particular year is Thanksgiving is considerably later,” said Jerome, who’s owned the store for four years with her husband, Michael. “That squeezes the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We’re all thinking about that.
“I can’t really relax until the year’s over,” she continued. “I don’t relax until we see those final figures. Even the week between Christmas and New Year’s is very important. Every one of those days is very important.”
The National Retail Federation predicts sales in the months of November and December will increase by 3.9 percent, to $602.1 billion. In 2012, holiday revenues grew by 3.5 percent, to $579.5 billion. Holiday sales, on average, have gone up by 3.3 percent for the last decade.
The federation’s annual holiday outlook is based on an economic model that takes into account consumer confidence and credit, disposable personal income and previous monthly retail sales releases.
“Our forecast is a realistic look at where we are right now in this economy – balancing continued uncertainty in Washington and an economy that has been teetering on incremental growth for years,” said the federation’s president and CEO, Matthew Shay. “Overall, retailers are optimistic for the 2013 holiday season, hoping political debates over government spending and the debt ceiling do not erase any economic progress we’ve already made.”
JoAnn Aufderheide, of McCormick, S.C., said government uncertainty and economic concerns wouldn’t play a factor in her holiday shopping decisions. She had stopped by Kohl’s in Evans on Tuesday to buy presents for friends.
This year, Aufderheide is also purchasing for her husband, father-in-law and her children’s families. She expects to buy anything from toys to clothes to ornaments.
“I don’t know if I ever really try to stay within a budget,” said Aufderheide, who instead ensures that she doesn’t overspend on one person.
Learning Express Toys franchisee Susy Allen said she believes positive economic indicators, such as the rebounding housing market, will be encouraging to shoppers.
“Everybody seems to be a lot more optimistic about the future, which is always good,” she said. “There’s always something between the healthcare and the government shutdown and the economy. It’s just been one thing after another, but you can’t cancel Christmas. Children will always need Christmas.”
Allen and her husband, Trey, run the specialty toy store in the Mullins Crossing shopping center in Evans. Seasonal sales have already been “much better” than in 2012, she said, with the Rainbow Loom rubber band bracelet kit leading the way as a hot ticket item.
Both Jerome and Allen participate in national campaigns, like American Express’ Small Business Saturday, which encourage shoppers to support local businesses. A recent survey showed that 67 percent of small-business owners across the country offer some kind of discount during the day, according to the National Federation of Independent Business
“It’s a great for small businesses because we get that little extra boost,” said Allen, who still considers Black Friday to be the store’s busiest day.
At Jerome’s Re-Fresh, which specializes in handcrafted jewelry, pottery, bags and other accessories, the store is frequented by out-of-town guests in the area for Thanksgiving weekend.
“When people have company we seem to be one of the shops that they visit,” Jerome said. “That weekend is such a family weekend. So many people have company that it gives us a big turnout.”
Jerome said the same is true for many downtown Aiken businesses.
“It’s easy to park one place and walk the whole downtown,” she said. “You can stroll around. You’re not seeing the same ole, same ole. You’re seeing shops that have really distinctive differences.”