Merchants say shopping was ho-ho, not ho-hum

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Some Augusta area retailers think they've seen enough green this Christmas shopping season to prevent seeing red on the bottom line.

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Shoppers fill the parking lots of Augusta Exchange as they finish last-minute purchases. Stores hope holiday sales help their annual receipts catch up with last year's totals.  Jessica Webb Sibley/Staff
Jessica Webb Sibley/Staff
Shoppers fill the parking lots of Augusta Exchange as they finish last-minute purchases. Stores hope holiday sales help their annual receipts catch up with last year's totals.

Despite tough economic times, retail managers say holiday sales are the same or better than last year.

"Our Christmas season is ahead of last year. We're thankful for that. It looks like we're going to finish the year similar to what we did last year," said Danny Minolfo, manager of Lionel Smith Ltd., a men's clothing store in Aiken. "Going into the fourth quarter, we were a few points behind last year, so having a good Christmas season has definitely put us back on an even playing field going into 2010. It's a big time of year for us."

Retailers depend on sales from the holiday season to carry them financially for the year.

The national prediction by the National Retail Federation was for a 1 percent decline in sales this holiday season. Sales in November, the federation reported, were 0.8 percent behind sales in November 2008.

While he couldn't quote sales figures, Augusta's Best Buy general manager Steve Maxcy said that sales have "been very, very good and meeting expectations."

Top sellers include gaming systems, particularly the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii, and flat screen TVs.

At nearby electronics competitor HH Gregg, general manager Steve Ruta also said holiday sales have been strong.

"We sold a lot of TVs, GPSs, cameras and appliances. It's what we expected, maybe a little better. We're going to do very well this month," Mr. Ruta said.

Thanks to the Super Bowl, electronics retailers will have a few more weeks in their peak season, Mr. Maxcy said.

But it is winding down for Learning Express Toys on Washington Road in Evans.

"Christmas is a large portion of our year. We do as much in the last quarter as we do all year," said owner Trey Allen.

Sales have gone as expected and are on par with last year.

"The really big ticket items in toys haven't sold as much this year as they often do," Mr. Allen said about toys such as tricycles, doll houses and trains.

Shoppers are opting for smaller toys, such as games or dolls, he said.

Box stores are on track, too.

"The last two weeks have been extremely busy. Sales have been very strong. It's a typical season for us," said Anthony Childress, the store manager for the Target in Mullins Crossing in Evans.

Reach LaTina Emerson at (706) 823-3227 or latina.emerson@augustachronicle.com.

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