Sales down but retailers optimistic

Published 8:29 pm Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday sales are down this year for most local businesses, but merchants are keeping their fingers crossed hoping the coming weekend will yield one final rush of customers looking for last-minute bargains.

“They’re slow — definitely slow,” Lela Allred, owner of Sears, said yesterday. “We’re not seeing as many footsteps in the store as we used to.”

At least some of the slowdown might be due to procrastination, although there has been a clear drop in sales from 2007. According to the National Retail Federation, less than 50 percent of consumers have completed their Christmas shopping.

“I’m not seeing that today,” Allred said in response to the statistic, although she is anticipating a potentially strong weekend.

“I’m optimistic. I’ve got to be,” she added. “I’ve got to make my living.”

Among top-selling items are toolboxes and exercise equipment because people want to get in shape for the New Year.

Douglas Carter, manager of Handy TV Appliance, said business was down until last week but has picked up quite a bit.

“Sales are less than what they were last year,” he admitted. “People are buying more to replace items that have gone out rather than to remodel or just buying for the sake of buying.”

Popular electronic items this year are flat panel TVs and converter boxes, especially the latter due to the upcoming transition to digital broadcast.

“You can’t keep converter boxes,” Carter said.

If yesterday was any indication, Carter expects the weekend to be good for sales.

Jewelers seem to be having a better month than some other retailers, although they have seen effects of the economic downturn. Rex Edwards of Edwards Jewelers said business has picked up in December.

“So far this month, we’re pretty much even. Last month wasn’t that great,” he said. “This coming week is going to tell all.”

Engagement rings, antique rings and bracelets are finding their way into many a gift box this year, Edwards said.

— Scott Mims can be reached at