Holiday sales come in strong

ADDISON COUNTY — The anecdotal reports from Main Street this year are promising: A last-minute influx of shoppers, and an uptick of interest in the “shop local” movement, meant many local retailers saw sales increase in December over the same month in 2008.
That good news came late in the month, though, following what was for many businesses a sluggish two weeks at the start of the holiday season.
“It was pretty soft the first week and a half to two weeks,” said John Wallace, the owner of the Autumn Gold jewelry shop in Middlebury. “The end just burst wide open the last two weeks.”
Some retailers chalked up their success this December to good preparation. Last winter, orders for Christmas merchandise had already been placed, in many cases, early in the fall, which meant shopkeepers didn’t have much of a chance to react to the fall 2008 economic crash.
This year was different. Rachel Teachout, the owner at the Belladonna boutique in Middlebury, said she ordered a smaller amount of stock than she has in the past. And, like other shopkeepers, she didn’t order again.
Others changed some of their buying patterns to react to what retailers predicted would be shoppers’ preferences this year. At Autumn Gold, for instance, Wallace said he focused on stocking smaller and less expensive items. That translated into a higher volume of purchases, albeit at lower prices.
Carol Wells, the executive director of the Bristol Downtown Community Partnership, also noticed that retailers had reacted to the economic climate. She thought merchants in Bristol were more prepared for a slower season, and had grown better at running a “tighter operation.”
The results were great: Wells said every business owner in Bristol she spoke with said numbers were up, and two reported that December had been the “best month ever” for their businesses.
Wells, who is in the process of doing a more thorough survey of Bristol businesses to gauge holiday sales, said the encouraging numbers could be chalked up in part to the “shop local” message.
“It’s sinking in, finally,” Wells said. “It makes so much sense. I think people are more cautious about how they spend their money. I think they realize that their buying habits have power, and they can choose to spend it locally in their communities and it has multiple benefits as opposed to buying something online and it completely disappears.”
Wells said that locally owned businesses recycle a larger share of their revenue back into their local communities, often in the form of wages and taxes. That amount ranges anywhere from 45 to 64 percent of their revenue, whereas national chain retailers return only 14 percent of the revenue to their towns.
Many businesses are still waiting on their final sales numbers. That’s the case at the Alpine Shop in Middlebury, but General Manager Anna Boisvert said she could tally up one thing: The store was busy.
“The downtown area saw a lot of foot traffic,” Boisvert said. “It was nice. We were seeing bags from the other businesses in town as well. People were definitely shopping locally.”
In Bristol, that foot traffic meant that shops like Emerald Rose Gifts were staying open later than usual to meet demand. Co-owner Jennifer Adams said the gift shop, which saw numbers up every month of the year except for March, was pleased with the turnout. Though the shop’s higher-end items proved less popular, jewelry and unique gifts were popular among shoppers.
Of course, not all of the shopping was holiday shopping, necessarily.
“I think a lot of people got engaged at the end of the year,” said Autumn Gold’s Wallace with a chuckle. “Diamonds were really hot for us in the month of December.”
Whatever the merchandise, shopkeepers like Wallace and Boisvert expressed a hope that the December sales numbers are a sign of good things to come in 2010.
“I happen to be a positive outlook kind of person, so things always look up to me. We are hopeful for the upcoming year,” Boisvert said.
Wallace agreed.
“I hope that last quarter was an indication of things to come that are going to be better,” he said. “I’m hopeful that things will continue to improve.”

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