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Uncertain Season

Area businesses optimistic but wary as holiday shopping begins

November 15, 2009
By ZACH SUBAR, The Leader-Herald

Some think the holiday season is in danger of being a difficult one, while others see this year as a potential respite from previously difficult winters.

But regardless of one's opinion on the holiday shopping season, business owners and officials say they hope local businesses are able to stay afloat throughout Christmas and New Year's in the midst of a challenging recession.

"I think everyone's a little nervous," Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry President Wally Hart said. "We're certainly hopeful. We're going to do our part as a chamber to direct as many people as possible to our stores and to our location."

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Aimee Ricciardi, owner, Country Cupboard in Johnstown, makes a few adjustments on a colorful winter display at the store on Monday.

ShopperTrak, a retail research firm, predicted that total holiday sales will rise 1.6 percent compared with a year ago. And a recent survey from the state Retail Council said 58 percent of business-owning respondents anticipate their 2009 holiday season sales will be the same or better than their 2008 holiday season sales.

The numbers indicate there is some hope, especially after a 2008 season the Retail Council called "disappointing."

"Unfortunately, until it actually occurs, we won't know the downturn is starting to turn a little bit," Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce President Deborah Auspelmyer said. "So we hope this will be good quarter for people this year."

But the projected increases are not being felt everywhere. At the Open Window in Gloversville, owner Shelly Johnston said the holiday season has not gotten off to a good start.

"I'm hopeful that things will pick up-it's been very quiet as of this fall so far," Johnston said. "My numbers are down from last year. I've seen a steady decline over the last couple of years in this area."

She said the store has begun to sell used books as a way to encourage people to buy moderately priced items. She is buying less stock, and is offering several new gifts every year to encourage people to come out and buy something different.

Auspelmyer also encouraged smaller purchases. She said people could buy gas cards from local retailers or AAA memberships for college students. They could even, she said, buy people a night at a bed and breakfast.

Doing so could encourage people to buy outside of malls.

"There's been a steady decline in people coming downtown, and I don't blame them," Johnston said. "They like to go to a mall where they can hit every store."

Picture Perfect co-owner Dorine Solberg, whose business is in Canajoharie, said she is afraid of doomsday predictions before the holiday season.

When people have negative things to say about the holiday season before it starts, she said, the negativity often can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But she said she is hopeful the store's array of locally made products, such as pottery and fine furniture, will encourage people to shop at the store.

"I don't know that it's going to be an exemplary season, but we'll take it as it comes," she said.

Hart said the chamber sells Chamber Checks-essentially gift certificates that can be used at participating businesses-in an attempt to blunt the local flight to malls and to keep more people shopping in the area.

Auspelmyer said she is encouraging people to shop locally, calling this year "more important than ever."

Country Cupboard owner Aimee Ricciardi said she is already out of a lot of the holiday products she purchased for the store.

In previous years, she said, more people have eliminated people they need to shop for from their lists, choosing instead only to buy holiday gifts for close friends and family. This year, though, co-workers and other people who have been placed on the back burner in the past are finding their way back on to shopping lists.

"I went a lot more diverse in what I carry for people this year, and I've found it's made a big difference," Ricciardi said. "With the economy, I wanted to give people options."

Zach Subar can be reached at ruralnews@leaderherald.com.

 
 

 

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