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Holiday shopping season starts early - again

September 30, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

"Christmas already?"

If you haven't said or thought it, you've probably heard someone else say it when stores started putting out their Christmas displays during the summer.

"You can't enjoy the holiday that's upcoming because they're so far ahead on holidays two or three down the road," said Linda Smith, 55, of Boonsboro. "Every year it seems to get earlier and earlier and earlier. It ruins it."

Smith was recently found browsing a Christmas display in a local store because, she said, she was afraid the store would no longer have what she wanted if she waited until the traditional Christmas shopping season.

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"I'm looking 'cause they're here, but I don't like it," said Smith, who was wearing shorts. "You have to shop early or there isn't any selection."

Those stores that have Christmas displays already up usually have them inside so they aren't necessarily visible from the entrances. Holiday trimmings may appear near the entrances in late October or early November.

It may appear as if Christmas decorations are going up earlier than usual, but many stores are putting them out the same time they have for years, merchants said.

Hallmark has put its Christmas ornaments out for display in July for 29 years, said Wanda Mowen, manager of Matthew's Hallmark in the Valley Mall.

Even that isn't early enough for avid ornament collectors, Mowen said. The ornament Dream Book comes out in March so people are asking about the ornaments in May or June, she said.

At Valley Mall, the Bon Ton's Christmas display was put up two weeks later this year because many of the items were imported from overseas and had to go through extra security this year at customs, said Bon Ton Regional Vice President Steve Beck.

Beck said most department stores set up Christmas displays around the same time because it takes a long time to unpack, price and set up items.

"It's not something you can do overnight," Beck said.

The early display also accommodates collectors looking for ornaments and other Christmas collectibles, he said.

"You'd be surprised at the level of business you do on Christmas early," Beck said. "A lot of people don't like to be part of the rush."

Retailers respond to what customers tell them, whether it's verbally or through buying habits, Hecht's spokeswoman Diane Daly said.

And Christmas decorations sell early, especially in Hecht's bigger stores, Daly said.

Big Lots started putting up its Christmas crafts items in late June so people who make decorations for resale could get ready for craft shows, said Keith Horn, assistant manager at the Big Lots in the South End Shopping Center.

As it gets closer to Christmas, probably early November, people will want to start decorating their homes, Horn said. Around then the Halloween displays in the front of the store will be replaced with Christmas decorations or toys, Horn said.

November is when Cindy Doub, 43, of Hagerstown, said she'd prefer to see Christmas displays. She's more "in the mood" then, she said. Waiting also gives children a chance to enjoy Halloween before the Christmas rush.

Like many merchants, Big Lots' Horn has heard the "Christmas already?" comments from customers.

"The same people that say that are usually loading up their shopping carts full of it," Horn said.

Chuck Doherty not only doesn't want to shop for Christmas yet, he doesn't want to talk about it either.

"I'm still celebrating the Fourth of July," said Doherty, 68, of Needmore, Pa. "These seasons come and go each year. They'll get here when they get here."

Doherty did admit that he will buy Christmas decor early if he sees something he "really" wants, but generally the early Christmas displays don't get him to shop early.

His wife, Jackie, agreed.

While the display might get her thinking about Christmas early, Jackie Doherty said she's more inclined to put Christmas shopping off until the last minute.

Most of the Christmas items on sale by now are decorations rather than gift items.

The Ames in Hagerstown put its Christmas trees and lawn decorations on sale the week after Labor Day, but the discount store's case is unusual.

Ames is going out of business, otherwise the Christmas decor wouldn't have been put on the sales floor until Sept. 20, Assistant Manager Connie Cooley said.

Under normal circumstances, even Sept. 20 would have been two weeks earlier than usual, Cooley said. When store officials set that date, they were trying to provide more time for Christmas sales during a slow economy, she said.

While Angie Reed starts her Christmas shopping early, she said she doesn't need Christmas decorations so early.

"I'm not in the mind-set yet," said Reed, 40, of Williamsport.

Seeing Christmas decorations in stores so early makes them less special by the time the holiday rolls around, said Reed's mother, Jeanie McSherry, 62, of Williamsport.

Richard Zeger, 26, of Mercersburg, Pa., likes that Christmas items are out early.

"I started Christmas shopping in January," he said.

Zeger said he occasionally buys Hallmark ornaments and will buy Christmas decor early if he sees something he really likes.

"I don't like all that hassle at Christmastime," Zeger said.

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