Shops preparing for holiday season

November 13, 2005|By DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

It has already started.

Subtly, with dotted strands of garland and miniature Christmas trees in some cases, overtly, with oversized Santas in others, the holiday shopping season's accouterments have begun to crop up in store windows and shop displays across the region.

"If I could do it, schedule-wise, I wouldn't put them up until the week after Thanksgiving," said Bill Clowser, president of Bikle's Ski & Outdoor Shop in Hagerstown. "Let's enjoy Thanksgiving first, before we start thinking about Christmas."

Bikle's shop windows now reflect a snowy, wintery theme, but Clowser said that during the week of Thanksgiving the outside firm that dresses the windows will change the theme to reflect the holidays. Not ideal, Clowser said, but a few days before Thanksgiving is better than a few weeks in advance.


There was a time when retailers refrained from putting out holiday displays until Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that once marked the traditional start to the holiday shopping season.

The period between Black Friday and Christmas is when many retailers make about 20 percent of their sales for the year, according to industry estimates, replacing red-colored numbers in their budgets marking deficits with black ink denoting surpluses.

The first week of November has become the new Black Friday for many retailers across the country, including many large chain stores that have rigid schedules for when their holiday items must be out on the floor. Patrice Duker, spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, said consumers should prepare themselves for intensified marketing efforts this year because of fears increased heating oil prices will cut down on consumer spending.

"Because of the larger economic issues that are going on, they know they're going to have to be more competitive," Duker said. "Some consumers might not have gotten their first oil delivery yet. Some people may turn around when they get it and say I've got to cut back on spending."

Sales prediction

Even with higher gasoline prices and heating bills, the council is predicting that holiday sales will increase this season by between 3 percent and 3.5 percent over the same two-month shopping season last year. Another prediction by the National Retail Federation representing smaller merchants has year-to-year increases in holiday sales slowing from 6.7 percent last year to 5 percent this year, also du to such factors as energy prices and consumer confidence.

Carol & Co. at 25 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown got an early start to the season, hosting an open house to unveil an expanded lineup of holiday merchandise two weeks before Halloween in adjacent space vacated earlier.

Catharine Spellar, manager and co-owner of Carol & Co., said the space was expected to be vacant until January, so she decided to make use of it on a temporary basis until either after the holidays or until a new tenant is selected.

"The space was sitting empty and we were getting more and more Christmas items," Spellar said.

Spellar said the store tried to keep its plans quiet until the unveiling, and when it welcomed customers in for the opening many said they were happy with the addition. Some, she said, weren't ready for the holiday season.

"You get some customers who come in and say, 'I can't even look at Christmas yet.' But you get others who say. 'It gets me in the mood for it and now I'm looking forward to it.'"

Early or late?

Jean Carbaugh, travel counselor at the Visitor Welcome Center in Hagerstown, where a a holiday motif complete with an oversized Santa Claus recently was installed, said she enjoys the early lead-up to Christmas because it allows her to plan in advance.

"I guess we've gotten used to doing stuff early," Carbaugh said. "I usually do it early, I like to have December to really enjoy (holiday-themed events)."

Kathy Reed, also a travel counselor at the center, said she sees the benefits to both sides - shopping early and procrastinating - and does not mind that merchants set up their holiday displays before Thanksgiving.

"I think that's true, because, really, all the department stores were really moving through all their Halloween stuff to get to their Christmas stuff," she said. "I like to get finished early, myself, but I like the hustle and bustle of last-minute shopping (too)."

Earlier promotions and decorations might not necessarily result in earlier sales for those shoppers used to buying their holiday presents as close to deadline as possible.

Hagerstown resident Charles Burnett said he understands the motivations merchants have for starting the season early but still finds himself inclined to shop late.

"As far as the people in the businesses, it's an advantage to them because it gets people thinking about the holidays," he said. "As a consumer, I either get (holiday gifts) early or get (them) late; I usually prefer to get (them) late."

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