The first official weekend of the holiday shopping season delivered sales that were better than or the same as last year’s for retailers across the state, according to the Retail Council of New York State.
Local proprietors echoed the sentiment, citing increases that ranged from negligible to unexpectedly large over the Black Friday weekend.
“My Friday and Saturday were probably one of the best years I’ve ever had,” said Tracey Harris, owner of local boutique Worth Repeating.
Harris opened the women’s consignment shop in Glenville’s Socha Plaza 12 years ago, and never remembers business being as good going into a holiday season. Sales were up by about 25 percent this Black Friday weekend over last year, she said.
Many business owners have yet to match sales from before the Great Recession, but Harris was pleased with the increase. It may be because the store offers a little bit of everything for shoppers of today’s economy — affordable casual wear on up to high-end couture pieces. And she had a 25 percent off storewide discount, too.
“I have handbags for $5 and handbags for $1,500,” said Harris. “I think people are just more comfortable with the economy, although after the election I wondered if it was going to drop again. People are spending more, though, and I think a lot of my customers come in here because we get such different things.”
Many factors can affect a holiday shopping season. This year, the Retail Council of New York State has its eye on consumer confidence, the “fiscal cliff” debate in Washington, unemployment figures, gas and heating costs and other factors as the season progresses.
In the first of three Holiday Sales Watch reports, the Retail Council provided a weekend snapshot of sales activity in small and large stores across the state. Seventy-four percent of merchants surveyed said their sales were better than or the same as their sales during last year’s Black Friday weekend. Electronics like smartphones, tablets and televisions were popular sellers, as were gift cards, seasonal clothing, jewelry, accessories and toys.
Patty Eddy-Beal was one of those business owners who reported seeing small, if any, sales increases over the weekend. She has owned The Conglomerate, a specialty shop along Main Street in Middleburgh, for the last 19 years.
“It was a nice Friday and Saturday,” she said. “There might have been a little bit of an increase, but we’re just a small business in a small, depressed rural area.”
The still-fickle economy has small businesses in rural areas constantly on the edge of their seat, she said. Throw a massive flooding event like last year’s Tropical Storm Irene into the equation, and they’re just happy to even be open.
In addition to some regular weekend shoppers, Eddy-Beal noticed a few more people shopping for gifts for their loved ones. The Conglomerate has plenty of holiday offerings: boutique clothing, jewelry, bath and body lotions, holiday chocolates, ornaments, decorations kitchenware, scarves, and more.
The store’s slogan is actually “Just like 18 specialty shops under one roof.”
Other local business owners fell in the middle of the spectrum. Their weekend sales weren’t phenomenal, but they weren’t bad, either. And they’ll take that any day over recession-era sales.
“They were up. Up, but negligible,” said G. Willikers owner Linda Ambrosino, hesitating for just a moment. “But that’s good, really.”
G. Willikers has developed a loyal Saratoga Springs customer base over the last 26 years, providing unique or distinctive toys at a reasonable price, said Ambrosino. For that reason, she said, she has never felt the need to do anything “crazy” for the holiday season.
She doesn’t open early or make her employees work Thanksgiving night, she said, referencing a new trend this year among national chain retailers like Walmart and Target.
“I let my customers ease into it,” she said. “And I was happy with how the weekend went. I wasn’t ecstatic or dancing on rooftops, though.”
The Retail Council noted in its report that retailers are always concerned about bad weather “taking a toll on sales,” and Ambrosino could attest to just how influential subtle changes in the weather really are. When Saratoga Springs was hit with snow squalls and heavy winds on Saturday morning, she knew right away that it would affect sales.
“Usually my Saturday is nice, but it’s all weather-related,” she said. “So my Saturday was down a little bit compared to last year. Then again, my Sunday was up compared to last year. So all in all it was negligible, but I always say it’s not over ’til it’s over. I am seeing more of a consistency in retail than, for example, four years ago, when every day was a rollercoaster ride.”
This time of year always leaves Peter Musler stumped. The third-generation owner of Musler’s Fine Women’s Clothing said he is busy enough trying to keep up with the ever-evolving trends in clothing to know why he does better one holiday season than another.
“It’s very funny,” he said. “Normally, the expectations for a smaller business is that you’re busier on Saturday and not as busy on Friday, but we had a very busy Friday. Our sales were up, but we didn’t do anything more special than we have in years past.”
The shop on Upper Union Street in Schenectady offers classic women’s clothing with a “novelty” twist. While its regular clientele is women, in the last two weeks of the holiday season Musler says his store fills with “about 80 percent men.”
And that’s one trend he can count on.