Miss-Lou merchants prepare for holiday shopping season

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 19, 2006

Natchez &8212; How big is the Christmas season for Natchez-area merchants? Mary Flach, manager of McRae&8217;s at the Natchez Mall, may have said it best. &8220;Where to start? November and December are 40 percent of our business for the year,&8221; she said. &8220;It&8217;s big.&8221;

Open houses, special sales and new merchandise are ways most merchants attract shoppers in the months and weeks leading up to the holiday season.

At McRae&8217;s, the final push into the season begins in September, when store managers get together to plan merchandising, visual aids and the best customer service possible. &8220;It&8217;s all laid out for everyone,&8221; Flach said.

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As the season gets closer, the usual two delivery trucks a day become five. &8220;They have to be unloaded, the merchandise checked in and tagged and sent to the floor. And the floor managers have to find room for the new merchandise,&8221; Flach said. &8220;It&8217;s enormous.&8221;

Like McRae&8217;s, many other stores fill with shoppers on Thanksgiving Day weekend. &8220;Our biggest day is the day after Thanksgiving,&8221; Flach said. &8220;But we&8217;re also having a big sale this weekend.&8221;

Edie Christian of River Boat Gift Shop on Silver Street at Natchez Under-the-Hill hosted her annual open house on Nov. 6. She decorated the store and &8220;tried to pull things together that people might use from Thanksgiving on,&8221; she said. &8220;We demonstrate how to use table decorations, such as runners.&8221;

She tried something new this year and found it worked well. &8220;I used a list of gift ideas for men, women, teachers, co-workers and neighbors. It seemed to work. People used them and seemed to appreciate the suggestions,&8221; she said.

Unlike McRae&8217;s, where many other stores are standing in a row at the mall, River Boat is the only retail shop at Natchez Under-the-Hill. Christian sees that as an advantage. &8220;It&8217;s not so crowded here, and I do have parking,&8221; she said. &8220;And I certainly have the best view in town.&8221;

One of her most popular items is the line of Tyler candles. She also has Gail Pittman china, including the Christmas patterns.

Christian thinks the upcoming shopping season will be good for merchants this year. &8220;I have a good positive attitude about it. People were out and about for the open house, and they were buying.&8221;

Flach agreed and went further. &8220;I feel great about this year. I have not felt this great in years,&8221; she said. &8220;We clearly have new shoppers. There are new people in town after Katrina. Our traffic patterns are bigger.&8221;

In Ferriday, La., Shirley Cliburn has experienced a good start to the season at her shop, The Gift Box, on E.E. Wallace Boulevard. &8220;We&8217;ve sold Christmas trees, some already decorated,&8221; she said. &8220;And we have a decorator who will go to the home or business to decorate trees.&8221;

Her year-around customers shop with her at Christmastime, but she also gets numerous shoppers from out of town. &8220;We have a lot of people from north Louisiana and central Mississippi,&8217; she said.

Her customers like the variety she offers. &8220;We have different kinds of things. I don&8217;t buy the same things at market each year,&8221; she said. &8220;We have practical, elegant and whimsical decorative items.&8221;

Food items popular at Christmas season include her homemade fudge as well as soup mixes and various hot pepper jellies.

Cliburn caters to the woman shopping for a man, also, keeping plenty of wooden and brass items in stock.

Among other Gift Box biggest sellers are the Madame Alexander and Adora dolls and the Isola Luce palm oil candles she carries exclusively in the area.

At Cathy&8217;s Cowboy Corral, 315B John R. Junkin Drive, the extra items stocked for gift giving include popular belts, felt hats and saddles, owner Cathy Gamberi said.

&8220;Christmas is important, Gamberi said. &8220;It usually starts out after a slow summer. And that&8217;s good. We increase our advertising to try to keep people in town to shop,&8221; she said.

Like Flach at McRae&8217;s, she sees a positive effect on her store in the post-Katrina season. &8220;And my regular customers already are buying for Christmas.&8221;