Local stores happy with Christmas sales

Published 12:20 am Sunday, February 5, 2012

File Photos — Shoppers started the holiday season with large crowds and good deals. A large crowd of customers filled the Natchez Mall corridor in front of Belk on Black Friday to get good deals on boots and shoes.

NATCHEZ — Talk about the economy for the last couple of years has often been terse. In the now recently past holiday season, however, Natchezians seemed to feel a little freer with their cash, and local retailers say their customers spent more time shopping and spending locally.

For Tamara Johnson, the holiday shopping period represented a special challenge. It was the first Christmas season that the business she co-owns with her sister Tana Barlow — Jack + Stella — would go through.

“Any time you open a business, you are a little nervous that it is not going to succeed,” she said.

“I was nervous about how busy we were going to be — was it going to be too crazy?”

Veteran shop owners long past the first-year jitters did their own preparation for holiday retail battle. The final financial quarter depended on it.

Darby Short, owner of Darby’s Everything Under the Sun, said she approached the season with a cautious optimism. But that didn’t mean that she didn’t plan to work, and work hard, for every dollar she would earn.

“We did everything we possibly could to make it, to try and offer a lot of sales and specials,” she said. “We brought in extra merchandise to offer at a little better price. Basically we did everything we did to make the fourth quarter really to pull everything out of it we could — we spent a lot of hours at the store.”

Likewise, Mary Lees Wilson, owner of One of a Kind, said she did everything she could to bring in customers, from offering services no one else does to serving cold cider and offering free gift wrapping that retail behemoths don’t.

And then there were other factors, things that shop owners have no control over.

“I think the weather helped us with some cool snaps, where it actually felt like Christmas and people wanted to get out and do some Christmas shopping,” Wilson said.

Regardless of concerns, probably not regardless of work, all three shop owners said the holiday shopping season wasn’t just good for them — it was very good.

“We have far exceeded our expectations for the first year,” Johnson said. “From the day after Thanksgiving on, we had good, steady traffic.”

Short said the fourth quarter of 2011 — the holiday season — was up over the same quarter of 2010. She said she believes that’s at least in part because people aren’t going away for the holidays.

“When times are tight people tend to stay closer to home,” she said. “I see a trend back to Christmas at home, so I think our sales are a reflection of that.”

Wilson said she felt that the successful quarter was due in part to people staying home and increased pressure from local organizations for residents to shop Natchez, and partly because of the Christmas in Natchez effort.

“In our community, there are so many activities and events that brought people to town — I think that is important for the future too, to keep bringing people from those communities that are only a day trip away so they can stay and shop and eat,” she said.

“I rely mostly on local clientele, but the fact that a lot of tourists came in added to my end of the year (sales).”

Local chain department stores saw sales comparable with if not better than 2010. Goody’s manager Blaine Davis said one thing that stood out about this year’s shopping crowds was that traffic through the stores didn’t involve a lot of browsing.

“People knew what they wanted when they came in,” he said.

JCPenney Store Manager Valerie Moore said that store saw similar behavior.

“This year, it seemed like customers had already determined what they wanted, they had an idea of how much they wanted to spend and what they wanted to purchase,” Moore said.

Good Black Friday sales may have been a factor in what customers bought and when they bought them, Davis said.

“I have found that Black Friday, a lot of people shop then,” he said. “I heard one expert say that was the national trend, that everybody shopped then and were done.”

Nevertheless, Moore said the overall sales for the holiday period were up at JCPenney.

“We had a really good season,” she said. “It was better than expected.”