Holiday bustle spreads cheer, black ink

Local business: Area shops report healthy sales, at least on par with last year’s figures

ROLF BOONE; Staff writerDecember 23, 2011 

Thurston County retailers say the holiday shopping season is shaping up nicely, and although in some cases sales might not exceed last year’s results, many are just glad that sales will be as good as in 2010.

Holiday shopping is a key time for retailers because they depend on a year-end boost to carry them through the slower first quarter of the new year. By one estimate, 30 percent to 40 percent of a retailer’s annual business is generated during the fourth quarter.

Some retailers here might not be doing that much business this holiday, but many were still pleased with the pace of shopping activity. Dry weather, pent-up demand and improving consumer confidence also were cited as factors contributing to a better-than-expected holiday shopping season.

Because of state budget cuts and layoffs, Tea Lady of Olympia co-owner Felix D’Allesandro didn’t stock as much inventory at his tea and gift shop and then watched as his store ran out of certain items. He expects sales to finish slightly ahead of last year.

“The store is full of people and I like that,” he said.

No snow also has helped the pace of business, D’Allesandro said. Two years ago the county was blanketed during the holidays and some small business owners, particularly in downtown Olympia, watched in horror as snow was pushed aside by work crews, resulting in blocked parking spaces and reduced access to storefronts. Tea Lady used to be downtown and then moved to a new Olympia location on Capitol Boulevard, not far from Tumwater.

Jeanne Carras, owner of Bonaventure, a downtown women’s shoes and accessory business, said pent-up demand has finally resulted in people spending money again. Her store is not the typical holiday destination, she said, although women still shop there to treat themselves during the holidays and husbands come looking for handbags and wallets for their wives. Improving consumer confidence has helped, too, Carras said.

That’s reflected in a recent quarterly study released by Saint Martin’s University and the Thurston County Economic Development Council, which tracks local consumer confidence.

Reflected as a number, consumer confidence here rose to 70 this quarter after tumbling to 59 in the third quarter, the second lowest mark since the survey was created in 2008. Consumer confidence here has been as low as 54 and as high as 102.

The year was not shaping up as her best, but it would still rank in the top four in her 18 years of business, Carras said.

The owners of Ginger Street, another downtown business which sells a range of antiques and co-owner Joe Cattuti’s hand-blown glass, said sales likely would be flat in the year-over-year period but that was OK, co-owner Laura Cattuti said. At least it won’t be down from last year, she said. One encouraging sign is that downtown shoppers have been thrilled with the free parking, she said.

The City of Olympia decided this month to offer free, two-hour parking at its downtown pay stations.

Across town at Westfield Capital mall, Old Navy store manager Pam Rager said shoppers procrastinated this year, likely waiting for the best deals, then decided to venture out and spend some money.

“It really kicked in this week,” she said.

Shoppers, too, seemed willing to spend.

Tim Birky, 57, of Tumwater, said he wasn’t affected by the slower economy and still planned to spend about $150 on his children and $100 on his wife, using a mix of cash and credit cards. About 25 percent of his holiday shopping is online and the rest is at local businesses, he said.

Corrine Taiji, 34, of Lacey, who is expecting a child, said she was spending money on maternity clothes. She, too, said she and her husband have not been affected by the slower economy; in fact, both of them have received promotions and raises.

Teresa Morris, 75, of Olympia, said she was nearly completed with her shopping for her two daughters and friends. Morris said she budgets for the holiday – spending only cash – because she doesn’t want to overspend with tax season right around the corner. The state of the economy, though, was on her mind.

“I’m worrying a lot about my children and relatives, but I know we will be there for them,” she said.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403

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