Santa delivers mixed bag of sales to Thurston County retailers

Holiday retail success varies, but county’s overall trend is positive

rboone@theolympian.comDecember 20, 2013 

Thurston County retailers say the holiday shopping season has delivered a mixed bag of results, but there is good news: County retail sales continue to show improvement.

Fourth-quarter retail sales data won’t be available until next year but retail sales figures through the first half of the year were strong, state Department of Revenue data show.

Thurston County retail sales in the first quarter rose more than 5 percent – the county’s best showing in six years – and county retail sales did it again in the second quarter, rising nearly 6 percent.

And that momentum has paid off for some local businesses.

Sales at Olympic Cards and Comics, a 20-year-old business in Lacey, are 15 percent to 25 percent higher than last year, longtime owner Gabrielle Trautmann said.

That improvement can be partly attributed to an improving economy, she said, but also to a strong season of movie releases and the related products the store sells.

“All the movies are making a huge difference,” Trautmann said, citing particularly the recent release of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” Board games also are selling well, she said.

Business has increased to the point that she now employs 17 people.

Cigar Daddies co-owner Blake Knoblauch, who sells fine cigars in Lacey, said his business is up 20 percent compared with last December.

The business has been open long enough that people are more aware of it, he said, but the economy also is in better shape.

“People are feeling more stable about the economy and feeling more comfortable about spending money,” Knoblauch said.

But not every business is experiencing double-digit growth to end the year.

Business has picked up at Olympia Olive Oil and Vinegars in downtown Olympia, and the pace of current sales must hold for the business to match what it did last year, said co-owner John Hoehne.

Hoehne said he is not clear on what delayed shoppers this year: It might have been the stretch of cold weather, or the fact that the holiday shopping season got off to a late start. Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 28 this year.

Their new olive oil store in Puyallup also is off to a slow start. “That has been a drain on us a little bit,” he said.

Sales at Olympic Wine Merchant in downtown Olympia will be good this month, but the business still is expected to finish the year several percentage points lower than last year, longtime owner Patrick Hub said. Hub said the Puget Sound wine industry has experienced a downturn, and “downtown Olympia has its challenges as well,” he said.

The other factor is that the county’s government-driven economy hasn’t responded as quickly to improvements.

“We’re still kind of at the bottom,” he said.

Hub said he has had fewer transactions and the amount of money spent per transaction is lower, with most consumers wanting a holiday bottle of wine in the $15 to $25 range.

Half Price Books, meanwhile, which recently opened a store in west Olympia, had a strong November, its first full month of business in Olympia, said regional manager Anne Von Feldt.

The Olympia outlet store had the best opening among three new outlet stores in the country, including in Illinois and Kentucky, and the Olympia store is the smallest of the three, Von Feldt added.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 rboone@theolympian.com

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