Local retailers dare to hope

OLYMPIA - Afternoon temperatures reached the 40s as last-minute shoppers filed into South Sound stores Wednesday, exactly one year after icy conditions had prompted many businesses to close early and many shoppers to stay home.

Some retailers said they still were feeling the effects of the recession, while others said the milder weather had been a boon to business. Traffic backed up at intersections near Westfield Capital mall and in Lacey; the mall was set to stay open until 11 p.m. Wednesday. A year earlier, it closed at 6 p.m. because of the wintry weather.

The final days before Christmas tend to attract those who wait until the last minute to start or complete holiday shopping – shoppers who might have been left short-handed by last winter’s brutal conditions.

Dan Philpott of Olympia, who shopped Wednesday at Capital mall, said he procrastinates or finds that he is too busy at work. After two hours at the mall, he had bought one gift and found himself walking back and forth trying to make up his mind about his next purchase, he said.

Tanya Dunbar of Yelm shopped at the mall with her four children and husband, trying to find Christmas stocking-stuffers to “make someone else’s holiday a little bit better,” she said.

Unlike many in South Sound, Dunbar’s family is spending more this year than last year because her husband found a better job working as a self-employed long-haul trucker, she said. He previously worked in a warehouse, Dunbar said.

“We’re wrapping gifts tonight,” she said, adding that they might shop at the mall on Christmas Eve, too.

Judy Rezendes of Olympia said her shopping was complete, but she made one more pass through the mall in case something caught her eye.

One mall retailer, though, said business could be better.

Leah Flinn, the longtime operator of the Alaska Smokehouse kiosk, said the holiday shopping season had been “a little challenging” and that shoppers still were being conservative about their spending.

“It’s Dec. 23rd and no one’s here,” she said. “Usually, we would be pretty jammed right now.”

Retailers in downtown Olympia were more optimistic.

Joe Cattuti, who co-owns the home-decor and antiques business Ginger Street, said business this year was much-improved after last year’s snowstorms. Although he couldn’t quantify the year-over-year change in his business, it has been steady and growing, Cattuti said.

“(Shoppers) are acting normally as far as we can see,” he said.

Olympic Wine Merchant owner Patrick Hub, too, acknowledged that the better weather had helped downtown retailers. He also said that shoppers weren’t nearly as tight-fisted as they had been earlier in the year.

“Right now they are willing to spend a little extra,” Hub said, adding that his business was up 5 percent to 10 percent more than this time last year. The additional holiday business should help his business and other retailers prepare for what he called “a rugged first quarter next year.”

“Anything now is going to help folks next year,” Hub said.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403