Stores in downtown Columbia show better sales compared to last year

Thursday, January 3, 2013 | 7:43 p.m. CST
Some downtown business owners reported slightly higher sales in the 2012 holiday shopping season than in the previous year. In this scene from Dec. 7, crowds move past the "Living Christmas Tree" display at Bluestem Missouri Crafts during the Living Windows Festival.

COLUMBIA — Local businesses in the heart of Columbia reported higher sales during the holidays compared to the past two  years.

Of 10 downtown businesses along Broadway and Ninth Street, eight reported better numbers than last year.

"We exceeded our goals for the month of December," said Jan Neumann, a volunteer saleswoman for Mustard Seed Fair Trade, 25 S. Ninth St. The store is a nonprofit enterprise that sells jewelry, child clothing, accessories and home decorations made by laborers who earn a living wage in safe conditions.

"We have been having better years, but this year was a big jump," said Ruth LaHue, owner of My Secret Garden, 823 E. Broadway. "People seemed to be happy — not stressed to buy things this holiday."

Neumann pointed out that the holidays are the most significant sale period for most retail outlets. According to The Associated Press, stores can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue in the last two months of the year.

"We sold a record high," said Wendy Sites, saleswoman for Elly’s Couture, 914 E. Broadway.

Before Christmas, the National Retail Foundation predicted a 4.1 percent growth in holiday sales.

According to the AP, a poll of 20 major retailers on Jan. 3 reported that revenues in their stores rose an average of 4.5 percent compared to December 2011.

The National Retail Foundation will announce its figures for holiday shopping on Jan. 15.

"Overall, it could be a positive sign for the local economy," said Don Laird, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

Many local retailers agreed that the Christmas sales season began earlier than in previous years.

"Usually, holiday shopping seems to kick in closer to Dec. 15, but this year it seemed to start much earlier — in mid-November," said Reid Lyle, manager of ACME T-Shirts, 15 S. Ninth St.

LaHue attributed the improvement in sales to the growth in the economy. She said people seemed open to shopping after the presidential election.

"It's nice to see a happy year," she said.

Derek Garrett, the manager of Jock's Nitch Locker Room, 16 S. Ninth St., said a 25-percent-off sale ran a week longer than last year, but sales were still in the black.

Jock's Nitch Locker Room, which sells MU-related goods, opened the Columbia store in 2011 as its 14th franchise.

Some downtown businesses took advantage of the Christmas season to maximize opportunities for customers.

"We increased our store hours, offered tea and treats during District sales and offered some discounts," Neumann said. "We re-painted the store front to make it more colorful and appealing."

Elly's Couture and ACME T-Shirts sent promotions to customers through Facebook and emails. American Shoe and Elly’s Couture offered 40 percent and 50 percent discounts on some items during the holidays.

Garrett emphasized the importance of getting his store known to people. He said he depended on word of mouth, and he had TV advertisements during the holiday season to market Jock's Nitch Locker Room.

In some stores, alternative shopping practices may have contributed to a slower season.

Elise Sonnenberg, assistant manager at Britches Clothing, 130 S. Ninth St., said she noticed less traffic in the store and pointed to online shopping as a possible reason.

"It was a little better in November but still less than last year," she said.

At American Shoe, Fred Garvin said the holidays don't correlate with better shoe sales.

"It depends more on weather because we are selling seasonal products," Garvin said.

 Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.

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