With the holiday shopping season about to kick into high gear, many local small-business merchants are agreeing with national predictions that this will be a busy time in stores.
With consumer confidence continuing to rise in recent months, the National Retail Federation is predicting a 4.1 percent increase in holiday shopping this year. The enthusiasm trickles down: According to a survey by Manta, an online community for small-business owners, 43 percent are more optimistic about the upcoming shopping season compared to 2011.
Whatcom County retailers have even more reasons to be of good cheer: As the Canadian dollar remains at par with the U.S. dollar, a survey by the Bank of Montreal estimates that Canadians will spend 15 percent more this holiday season than last year. That could translate into more cross-border shopping.
Django Bohren is one of those retailers expressing confidence heading into the holiday season. For Bohren, who owns the toy and novelty store Merch Bot in downtown Bellingham, it's the first time he's not worried after a strong Halloween.
"People seem a little more relaxed this year," Bohren said. "Heading into the holidays, sales are better than the last couple of years."
Chuck Robinson is also optimistic about the holiday season. He said sales of holiday décor items are already off to a fast start at Paper Dreams and that business is picking up again at Village Books after the traditional slowdown that takes place during a national election.
"The election grabs (the attention of customers), but afterward they realize that the holidays are nearly here," Robinson said.
Even the calendar is working in the favor of retailers. With Thanksgiving on Nov. 22, the traditional holiday shopping season is longer than usual. Many retailers believe shoppers spend more during these longer periods.
Of course, several things can derail a busy shopping season. For Whatcom County, the most common issue is a snowstorm or icy blast that makes roads too treacherous to drive.
With consumers potentially in a buying mood, many local merchants are adding more products this season. Kathleen Iwerson, co-owner at Ideal -Carefully Curated Goods, estimates they brought in about 10 percent more product than last year. This is the fifth holiday season for the Cornwall Avenue gift store, and she felt it was time to revamp product stock to have new items for their regular customers while continuing to attract new shoppers.
"Our focus is to continue bringing in unique gifts, especially those stocking stuffers that are under $25," Iwerson said.
For Village Books, the big change this season is the introduction of the Kobo e-reader in the store. Robinson had been reluctant to get into the e-reader business but said they are finding that people are buying both print and electronic books these days. Robinson said he's noticed some of Village Books' customers preferring the e-book when traveling but reading print copies at home. Through the partnership with Kobo, Village Books and other independent bookstores have a chance to benefit through the sale of electronic books with that device.
This year there isn't a blockbuster "must have" book this season, but a variety of good titles, according to Robinson. That generally bodes well for bookstores in terms of sales, he said.
At Merch Bot, many of the customers are looking for fun items for the White Elephant gift exchange that's popular at holiday parties. This year bacon-flavored products and mustaches are very popular.
"People usually come in here looking for something they want to buy rather than something they feel obligated to buy," Bohren said, adding that it means less grumpiness in the store.
HAGGEN FAMILY SELLS PROPERTY, NO IMPACT ON STORES
The Haggen family recently sold a chunk of its real estate holdings, but it won't impact Haggen stores.
Near the end of October, Briar Development, the real estate company of the Haggen family, sold the properties of 15 Haggen and Top Foods grocery stores to a California real estate investment firm for $175 million.
The purchaser was MGP X Properties, which is a part of Merlone Geier Partners in San Francisco. According to the Whatcom County Treasurer's Office, sales include four Whatcom County Haggen stores: Ferndale ($11.7 million), Sehome ($9.2 million), Meridian ($9.2 million) and Fairhaven ($3.98 million).
In a statement, Haggen Inc. officials said the only difference now is a change of landlord and it has no impact on the stores. The Haggen family continues to own a significant portion of the grocery business, and Rick Haggen remains involved in operating the business.
Zen Sushi and Bar has applied for a Washington state liquor license to sell beer and wine at 3101 Cinema Place, near the new movie theater in the Barkley District. The applicants are Anuchit Tipasathien and Nutthinee Kiewboriboon. This and The Woods Coffee are the only announced businesses so far in the new cinema complex.
Along with the traditional early morning Black Friday craziness on Friday, Nov. 23, local retailers are getting ready for a variety of events that Thanksgiving weekend. Fairhaven will have a holiday festival that kicks off at 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, with events continuing on Saturday. Nov. 24 is also Small Business Saturday, which focuses on independent retailers. Details to come next week.
Retail Tip Sheet runs each Sunday.
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at email@example.com or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamHeraldBiz.