Business

Whatcom retailers experience some holiday cheer, solid sales

Malcolm Saunders, left, and Rose Saunders shop for socks at ModSock in Bellingham.
Malcolm Saunders, left, and Rose Saunders shop for socks at ModSock in Bellingham. eabell@bhamherald.com

Despite some icy and snowy weather that created challenges for shoppers out on the roads, many Whatcom County retailers ended up with decent sales numbers for the holiday shopping season.

Official countywide retail sales numbers for the fourth quarter won’t be released for a few months, but the overall mood was good from a retailer’s standpoint, particularly for small businesses.

“It certainly surpassed our expectations,” said Urania Shaklee, owner of ModSock at 1323 Cornwall Ave. The 5-year-old business had a very strong final week of 2016 as customers found gifts for those hard-to-shop-for folks on their lists, she said.

The season seemed to have its busy and slow days, with the weather playing a role.

“This biting cold can really get to shoppers, unless they are in a mall covered from the elements,” said Di Reinsch of 1 Paperboat, a gift store near the Village Green in Fairhaven. The weather was a lot milder during the 2015 holiday shopping season, making this past December feel much different, she said.

Sports played a role, too. Christmas fell on a Sunday, and the NFL pushed its games, including one involving the Seahawks, to Christmas Eve, taking a bit of luster off the last-minute shopping rush, said Lisa Van Doren, co-owner of the gift shop Ideal at 1227 Cornwall Ave. It was a good season for Ideal, though, as the store sold out on many items in the final days of holiday shopping.

Even with the challenging weather, there was enough time for people to get their shopping done, Shaklee said.

“(Sales) tended to recover the next day,” Shaklee said.

The Bellis Fair shopping mall was busy throughout the season, said General Manager Rene Morris. She said the parking lots were at 95 percent capacity on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The day after Christmas also was very busy, she said.

“Retailers said that there were some returns, but not like in previous years,” Morris said.

For many local retailers, the busiest part of the season was the final week before Christmas.

“The first bit of December was a little slower, with students still in school doing exams,” said Kelly Evert, who recently took over Village Books and Paper Dreams with Paul Hanson and Sarah Hutton. The three longtime employees bought the businesses from Chuck and Dee Robinson. “Then suddenly it was ‘go,’ and it really got busy.”

Much of December felt like a party at the bookstore, as the new owners received well-wishes from customers, Hanson said.

“It was very heartwarming,” he said.

Many times there is a hot book for the holiday season, but this year sales were scattered when it came to titles, Hanson said. “Atlas Obscura” did particularly well, as well as local favorite “Hiking Whatcom County” by Ken Wilcox. “The Hidden Life of Trees” was one book that sold out at Village Books right before Christmas, Hutton said.

In the sock department, silliness and humor were popular themes at ModSock. The store has its own brand and introduced a new collection during the holiday season. The top seller was the Santa Sloth, along with socks depicting a black cat walking on piano keys.

One common theme I heard from local retailers this year was that shoppers were in a good mood throughout the season.

“I can’t remember anyone being grouchy in my store,” said Van Doren, noting that overall people seemed less stressed. To her, it seemed more people started their shopping earlier.

Shaklee said that for her customers, it’s hard not to be in a good mood while looking at fun socks.

“I think a lot of people were relieved that they could find so many presents within their budget,” Shaklee said.

OTHER TIDBITS

A Bellingham building permit application was recently submitted to put a coffee bar/restaurant at 221 W. Holly St., near the Bay Street intersection. According to a liquor license application filed on Jan. 5, the business name is Camber. … Texture Clothing at 1425 N. State St. announced on Facebook that it is having a closing sale at its store. The business will continue to have an online presence through its website, offering hemp and organic cotton products. … Lloyd’s Electronics closed its Lynden store last month. According to its Facebook page, its last day was Dec. 24. The business was at 117 17th St. and had been in operation for 50 years. … The collectibles store Bellingham Finders Keepers announced on its Facebook page that it has closed Dec. 24, but is planning one final trade night on Jan. 7. The store was at 1423 Railroad Ave. … Blackburn Office Equipment at 203 W. Chestnut St. has changed its name after selling its Sharp Copiers division to Copiers Northwest Inc. The company’s new name is Blackburn Office Interiors and Design, and it will completely focus on office-interior products, owner Randy Grunhurd said in a news release. “Our emphasis is on creating healthy and efficient office environments,” he said. Copiers Northwest is at 1400 King St., Suite 106.

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