December 21, 2010

Ghosts of Christmas Present

Still fighting a bad economy, owners of small shops are hoping for last-minute shoppers. 
Jeannie Friedberg, manager of Priscilla Candies in Derry, shows
off their handmade medium-sized candy canes, which sell for $5.
Union Leader Correspondent
Marilee Martin would welome  a last-minute crush of shoppers
at her gift shop, Poles Apart Artisan Gallery, on Broadway.
DERRY -- Marilee Martin is hoping for a Christmas miracle: She’d love to see too many cars vying for the last parking spot outside her artisan gift store, or customers fighting over the colorful hand-woven socks she’s been featuring. What she wouldn’t give for some last-minute shoppers to beg her to stay open a little later than her usual 5 p.m. closing time so they can scrounge through the best of the hand-dyed scarves that are currently hanging, largely untouched by consumer hands, in a festive display.
“We’re down about 75 percent from last Christmas season,” said Martin, who tries to remain upbeat despite less than booming sales at her shop, Poles Apart Artisan Gallery. Last week the National Retail Federation revised its an­
nual seasonal sales forecast, saying that given the strength of November sales at major retailers around the country, projections for December were better than projected — up from 2.3 percent to 3.3 percent. Even though overall retail spending in November was up 7.8 percent over the same time last year, the gains are harder to see in the smaller, independently owned shops, said Kelly Forenson, who owns Country Cupboard on Crystal Avenue. 
“Considering the economy, it’s about what we anticipated,” said Forenson of her holiday sales figures. 
“We’re seeing just as many people in and out, but ticket sales are down,” she said, explaining that people still seem reluctant to spend as much money on gifts as they have in past years. 
“People just don’t have money. The economy is bad, and we’re still feeling the effects of it,” said Forenson, who has been in the same location for 22 years. 
She specializes in Vera Bradley quilted bags, Crabtree & Evelyn scented lotions and Yankee candles, plus all kinds of smaller items suitable for stuffing stockings. 
“Our extended hours this week are Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday? We’re playing it by ear,” Forenson said. 
Up the road at Priscilla’s Candies, Jeannie Friedberg was getting ready to close about an hour earlier than their 7 p.m. 
extended holiday hours due to Monday night’s snowy roads. 
With only four shopping days left until Christmas, business is slower than anticipated, said Friedberg. 
“We’ve had our moments. 
It’s been pretty steady, but I do see a downtrend — mostly in our corporate orders. There are some regular customers we just haven’t seen in a while — I’m assuming they’re out of business,” said Friedberg. 
“We also have third-generation shoppers who remember when their parents bought them our candies, and they want the same for their own kids.” 
She said their family-made candy is most popular during Christmas time — their hand-made candy canes come in several sizes, including the jumbo canes that are “huge — probably about three of four feet long,” said Friedberg, and sell for $10. “I can’t measure them because we’re sold out right now.” 
Coming into the home stretch before Christmas, optimism among corporate retailers on a national scale has been boosted by the upward trend in Internet shopping, something lost on smaller retailers like Martin, Forenson and Friedberg. 
They know their best bet is still hometown shoppers — but only if they can tap into the growing urge among consumers to seek out unique gift items sold locally, said Barbara Stein, who owns Bittersweet Blessings in Chester, a hand-crafted and consignment gift shop that just launched in October. 
“For our first holiday season, I’d say things are going well,” said Stein, who runs the shop with her daughter-in-law, Michelle Stein. “Although I will say this week has been quiet so far. I thought we’d see more traffic coming into Christmas week.” 
Stein features a mix of handmade primitive furniture, crafts, wall hangings and décor, curiosities and candies, some of it consigned and all of it uniquely suited to the shopper looking for that something special. 
“One of our hottest items right now is popcorn made locally by Joe Choquette of Chester — J.Drizzle Gourmet Pop Corn. We’re the only retailer that has it, so far. It comes in tons of flavors, and it’s flying off my shelves,” said Stein. 
She made her last big sales push over the weekend. All she can do now is hope for some last-minute shoppers who don’t mind traveling away from the malls and big box stores, and off the beaten path. “Our emphasis is on selling everything local and supporting our local crafters and artisans. We’re hoping shoppers will come looking for whatever it is they haven’t found yet,” Stein said. 

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