Local retail sales good, not great heading into holidays

Lexington shop Walkabout Outfitter gets ready for holiday shopping season. (Photo by Evelyn Rupert)

By Kelly Mae Ross

The local retail sales outlook for the upcoming holiday season is like a cup of lukewarm hot cocoa for local retailers—good, but it could be better.

Historically Washington and Lee University’s Parents Weekend is a leading economic indicator for Lexington retailers.  This year, stores such as gift and clothing retailer Pumpkinseeds, gift shop Hamilton-Robbins, and outerwear retailer Walkabout Outfitter experienced an uptick in business.

“Parents will pick up ornaments then, and some little gifty things, not so much clothing for Christmas, that early on,” said Tom Lomax, one of the co-owners of Pumpkinseeds.

If national trends are any indication, Lexington retailers will likely ride the sales boost into a holiday season that will bring moderate gains.

According to data from the International Council of Shopping Centers, sales will increase an estimated 2.2 percent this year compared to a 5 percent increase in 2010. However, 2.2 percent holiday sales growth is still an improvement over the two successive declines in holiday shopping-center sales reported by the ICSC in 2008 and 2009.

Data reported by Richard D. Brown, the secretary of finance for Virginia, show that state sales taxes collected in October rose 2.9 percent from September. Increased sales tax numbers reported by the state can be a good indicator of the retail health of an area.

But with the national unemployment rate still hovering around 9 percent, some retailers say they fear that still-cautious consumers will be wary of spending too much money on gifts this holiday season.

Carolyn Tolley, one of co-owners of University Florist in Lexington, says she anticipates that people will be spending more money on their children during the upcoming holiday season, which means they may be spending less money on gifts such as flowers for other adults.

Tolley says she expects sales in her flower shop to be down about 3 to 5 percent this year compared to last year. She says she worries about whether “people will still find a need for us” in a struggling economy, because flowers are a luxury good and “not a necessity.”

Retailers who sell other varieties of goods—such as books—are cautiously optimistic about sales growth this holiday season.

Marysue Forrest, owner of The Bookery, says her store is having one of the slowest years in its 22-year history, but that she expects holiday sales to be good this year. Forrest says she anticipates the season’s sales figures will be 5 to 10 percent higher than they were a year ago.

“We’re steady,” says Robby Jones, owner of Hamric & Sheridan Jewelers. “There are always going to be more hills than valleys, but it just comes down to delivering the best product and being creative, and I hope we continue to do so for many years.”

Katie Hatfield, Taylor Kenyon, Brendan Peters, Olivia Davis, and Brian Seliber also contributed to this story.