By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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Despite slower-than-expected holiday sales growth reported by industry observers across the country, only a few Clallam County retailers reported dips in 2012 holiday sales, according to an informal survey of shops and stores across the county.
Locally owned shops in Port Townsend and unincorporated Jefferson County reported sales on par with last year’s holiday shopping season, if not slightly better.
Retailers interviewed in Forks reported either no change or slight decreases in holiday shopping figures, though one shop, Forks Outfitters, had not yet compiled sales figure for the 2012 holiday shopping season, said Manager Dave Gedlund.
Shops in Port Angeles and Sequim, both locally owned and chain, generally reported seeing gains compared with last year, or at least figures on par with the 2011 holiday shopping season.
Marilyn Lamb, owner of Cottage Queen Clothing Boutique at 119 W. First St., Port Angeles, said fewer shoppers visited her store but they bought more per trip, leading to Cottage Queen’s sales figure being slightly up compared with last year.
Lamb said she consciously started more sales and markdowns before Christmas this year, a change from 2011, after she had heard via national news reports that roughly 40 percent of shoppers had not completed their Christmas shopping within a week or so before the holiday.
“We just decided to do some better sales earlier, and that helped a lot,” Lamb said.
Local shoppers also seemed to make a point of patronizing locally owned shops a little bit more this year, including Cottage Queen, with Lamb saying she intentionally chose to buy yarn for her mother from a locally-owned shop, even though she ended up paying a little more than she might have.
“We’re all trying to support each other and not just expect it from our customers,” Lamb said.
At Swain’s General Store at 602 E. First St., General Manager Don Droz said “sticking to the things people know us for and expect from us,” keeps Swain’s local, loyal customers coming back year after year.
Swain’s saw a modest increase in sales this holiday season over last, roughly 1 percent, Droz said.
He also noted fewer people coming in between Thanksgiving and Christmas but each buying more per visit.
“We were up a bit [starting the day after Thanksgiving] and managed to kind of keep that through the month,” Droz said.
Locally owned outfits in Sequim reported varied shopping trends for this year, said Stefanie Rotmark, administrative assistant with the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce, adding that holiday shopping started off a little more slowly than last year but picked up as Christmas Eve approached.
“Some days were really busy; some days were really up and down,” Rotmark said.
Vickie Oen, owner of Sequim’s Purple Haze Lavender Gift Shop at 127 W. Washington St., said in-person sales this holiday season were just about even compared with last year but the shop’s Internet sales of had increased about 10 percent.
Oen said she noticed more shoppers simply browsing soon after Thanksgiving and coming back closer to Christmas with specific items in mind to buy.
Oen said the two weeks before Christmas were the busiest, adding that she also saw a focus on Sequim and other Peninsula residents choosing to buy from locally-owned stores.
“I did hear a lot of people who were making the choice to buy local this year,” Oen said.
Sequim J.C. Penney Manager Paul Quinn said this year’s holiday shopping season at his store at 651 W. Washington St., went “exceptionally well,” adding that the store has been relatively light on merchandise recently because it’s selling so quickly.
“The sell-through on our merchandise has been amazing,” Quinn said.
The weekends for the Sequim J.C. Penney have consistently been the busiest since Thanksgiving, Quinn said.
“It surprised all of us,” Quinn said. “The sales momentum is still there.”
Holiday season sales at Sequim’s Costco Wholesale warehouse at 955 W. Washington St. stayed steady compared with last year, store manager Jim Nimz said, with no real surprises in shoppers’ habits.
“It was pretty much what we expected,” Nimz said. “Same amount of traffic, same purchasing trends.”
Walmart spokeswoman Debbie Wishon said via email that neither the Sequim nor Port Angeles Walmarts make store-specific sales figures available, but national trends showed 68 percent of Walmart shoppers waited until the weekend before Christmas to shop, with many taking until Christmas Eve to finish up.
Charlene Leppell, owner of Leppell’s Flowers and Gifts and Twilight Central at 13 Spartan Ave., in Forks, noted Christmas season shopping was down a bit compared with last year, though shoppers seeking Twilight-saga memorabilia and items stayed steady.
“[Twilight is] basically our mainstay now,” Leppell said, referring to the four-novel bestselling series and the Twilight Saga movies they spawned — all set in Forks, LaPush and Port Angeles.
Leppell said more people visited her store but that they seemed to be buying less, adding that shoppers in general seemed more conscious of what they were spending.
Another locally-owned Forks store, Chinook Pharmacy and Variety at 11 S. Forks Ave., saw no major deviations compared with last year’s holiday shopping season, with pharmacy owner Chuck Carlson saying it was an average year for sales.
“It’s been all right, I guess,” said Carlson, who added that many Forks residents still make a point of shopping at his store to support the locally-owned business and buy the West-End and Twilight-related items that the store sells.
“We try to specialize in that, and we get a lot of praise for that,” said Pura Carlson, Chuck Carlson’s wife, who also works at the store.
East Jefferson County
East Jefferson County stores also reported strong support from Peninsula residents over this holiday shopping season, with at least one Port Townsend shop, Northwest Man at 901 Water St., continuing to see local repeat customers with no change in frequency this year.
“It’s like an annual affair that they have to come into [Northwest Man],” Northwest Man owner Kevin Burgler said.
“You really can’t do it without that local customer base.”
Burgler, who owns with his wife, Gail Bouter-Burgler, four other stores in Port Townsend, said the Northwest Man saw relatively slow sales up until the middle of December but witnessed a drastic uptick once the last weekend before Christmas rolled around.
“It was a hopping place to go,” Burgler said, “a lot of last-minute shoppers.”
Across four of the stores Burgler owns with his wife — Northwest Man, The Clothes Horse, What’s Cookin Kitchen Accessories, and Fancy Feathers Consignment — he said all had comparable sales to last year while the fifth, Green Eye Shade Home Decor, he and his wife just bought this April.
“This is sort of a basic starting point for us [with Green Eyeshade],” Burgler said.
Burgler said he did not notice any higher individual receipts per customer in his stores, but said his wife reported steady interest in women’s clothing accessories at The Clothes Horse, suggesting shoppers are trying to make individual outfits go a little further.
Burgler also reported seeing little hesitancy in shoppers choosing to buy during the holiday season, which he said makes him think the economy might be starting to recover, if just slightly.
“If [shoppers] saw something, they pretty much bought it,” Burgler said.
About a block away from the Clothes Horse and Northwest Man, Tracy Williamson, who owns and runs Wandering Angus Celtic Traders at 929 Water St., with her family, saw no major changes up or down in this year’s holiday shopping figures compared to last year.
“I would say relatively the same, maybe a little better,” Williamson said.
Just as with the stores Burgler and his wife own, Williamson also said she saw a little bit more of a focus on local residents making the choice to buy from locally-owned stores, adding that many locals even brought friends who live outside of the Peninsula to shop.
Wandering Angus shoppers did not seem to spend more per receipt compared to last year, Williamson said, but did tend to come in closer to after Thanksgiving to browse and return as Christmas approached to make their purchases.
Though in-store customers are by far the bread and butter for Wandering Angus, Williamson said she is planning to grow the store’s online shopping presence, as the ability to buy imported Irish and Scottish items online is what customers ask about most when Wandering Angus visits renaissance fairs and Scottish highland games across the northwestern United States.
“The most common question we’re asked is if we’re online,” Williamson said.
An online retail presence is also in the works for the Quilcene Village Store, 294235 U.S. Highway 101 in Quilcene, which experienced its first holiday shopping season as a convenience and grocery store this year.
“We’ll get there hopefully by spring of ,” said Greg Brotherton, manager of the establishment owned by QVS, which was created to support the Village Store, which opened earlier this year after investors kicked in for startup and initial operational expenses.
The idea for the store, which sells gasoline as well as food and other items, grew out of meetings of Quilcene Conversations, a community improvement group.
Though there are no sales figures from last year to compare to this year, Brotherton said the store saw an increase in grocery sales of about 25 percent starting at Thanksgiving, suggesting a fair amount of shoppers bought edible gifts for the holidays.
As Christmas approached, Brotherton also found the store’s Bolga baskets, imported from Ghana, Africa, were popular choices as the basis for gift baskets.
Brotherton said this trend seemed to show shoppers were endeavoring to buy gifts they know will be used, as opposed to giving clothing, which might not fit properly.
“But with food, they’re going to eat it,” Brotherton said.
“We got the perception that people were trying to be thrifty by getting gifts people were definitely going to use.”
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.