ANNAPOLIS – Barbara Green is quite happy about the cold front moving into Maryland because cold weather makes people think of Christmas, and Christmas is Green’s business.
“This is good,” she said as she bustled about her Ornaments & More kiosk in the Annapolis mall. Green prepares from January to September in order to make October through December pay off big.
And if the Maryland Retailers Association (MRA) is correct, Green and other retailers can expect sales to increase by 4.5 percent this holiday season. The prediction is based on a survey of its members in which 60 percent reported equivalent or increased sales over last year and few said they would cut back inventory or promotions.
“The 4.5 percent gain would be very nice,” said MRA President Tom Saquella. “We have seen both strong employment growth and economic growth” in the state and the recent drop in gasoline prices heartened the organization.
Many retailers started their promotions early this year, Saquella said, because they feared gasoline prices would keep consumers away.
“During the late summer, early fall, business was good,” said Alvin Levi of Baltimore’s Howard Street Jewelers. “Then in October, we kind of hit a wall.”
Now, he said, “We’re expecting a very, very strong Christmas.”
Larry Barnes, owner of Routzahn’s furniture stores in Frederick and Hagerstown, said the latest drop in gas prices was definitely encouraging.
“We think that the climate’s been good and that the consumer’s responding,” he said. “If anything, the setting is positive now, certainly with the easing of gas prices.”
But for Barnes’ furniture stores, the sales promotions will start later, maybe pre-Thanksgiving, unlike many of his counterparts who broke the Christmas seal sometimes as early as Halloween.
Green and her staff have been in the Annapolis Mall – helping customers pick out ornaments, personalize ornaments and pack them – since the beginning of October.
Thanksgiving weekend, she said, will be the big start, though Black Friday – as the Friday after Thanksgiving is known – isn’t “quite as big a thing as it used to be.” She’s most looking forward to the couple of Saturdays before Christmas when she’s seen sales jump in the last few years.
“I think it started a little earlier this year,” Saquella said. “Stores are fully decorated with holiday stuff.” Malls as a whole have joined in as well, hanging traditional boughs of holly, “Merry Christmas to you” playing over the loudspeakers and the all-too-obvious Santa’s throne in the middle of the mall.
Between the decorations and the lack of parking even at noon on a Friday, shoppers could almost be fooled into believing the Christmas rush is underway, which may not be a bad thing for them, Saquella said.
“I think they’re going to find some great bargains, tremendous bargains out there,” he said. But, many warn, shopping early is still a consumer’s best bet.
“The biggest problem that consumers may be finding is that if they shop late this year, they may not get their first or best selection,” said Levi. “Send the cluck down to see me,” he said, laughing. “The man that brings home the practical gift at Christmas will be feeling enough guilt that I’ll see him on Valentine’s Day.”