Lured by last-minute discounts and a push to buy from hometown retailers, holiday shoppers turned out in droves at many locally owned merchants, with some reporting the best season in years and others a mixed bag.
“We increased over last year and increased over our projected sales,” said Bob Webster, co-owner of several Palmetto Moon gift shops across Charleston and the state.
“We had an excellent Black Friday, but we found it very difficult during the first three weeks of December,” Webster said.
But last Friday, he said people must have cut the work week short, because the entire parking lot outside of his store at Citadel Mall was packed and people were lined up to park.
“Friday and Saturday were record days for Palmetto Moon,” he said. “That was very helpful in helping us reach our holiday goals.”
Webster said the day after Christmas was a little slower than usual, but he suspected Wednesday’s stormy weather kept the crowds away through mid-day.
Over in Mount Pleasant, Coastal Cupboard owner Brad Pitner called holiday sales phenomenal.
“We were blown out of the water,” he said. “It was just awesome.”
He called the shopping season very solid because people went out of their way to shop at locally owned merchants, and because he advertised specific items for the first time.
He also attributed the store’s success to the lingering effects of the deep recession.
“When things went crazy (with the economy), people started staying home and cooking more,” Pitner said. “We sold lots and lots of practical gadgets that are functional but gifty.”
At Croghan’s Jewel Box in downtown Charleston, owner Mariana Hay reported a strong Christmas season.
“Black Friday was one of the best, and I did not notice a lull after that,” Hay said.
On Dec. 15, her King Street store saw record sales. She also noted that moderately priced items sold over higher-priced inventory.
The Charleston Angler, with four local stores in Summerville, Mount Pleasant and Charleston, landed “pretty good” holiday sales as the season progressed, but owner Caroline Rhodes had to hook customers with specials during the early-December lull to avoid a loss.
“We typically have a good week the week before Christmas, but you can’t wait for that,” Rhodes said. “We could see things weren’t going in the right direction. We had to make some major adjustments in our sale plans about three weeks before Christmas, and at a price point that people could afford. Doing what we did was a wise thing. We want to keep our customers.”
Though Friday and Saturday before Christmas produced record sales for the store, Rhodes said the overall holiday shopping season was down because of the markdowns.
“People weren’t spending as much money,” she said. “I know I wasn’t too.”
At Wonder Works toy stores in West Ashley, Mount Pleasant, Kiawah Island and Charleston, owner Christine Osborne said sales were definitely up.
“It was almost like a shopping frenzy,” she said.
For the eight weeks from Oct. 28 through Christmas Eve, retail sales for the holidays rose just 0.7 percent from the year before, according to MasterCard’s SpendingPulse unit.
“It’s almost abysmal,” said Britt Beemer, chairman and CEO of Summerville-based consumer research firm America’s Research Group.
He said local retailers probably did better than the big national chains because 25 percent said in his survey that they would patronize local merchants if they could. A concerted buy-local initiative in Charleston probably didn’t hurt either, Beemer said.
He projected in the fall that holiday spending would rise between 1.8 and 2.8 percent.
“Here’s the problem — consumers said they would wait for deals and they did,” Beemer said. “They got Black Friday and the weekend before Christmas. More said they wanted to see 70 percent off, and they didn’t get it. Retailers were almost playing a game with consumers. This year the consumer did not blink.”
The National Retail Federation predicted in late October that retail sales would rise 4.1 percent. Its final numbers will come out after the new year begins.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524.