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Spokane retailers both cautious, merry on season’s success

Fri., Dec. 27, 2013

Shoppers take advantage of after-Christmas sales in downtown Spokane on Thursday. (Jesse Tinsley)
Shoppers take advantage of after-Christmas sales in downtown Spokane on Thursday. (Jesse Tinsley)

A holiday shopping season that could be described as marginal to fair for retailers continued Thursday with returns, exchanges and post-Christmas markdowns.

Lyn Lukich often shops on Dec. 26, and this year the Spokane resident started at Auntie’s Bookstore with her daughter.

“We like to hit the half-price sales on Christmas paper and Christmas cards,” Lukich said. “We try to get caught up for next year.”

The two looked through the 20-percent-off calendars but did not find any they particularly liked, so they planned to stop next at Barnes and Noble, where calendars were half-off.

Lukich said she spends less on gifts and finds herself shopping online more than in years past. This year, she bought books on e-commerce giant, which reported it had its best holiday season ever.

“You can find bargains that most of the stores don’t have,” she said.

Still, Auntie’s had three people waiting outside when the doors opened Thursday morning.

“Over the last two months, it’s not been unusual for there to be people waiting to find what they are looking for before anyone else gets a chance,” said Joe Stussi, assistant order desk manager.

Although the shopping season had six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year than last, sales were on track with previous years, Stussi said.

“It seemed like people were doing the same amount of shopping in fewer days,” he said.

Dan and Patti Gregerson, of Kalispell, Mont., have visited the independent bookstore the day after Christmas for the past 10 years while visiting relatives in the area.

“There’s no store in Kalispell where you can just browse shelves like this,” Dan Gregerson said. “You can’t really do that on the Internet. You can’t just look for stuff that catches your eye.”

His wife added, “This is how we celebrate Christmas with each other. Some of our family goes out to the big sales at the mall, but we think this is a little more personal.”

Retail sales in holiday-related categories such as apparel, electronics and jewelry rose a “decent” 2.3 percent, according to a report Thursday from MasterCard Spending- Pulse.

The so-so upswing from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 improved on the comparable period in 2012 and was in line with expectations, researchers said.

The jewelry sector was, by MasterCard’s calculations, the top-performing holiday category and one of the few that improved on its performance from 2012.

Deena Caruso, owner of Finders Keepers Jewelry Galore in downtown Spokane, found shoppers stuck to modest budgets this year.

“The numbers are not what they were a couple of years ago,” Caruso said Thursday. “It seems each year people are more conservative with their money, although the traffic is still real good. People are still coming in; we’re just not seeing people spending money on the big-ticket items.”

Earrings are the top-selling gift item at Finders Keepers, which has more than 6,000 pairs in stock and has been in business 16 years. Customers have been more cautious about higher-priced merchandise, Caruso said.

“People just don’t justify spending the extra money for a nice item,” she said. “They would rather get a little something, small and less expensive, than spend the money on something that’s more of an heirloom, nicer quality piece.”

December was a good month for HAV Western Wear in Spokane Valley and its sister store, HAV Famous Texas Boots in north Spokane, owner Vikki Hoskins said.

“We are not complaining. And we haven’t had too many returns today,” Hoskins said. “We had a great Christmas.”

Online sales, she said, were particularly brisk – about double the normal rate. HAV ships leather handbags, jewelry and ranch wear to buyers around the U.S. and in Europe.

“We ship to Texas,” Hoskins said. “It’s real unusual.”

The popularity of Western boots for women made this a good year for HAV, which was started 65 years ago by Hoskins’ father and two uncles.

“Western has been kind of a trend,” she said. “All the gals – most of them don’t have horses or anything, but they want a pair of boots.”

Customers packed Boo Radley’s novelty store in downtown Spokane in the week and a half before Christmas, manager Jen Menzer said.

The hot item? Socks – in all different colors featuring popular characters.

“It was a slow start, but the season was a little shorter and I don’t think people were prepared for Christmas to come as fast as it did,” Menzer said.

The day after Christmas started off slow at Boo Radley’s – only 10 customers had come in by 11 a.m.

“I think a lot of people are spending time with their families,” Menzer said.

Nearby at Atticus Coffee and Gifts, Nikki McNurlen shuffled through a basket of Christmas decorations marked 25 percent off.

“My mother collects these every year,” said McNurlen, holding up a flat tree carved from of a thin piece of wood. “The last couple of years she has sent me down the day after Christmas to see what trees they have left.”

She added, “It’s not as chaotic as I figured it would be.”

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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