Four shopping days are left until Christmas.
For area retailers those days are precious and still present a lot of time to make sales goals. At the Sears store in Baxter, the weekend after Thanksgiving was remarkable. The store ranked fourth out of 850 independently owned Sears stores nationwide for sales volume.
Mary Kolkind, Sears store owner, said sales have come in peaks and valleys.
"It's been an odd year," she said. "It's not as steady as it has been in recent years. It's less predictable than it has been."
Joe and Barbara Klein of Brainerd listened as Mary Kolkind, owner of the Baxter Sears store, talked about the features of the chest freezers at the store last week. The Sears store ranked fourth out of 850 stores for sales volume the weekend after Thanksgiving. Retailers say they are holding their own this season but they are depending on shoppers who are spending the last few days before Christmas.
» Purchase reprints of this photo.Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
But, overall, Kolkind said the season has been on target for sales goals. Bargains are bringing people in. Kolkind said sales of snowblowers, good before the winter season approached, were down as winter really took hold compared to a year ago while appliance sales are way up. Recently, a couple moving from the lakes area to Atlanta placed an order for appliances here for their new southern home.
"There just aren't many patterns," she said. "We saw people buy snowblowers earlier this year than in the past. I think overall people are just holding back and holding off a little bit more and waiting to see how things turn out."
Kolkind said it appears the store will meet its sales target, but she is still counting on the last week before Christmas and anything could happen.
Jerry Rosnau, owner of CatTales Books and Gifts in downtown Brainerd, said with customers concerned about the economy, heating bills, cash flow and layoffs, it's understandable they are being more cautious about spending. And it trickles down. Rosnau said as customers eat out less to cut back, wait staff also have less to spend this season. Book store regulars who may have come in and picked up eight to 10 books per sale may now be getting four or five at a time instead. But Rosnau said new customers are coming through the doors looking for a used book value. While individual sales are down, Rosnau said volume is up. Holiday sales haven't been as good as previous years but are better than expected for this year.
"In all honesty it's not the best, but it's not that bad," Rosnau said of the season so far. "There have been a few real down days, but overall it hasn't been that bad."
"We've got hardy people up here. The cold hasn't pushed them out,"
Brian Kinsey, store manager, J.C. Penney Co. in Baxter
Brian Kinsey, store manager, J.C. Penney Co. in Baxter, said other than interruptions caused by bad weather, the holiday shopping season has been strong in the new store.
J.C. Penney closed early last weekend because of the snowstorm. Kinsey said business was strong until the weather started turning. As long as roads are clear, he said shoppers are not daunted by the bitter cold temperatures.
"We've got hardy people up here. The cold hasn't pushed them out," he said.
The final word on this year's holiday shopping season won't be clear until the new year. Kinsey described customers as following a waiting game as they looked for prices to decrease even further. When prices dropped, the shopping started, he said.
"With our prices the way they are we should be busy through Christmas," Kinsey said. "The deals have just been amazing this holiday season. I'm kind of interested to see how the day after Christmas is going to be, too. The day after is such a big day we are focused on that, too. Christmas doesn't end until Jan. 1."
The question now is whether retailers had to discount inventory too much.
"I think volume will take care of the sales discounts," Kinsey said. "Definitely the volume is going to drive it. It really has impressed me and surprised me how the volume has been."
He said customers with less to spend, or who are being cautious about buying, are finding discounts. They may end up taking the same number of gifts as last year even as they spend less.
And Kinsey said retailers received a definite boost as shoppers felt less of a drain on their wallets from another sector.
"I really think gas prices dropping down has helped tremendously," Kinsey said.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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