If the reaction of local retail merchants to Black Friday weekend sales is any barometer, the recession, if not over, is in retreat.
Overwhelmingly, they reported a definite uptick from last year, which proved to be a Friday that was more bleak than black.
That analysis applied to most merchants in Old Town, Del Ray, the West End and the Belle View Shopping Center. However, there also seemed to be a more conservative approach to buying patterns more sales in less expensive items than in the high end categories.
Shoppers were definitely in the holiday spirit, according to Christmas Attic manager Betsy Husser. We were very, very busy throughout the weekend. And, customers seemed to be spending more than last year, she said.
That assessment was buttressed by Chris Hart of Artfully Paper in Del Ray. Our holiday poppers flew off the shelf, he said. We only have a few left. We were very busy all weekend.
For Melisa Ross, a sales associate in Kiskadee on Mount Vernon Avenue, Sales went very well. Two of their biggest sale items were the Elf on the Shelf and serving platters, according to Ross.
If there was any item that could serve as a test for the intensity of the recession it was the full Thanksgiving Dinner for dogs priced at $15 being sold by Barkley Square in Del Ray. We sold 17 dinners and we racked up orders for our Christmas dinners, said owner Kristina Robertson.
They also sold out of their tartan outfits and scottish tams for dogs to wear in this weekends Christmas Walk Parade. Theres going to be a lot of well-dressed dogs in that parade this year, Robertson said.
Ruth Cecchini, manager of Restoration Hardware in Old Town, found sales to be on a par with last year. We had a good response to our new products, particularly our cashmere collection, she said.
At Authentically Amish in Foxchase Shopping Center on Duke Street, owner Chris St. Pierre credited an increase in sales to the recently released Alexandria coupon book more than shopper frenzy. He also got ahead of the Black Friday weekend rush by gearing his advertising to earlier in November.
Black Friday is not really a busy day for us, he said. I like it that way, to get ahead of all the advertising by the malls and big box stores.
I have noticed that our shoppers seem to be doing more necessity shopping, St. Pierre continued. We used to sell a lot of small pieces ones where [customers would] come in, see it and buy it. Thats not happening as much.
Viewing Black Friday as a non-starter is also the attitude of Adam Winer at ArtCraft on lower King Street. We never expect Black Friday to be especially good for us, he said. However, this year the traffic was good and steady, as were sales. We are selling a higher volume of smaller items and not as much high-end items, but that has been our pattern for the past couple of years.
That steady flow of customers throughout the weekend was buttressed by Kate Schlabach, owner of Why Not? childrens shop on the corner of King and South Lee streets. It could have been better but Im happy, she said. Id say sales were about the same as last year.
Gossypia owner Amanda Lasker, at her shop on the corner of Cameron and North Royal streets, assessed the weekend as a mixed bag. Friday was excellent but Saturday and Sunday were so so, she said. But, this is never a top-notch time for us. Our peak comes later. We sold a lot of items on Friday, especially to many customers from out of town, which I found surprising.
Overall, Id have to say it was a little better than last year, Lasker said.
Frank Kozuch, owner of Whistle Stop Hobbies, had good numbers for both Friday and Saturday. His big sellers were Legos and Thomas The Tank Engine products.
One merchant who described weekend sales as flat was Todd Healy, owner of Gallery Lafayette. Sales of our calendars and ornaments were okay, he said, but Christmas card sales are down dramatically. Last year at the St. Marys Christmas Bizarre my wife sold 13 boxes. This year she sold one.
On the flip side, Virginia Florist owner Kevin Green found that at Belle View Boulevard sales rose from 2008. People are buying their Christmas decorations early, he said. Weve already sold out of a lot of our decorations. Our limited edition items are selling very well. This is especially true of such things as our Faberge eggs.
With the traditional holiday shopping kickoff weekend now history, the trick becomes sustaining that increased momentum, no matter how shallow. That is the challenge for all merchants individual, big box or mall.
National analysis, primarily of the large retailers and malls, found large crowds but not large spending. People where being more cautious, tending to stick more closely to their budgets and cherry-picking deep discounted sale items, according to analysts assessing results of this past weekend.
There also seemed to be a tendency to pay in cash rather than with credit cards. That payment method can depress sales, both in volume and the price of items purchased.
The impression that Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year is somewhat of a myth; that distinction belongs to the Saturday before Christmas, this year on December 19. Will it belong to jolly St. Nick or Scrooge?