It’s during the cooler months of the year that Dana Smith expects her business, Chix with Stix, a knitting supply store, to pull its strongest sales numbers. Mittens, scarves, hats and blankets suddenly become more important projects when the mercury dips, after all.
Like most retailers, December is an all-important month for Smith and she’s counting on a busy season. The recession has been tough on merchants up and down Madison, and store owners have had to adjust. Smith, whose shop at 7316 Madison has been in town for more than four years, experienced a few firsts in 2009. She no longer opens the doors at all on Monday, and her inventory has been slimmed. Customers are less likely to find new yarns, for example, because Smith said she’s sticking with what she knows she can sell.
“Having said that, we had our best day ever on Black Friday,” Smith said. “It was a good start to the holiday season.”
A few of Forest Park’s entrepreneurs said they have more reason of late to be optimistic that their bottom line will improve. Friday’s annual Holiday Walk and Festival of Windows, sponsored by the chamber of commerce, is meant to get consumers excited about shopping here in town. That enthusiasm may already be building.
Augie Aleksy is the owner of Centuries & Sleuths bookstore, and for 2009 served as president of the chamber association. No doubt the recession has been brutal, said Aleksy, but business at his store in November was up more than 5 percent over the same month last year. He attributed some of that success to finding creative ways to draw people through the door, but he’s had some help. Business owners on the street are incredibly thoughtful when it comes to working together, he said, and have helped one another in practical and emotional ways. Shop owners have designed window displays for one another and made room on their shelves for another business’ inventory, for example. Also, customers at one retailer can pick up coupons for another business down the street.
“If we don’t succeed, no one deserves to succeed,” Aleksy said. “I don’t think anyone’s trying as much as this business community to give advice and help each other out.”
Nationally, consumer spending saw a modest .7 percent increase during the month of October. Though slight, that figure bodes well for retailers who, last year, endured extremely depressed numbers during the holiday season.
In April, Gary Hebner opened Cyklopx at 7511 Madison with an almost unwieldy collection of pop culture artifacts. After a sluggish summer, Hebner said sales are starting to improve. Since September, each month has been better than the last. A first-time retailer, he’s also getting a feel for what sells and how to showcase his inventory. On Dec. 2, the store’s very first advertisement appeared in a handful of city and suburban newspapers, said Hebner.
Particularly exciting right now, he said, is customers have told him they’re shopping for gifts – a good sign.
“That’s different, because in the past it’s been people buying for themselves,” Hebner said.
At House Red, a simple but elegant wine store at 7403 Madison, December is going to be an absolutely critical month, according to co-owner Neb Mrvaljevic. Like the bookstore down the street, November sales were up year over year; but like the knitters, House Red is paring its inventory and cutting expenses where it can. October through December accounts for about 30 to 35 percent of the store’s annual sales, said Mrvaljevic, and that money is crucial for carrying the business through the late-winter doldrums.
“I’m not optimistic for the next six months, really,” Mrvaljevic said. “We’ll have to adjust further with inventory and hours.
“I hope I’m wrong.”
For 2009, wine sales have actually been somewhat brisk, according to Mrvaljevic, and business is up about 15 percent over the previous year. The difference is that customers are spending less. House Red’s average sale has dropped from about $19 to $12.
Mrvaljevic isn’t ready to bet against himself, but he understands what is at stake this season.
“The next six months are crucial for me. Either you survive, or you close,” he said.