Suffering through the recession left many local store owners feeling less than jolly about the holiday shopping season, but merchants along Madison said recently that, all things considered, their registers were jingling enough to keep their spirits bright.
“We’re still not up, but we’re not losing ground as fast as we were before,” Heidi Vance, co-owner of Team Blonde, 7442 Madison said.
That sentiment was expressed by a handful of retailers who described December as a relatively strong month. The local picture seems to fit with consumer spending nationwide as retailers reported a 2.9 percent sales increase in December compared with the same month a year ago, according to a Thomson Reuters’ survey of 30 major chains reported in the Los Angeles Times. The increase marks the biggest December gain since 2006, according to the Times.
“It met expectations,” Peter Gianakopoulos, co-owner of The Old School Records, 7446 Madison, said. “Maybe didn’t exceed, but met.”
In Forest Park, one of the dour holiday forecasts came from Neb Mrvaljevic, who co-owns House Red, a boutique wine shop at 7403 Madison. Mrvaljevic said flatly in December that he was not optimistic despite seeing his sales volume increase in recent months. However, a few days into the New Year, Mrvaljevic was happy to say that it “wasn’t bad.” In fact, the wine aficionado suspected that local consumers made a point of hitting his store on their way to holiday parties in a show of support for independent retailers.
Gary Hebner, the owner of Cyklopx at 7511 Madison, said he’s guilty as charged.
This year was Hebner’s first on Madison, and though he lives in Chicago he made a point of doing some holiday shopping in Forest Park as a show of support for the community in which he is trying to make a living. As for his own store, which stocks an ample collection of vinyl along with its vintage T-shirts and pop-culture collectibles, Hebner said business was solid.
“We figured it would be, and it was the best month since we opened,” Hebner said.
Customers at Team Blonde, said Vance, openly stated their intention this holiday was to shop locally.
Jeanine Guncheon, a home décor artisan with a gallery at 7349 Madison, said her customers, too, seemed to be making an effort to spend their money with independent shop owners. The sentiment is appreciated, said Guncheon, because it was a difficult Christmas season in comparison to years past. Larger retailers and mall shops could have certainly benefited from offering low prices, so independents have to stick with their strengths – the niche – she said.
“We absolutely can’t compete with them, but they can’t compete with us either,” Guncheon said of stores that carry in bulk. “They can’t do what we can do. Our shoppers are not average.”
A little surprising this year, said Guncheon, was that she was able to move some of her big-ticket items with relative ease. Overall, the quantity of inventory that she sold was down, but consumers seemed to be looking for that one, more significant item.
“It seems the people who have some money are buying better things,” said Guncheon. “I don’t blame them.”