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Posted on Sat, Dec 22, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Last-minute shopping: Ann Arbor registers are jingling as store owners see record sales

By Janet Miller


Customers shop at Mudpuddles in Ann Abor's Kerrytown Market & Shops on Thursday evening.

Joseph Tobianski |

Ann Arbor residents are opening their wallets a little wider this holiday season as storekeepers get ready for what they expect to be a frenzied final weekend before Christmas.

After the lean years that followed 2008, the 2011 Christmas shopping season looked rosier. This season is proving that wasn't an aberration.

Cash registers have been ringing, especially in the past week, Ann Arbor retailers said. While the holiday buying season started slowly for some — October was dismal — it picked up in December, putting some Ann Arbor retailers on track for record sales.

The economy looks to be in recovery, they said, as shoppers return to buying bigger ticket items along with picking up a gift or two for themselves. It also helps that there is a full weekend before Christmas, they said. With Christmas falling on Sunday last year, the final weekend shopping blitz was cut short.

Main Street storeowners are hearing the jingling of robust sales, said Maura Thomson, executive direction of the Main Street Area Association. “I haven’t had contact with anyone who has given me negative feedback,” she said.

Buying shifted into high gear mid-week, said Jan Benzinger, co-owner of Mudpuddles Toy Store in Kerrytown Market and Shops.

While sales for Midnight Madness, which was in November this year, were up 9 percent from last year, things slowed down during the following weeks. “December started out lackluster,” Benzinger said. Last year’s holiday sales were so strong, it left her wondering if it would be impossible to top.


Jan Benzinger, owner of children's toy store Mudpuddles, holds a large stuffed owl on the stairs of her store.

Melanie Maxwell |

But recent days have given her the answer. “(Wednesday) was like someone opened the flood gates,” Benzinger said. Holiday sales are up 10 percent over a year ago, she said. People are spending more. “Per customer sales are up,” she said.

And she expects the pace to continue until Christmas Eve. She’s predicting a non-stop weekend as visiting grandparents arrive in town. Having a full weekend will help. “Last year at this time, we were winding down. This year, we’re gearing up,” Benzinger said.

Art is back on shoppers’ gift list. The Ann Arbor Area Art Center’s gallery shop had its biggest day ever last Saturday, said Amy Farnum, gallery shop director. She expects a repeat this weekend. “It was huge,” she said. “I feel like the economy is finally coming back. People are buying paintings again (which can cost thousands of dollars), which is a big indicator.” The center sold a $4,300 piece by an Ann Arbor artist recently.

Even shoppers on more modest budgets are buying more. “Instead of spending $20 on a gift, people are buying gifts for $50,” Farnum said. “And a lot of people are buying for themselves.” December is on track to beat last year by 3 to 5 percent, she said.

And while 2008 saw holiday sales drop, Lewis Jewelers has seen steady improvement each holiday season since, said Jonathan Farnsworth, manager. This year is no exception, with the jewelers on target to see a 20 percent increase over last year’s holiday season. Last Saturday was the biggest day in store history. And the best is yet to come. “The Saturday before Christmas is always our biggest day,” Farnsworth said.

The national holiday shopping scene appears a little more tepid, with sales growing at a slower rate than the 4.9 percent rise seen during the 2011 season. The 3.3 percent increase predicted for 2012 by ShopperTrak has been downgraded to 2.2 percent. ShopperTrak cited concerns about the fiscal cliff and the threat of higher taxes as possibly putting a damper on sales.

At Aunt Agatha's Books in Ann Arbor, sales are also down from a year ago, which was a blockbuster year, said Robin Agnew, co-owner. She’s not sure why. “It’s weird. I have no idea. It’s impossible to gauge. But after 20 years of doing this, you can tell what it’s going to be like by Black Friday. This Black Friday was medium. Last year’s Black Friday was crazy.”

Last Saturday was the busiest day of the season, and today is likely to beat that, Agnew said. “Books are last-minute gifts. We get a lot of desperate husbands.” While holiday sales are a little soft, Aunt Agatha’s is having its best year-to-date ever, Agnew said. “That’s why I’m not that upset about Christmas.”

Janet Miller is is a freelance reporter for Contact the news desk at or 734-623-2530.


Judy Freedman

Mon, Dec 24, 2012 : 2:35 a.m.

too much online shopping and big box shopping will turn the world into one place! Go to Paris and see so many American stores that ii is ridiculous!

jim davis

Sun, Dec 23, 2012 : 12:14 a.m.

A great website for online holiday shopping is The Online Shopping Mall ( It has many leading online retailers and highlights lots of holiday deals and specials, that help you save money. Check it out.


Sat, Dec 22, 2012 : 5:51 p.m.

@jns131: You are a very short sighted individual. Keeping the money local at a small business is a good thing. Also, saying that you don't even want to discuss it is obviously not true, otherwise you would have kept your comment to yourself. Be a local hero!


Mon, Dec 24, 2012 : 7:36 p.m.

Sorry, but for the prices and money I saved on line? Free shipping and saved on the gas that totally expensive? Stay home and keep warm. I keep the UPS people in business by making them do the loading and carrying.

say it plain

Sat, Dec 22, 2012 : 3:53 p.m.

It's interesting to ponder whether there will be any 'hangover' from this spending spree. That is, are we seeing consumer confidence returning due to sustainable factors (even if these are limited to the kind of shoppers downtown AA sees), or a little bit of pent-up desire for splurging finally being vented. I just hope that this doesn't motivate the parasite classes like landlords to up their ransoms on the merchants who make it possible to have fun shopping in town!

say it plain

Sat, Dec 22, 2012 : 5:07 p.m.

Yes @LA, exactly like that. The more fodder the figures can feed to the brokers who sell and rent out the retail space around here about "what the market will bear", the more unbearable the market becomes for small-scale businesses that can't take seeing so much of their bottom line go to the people who've done nothing but bought and sold properties. I do realize that there is the hassles of maintenance, but apparently even *those* hassles can be dished off to leasees via contract lol. Ann Arbor seems particularly sensitive to these trends, as a place where money is being spent by the investor classes hoping to ride one of the remaining 'bubbles' available to them, i.e., college town. That people like Chaconas is mouthing off about "the increasing attractiveness" of areas like the strip where Seva sits because of the relatively high-salaried tech workers there is darkly foreboding, I'm afraid.


Sat, Dec 22, 2012 : 4:45 p.m.

You mean like the landlords of Seva and Comedy Castle upping the rent 50%?? Grrrr.


Sat, Dec 22, 2012 : 3:02 p.m.

C'mon Scrooge! It's fun and exciting to be in a holiday crowd! Most people are happy and the decorations are lovely and fun. You can't touch or feel things on-line, or hold it in your hand deciding how much a little kid will like it or is it soft enuff for Grandmas couch! Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays Merry Solstice, Happy Saturday, Merry Michigan Winter!!!


Sat, Dec 22, 2012 : 2:36 p.m.

Everything on line except to grocery shop. Otherwise, been done for over a week. I hate retail walk in shops. Too many crowds and the traffic? I don't even want to discuss it.


Mon, Dec 24, 2012 : 7:37 p.m.

Heck UPS does the lifting and carrying. All you have to do is wrap. Nuff said.

Homeland Conspiracy

Sat, Dec 22, 2012 : 3:43 p.m.

And why do you needed to tell us this.