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Posted on Sun, Nov 14, 2010 : 6:03 a.m.

Washtenaw County's retailers prepare for better holiday sales in 2010

By Paula Gardner


Found owner Mary Cambruzzi holds a handmade angel inside her store in Kerrytown Shops in Ann Arbor on Friday. After two years of declining sales, area retailers are optimistic heading into this year's holiday season.

Angela J. Cesere |

Washtenaw County retailers say they’re heading into the crucial holiday sales season with high hopes for sales growth.

This year, they have a reason to be optimistic: After two years of falling statewide sales, many local retailers now say they’re seeing year-long sales increases that they expect to continue into the holiday weeks.

They’re joining more than half of Michigan’s retailers in expecting sales increases, according to the Michigan Retailers Association. That’s the highest level since 2004.

“They’re making those projections after a couple of good months,” said Tom Scott, senior vice president at the MRA in Lansing. “It seems like there’s a stronger feeling like things are turning around.”

Even with a slow economy and unemployment rate of 13 percent, Michigan retailers will use more promotions - which already have started - and a solid emphasis on value to drive more sales than 2009, when average sales fell about 1 percent for the second consecutive year.

“We won’t get serious gains until unemployment gets below double digits, but things are moving in the right direction,” Scott said.

On a national basis, forecasts are calling for slight increases in consumer spending - and a slight decrease in the number of people who expect to shop at discounters as they try to stretch resources.

By the end of the year, as the Christmas shopping season concludes, Americans will spend about 2 percent more on gifts that in 2009, propelling the holiday retail season into a $447.1 billion market, according to the National Retail Federation.

Washtenaw County’s independent retailers are positioning themselves to get a portion of those sales.

And many of them agree with the broader forecasts calling for improved revenue.

“We anticipating a good season,” said Hans Masing, co-owner of Tree Town Toys in Ann Arbor’s Traver Village. “It’s hard to put into words, but there’s a visceral feeling from customers that they’re a little more excited about this year than going into other (previous) seasons.”

People are tired of dull holidays, Masing said. And those who feel more secure in their jobs after two years or more of worrying “can relax this year and enjoy themselves.”

Many stores are trying to get shoppers in early, without rushing the season like many chain stores.

Tree Town Toys is reaping increased sales from a coupon mailed with its holiday catalog, and celebrated National Toy Store Day on Saturday.

Nicola Rooney, owner of Nicola’s Books in Westgate Mall, will lauch her annual pre-holiday sale on Wednesday.

“We’re showcasing (hot) books this holiday season and encouraging people to get their shopping done early,” Rooney said.

While the store is well stocked, especially in the expanded children’s section, she’s already been warned that reordering from her popular calendar display may be difficult on certain items.

This year’s new offerings are strong, Rooney said, naming Keith Richards’ just-released autobiography. That, plus year-long sales increases, keep her optimistic for a strong season.

Andrea Graef, co-owner of This & That candy store on East Liberty Street, is preparing for her store’s first holiday.

She spent the second week of November unpacking holiday shipments and setting up displays in the store, while planning how to decorate and respond to Black Friday and other holiday shopping triggers.

At least 19 new holiday-themed items were adding to the product lines, Graef said. Mints in holiday packaging, peppermint pop rocks and seasonal-color candies will become staples in the store.


A holiday display at Found in the Kerrytown Shops in Ann Arbor.

Angela J. Cesere |

They’re the types of items that can be made into inexpensive gift packages, Graef said.

“We’ll be a good stocking-stuffer store,” she said.

The mild weather at the end of last week made Christmas feel a long ways off, she said. But traffic patterns - like how many of her customers on weekends are out-of-towners - mean that she’ll be opening later on Black Friday and aiming for strong sales on Saturdays when downtown’s pedestrians are largely visitors to Ann Arbor.

Over at Heavenly Metal, Vicki Honeyman’s store on East Ann Street, those visitors to Ann Arbor make up the bulk of her business year-round.

But she’s hoping that the buy-local movement, driving in part by Think Local First in Washtenaw County, will bring local customers into the store, too.

“The local businesses are what make a community interesting,” she said.

Honeyman has expanded the store to include more varieties of apparel that can’t be found elsewhere in the area: She’s carrying women’s clothing and shoes, in addition to accessories and distinct art and items for the home.

The 2009 holiday got a late start, so she’s not nervous about sales yet, even though fall didn’t send any clear signals about how sales could trend.

Last year, December sales took off. And while customers may have spent $20 instead of $200, the volume made the difference.

“I’m hoping that people are going to be more comfortable with spending more,” Honeyman said of the coming holiday weeks.

This year, she’s fully stocked and ready for the season. Best-sellers are expected to be hand-sewn silk scarves from an artist in Rhode Island that sell for $55 to $78, as well as clothing and a range of books, including a Janis Joplin biography and “How to Be a Cowboy.”

Honeyman’s message for the holiday keeps coming back to the local community. She wants her fellow independent retailers to be successful as much as she wants her own store to thrive after the downturn.

“Support your local business,” she said. “We need you as much as you love us.”

Paula Gardner is Business News Director of Contact her at 734-623-2586 or by email. Sign up for the weekly Business Review newsletter, distributed every Thursday, here.



Sun, Nov 14, 2010 : 4:31 p.m.

Same old Pollyanna-ish song and dance as we've heard for the last few years from retailers big and small. The state's economy is no better than it was a year ago - in some ways probably worse, as Michigan continues to leak both jobs and population. Maybe Santa will bring Michigan a new economy for Xmas, but I wouldn't hold my breath... might as well wish for the Lions in a Superbowl sometime before Judgement Day. Most will buy something they really need anyway - slap a bow on it - and throw it under the tree. The banksters and brokesters in NY might have a good holiday - they are back to their old tricks - creating bubbles, picking pockets, and getting bailed-out, courtesy of the rest of us! Merry Christmas, guys!


Sun, Nov 14, 2010 : 1:29 p.m.

This is just more evidence that the economic depression is finally winding down and coming to an end. Not tomorrow, but the light is finally at the end of the tunnel. Not that I have one iota of sympathy for retailers. Local retailers yes, but NEVER for the national retailers since it was they that decided they couldn't make enough profit unless they only sell stuff that is made in China at slave labor wages. Any retail that doesn't like their sales should look at the labels on the crap they sell. If the labels read "made in China" they they should be able to figure out why the unemployment rate is high and thereby hurting retail sales. Duh!


Sun, Nov 14, 2010 : 12:51 p.m.

It isn't always just about Christmas. We celebrate winter, too. Penguins and polar bears bring visions of cold and snow - which is what we experience in the winter. They seem out of place in the summer, but we embrace them as cutesy props and decorations in the winter. I haven't been out shopping for decorations yet, but Kroger stores have their Christmas decorations out for sale (probably where I'll get mine - very good prices) and I must assume many other retail shops do by now because Black Friday is in less than a week. I really, really feel guilty. I would love to do my gift shopping at the quirky Ann Arbor shops that really put love into what they do, but the extra effort they put in (and lack of wholesaling) often comes with a higher price tag. I believe we really need to support our local retailers right now, but honestly I am hurting too so I am driven to find the best deals, such as on Amazon or chain stores with the power to wholesale like Target and Micheal's. Sorry A2.

Dog Guy

Sun, Nov 14, 2010 : 9:29 a.m.

I don't know anyone who celebrates Holiday or buys Holiday gifts or puts up Holiday decorations. I have been shopping around for Christmas, but the stores don't have any Christmas decorations for sale, making it hard to get in the Christmas spirit. Holiday, which somehow involves polar bears and penguins, might be exciting to people on the other side of Ann Arbor, but leaves us cold around here. Good luck with the Holiday Retail Season and have a Merry Christmas.