Local retailers are optimistic about holiday shopping

WILLMAR -- Local retailers are optimistic about the holiday shopping season, even though national analysts and surveys indicate economic worries may prompt consumers to spend less this year.

WILLMAR -- Local retailers are optimistic about the holiday shopping season, even though national analysts and surveys indicate economic worries may prompt consumers to spend less this year.

"Unlike what you hear and read in the news, I think it's going to be good,'' said Pam Klein, co-owner of Ken's Casuals of Willmar.

"I'm not wrapping as many Christmas gifts as early. But people are still doing their regular shopping, and we've seen a gradual increase since last spring. I think that people are finally spending some money again.''

Klein said Christmas "is something that you can count on every year, and I think that families are going to celebrate just as they have every other year.''

Mike Noonan, co-owner of Elmquist Jewelers, said Christmas shopping accounts for about one-fourth of the store's sales. This time of year, the store is selling ornaments and holiday giftware, in addition to jewelry.


"Friday is the big push. It's not as big for us as it is for clothing and toy stores,'' Noonan said. "Most of the high-end jewelry shopping is done the last couple of weeks before Christmas, so it isn't as big for us as it is for the bigger box stores. But we still will be busy.''

The Friday after Thanksgiving -- also known as Black Friday -- is traditionally a big selling day for the retail world. The term originated as a description of the day in the year when a retailer begins to profit or "be in the black.''

Many retailers are offering special deals to entice shoppers through their doors, and Herberger's at the Kandi Mall in Willmar is no exception. The department store is offering about 190 "door buster'' specials between 5 a.m. and 1 p.m. today.

"The day after Thanksgiving is always a busy day for us,'' said manager Gordon Lindblad. "People are out and looking for those good buys in addition to starting their Christmas shopping. We expect a very busy day (today) and all weekend long, and it looks like the weather's in our favor, too.''

Betty Jones, manager of the new Wal-Mart Supercenter in Willmar, said holiday food sales exceeded expectations "and we're hoping for the same thing on Black Friday.''

Jones thinks shoppers are looking more than ever this year for electronics and games. One of the hottest games being sold this year is Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? A popular toy this year at the Willmar store is Littlest Pet Shop, according to Jones.

She thinks shoppers are in a very good mood.

"I'm guessing with the toy recalls this year that there will be a bigger push for electronics,'' she said. "It will be American-made toys and electronics. Our bike sales have spiked. So I'm guessing that's what the customer is leaning toward this year,'' she said.


The optimistic mood contrasts with the belief by analysts who say consumers are cutting their spending this holiday season because of high gas prices or job cutbacks, or are looking for gifts that don't break their budgets. Others are trying to take on less debt or reduce the materialism that has come to characterize the season.

A recent survey conducted by the Harrison Group market research firm in Waterbury, Conn., found that nearly one-third of consumers plan to spend less this year than last year.

Klein doesn't think shoppers are necessarily waiting for rock-bottom prices or sales.

"When they're ready, they'll shop where they want to go when they feel like it,'' she said. "That's what we find here, anyway. Maybe our shopping is different here than other places. But when they're ready, they're here, and every year it always works out.''

Ken Warner, president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, said the business folks he has talked to are cautiously optimistic.

"Nobody's jumping up and down and doing jumping jacks, saying it's absolutely wonderful. But I think they're looking forward to another good season,'' Warner said. "Hopefully that's how it plays out.''

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