1/3/2012 - Downtown Asheville merchants pleased with strong holiday sales
by John Boyle - Asheville Citizen Times
ASHEVILLE -- Sometimes in retail, running out of merchandise is a good sign.
"Our season was excellent -- good traffic throughout and substantial increases over last year and over 2009," said Dean Peterson, general manager of Tops for Shoes. "We were extremely pleased. At one point, we were running out of merchandise."
With an extremely mild December , plenty of other downtown merchants also enjoyed excellent holiday sales totals for 2011. In 2010, by contrast, heavy snows left many downtown sellers struggling to make goal.
At Tops, Peterson said they had "the best year in our history, and we've been here 52 years."
Tiffany Hernandez, who with her husband, Orlando, owns Curio toy store and Union his & her boutique downtown, said the toy store, which opened Oct. 1, met their sales projections for the holidays.
"And I can tell you we had our best year ever at Union, and that's been open six years," Tiffany Hernandez said. "I don't want to make any judgment about the economy in general, but downtown in general has really been booming."
The strong sales mirror national retail sales. Spending rose 4.1 percent in November and shot up 4.7 percent between Dec. 1- 24, compared with the same period last year, according to research firm ShopperTrak. A 4 percent increase is considered healthy growth.
While plenty of shoppers flock to malls, downtowns offer a different shopping experience, one with more charm and eclectic shops.
"I like that you don't have to drive to every story you want to go to," said Jill Maynard, a Baton Rouge, La., resident who was shopping for baby items at Curio on Monday afternoon. "And I like the local feel and the local artists."
A block away, at Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe on Haywood Street, customers jammed the popular shop, ordering lattes and scanning the bookshelves.
"We just kind of walk around and go to the ones that look interesting, which is a lot," said customer Julia Bates, a camp counselor in Brevard.
At Malaprop's, the sales increase for December approached 10 percent over 2010.
"We beat our sales almost every day," said bookseller Cindy Norris. "People who were shopping seemed to be more intentional about buying locally. They were conscious about supporting a local business."
Gary Hemsoth, the night manager at Malaprop's, said the sales boost came from a combination of more traffic and individual shoppers spending more.
"A lot of people were spending pretty freely," he said.
While most merchants love the mild weather, those who sell outerwear like the cold snap that came Monday. December 2010 was the second-coldest on record, with an overall average temperature of 30.6 degrees and a couple of heavy snows.
In 2011, Asheville saw just trace snowfall and recorded an average temperature of 44.6 degrees.
"In truth, we're about even with last year (in sales)," said Carmen Cabrera, general manager at Mast General Store on Biltmore Avenue downtown. "This year, the warm weather played it differently -- it was so hot, we were having trouble with jackets, hats and gloves. But we've very busy today."
All the merchants said after-Christmas sales were strong this year, as customers sought bargains.
At Tops, they offered their standard sales in July and December but didn't go beyond that. The record sales leave Peterson cautiously optimistic that the economy will continue to rebound in 2012.
"One would guess they're not buying as may large ticket items as they may have in the past, although that's improving," he said. "But as far as shoes go, people have that urge to buy, and they've got to have shoes."