Local retailers hope sales pick up during holiday season

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 23, 2002

Local retailers have noticed fewer people than in previous years doing their Christmas shopping in their stores.

Some point to the economy, others the weather for the slow sales.

Store owners and managers also are concerned residents are leaving town to do their shopping.

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"Overall, businesses -- at best -- are having marginal years. The economy needs to improve," said Sandy Forstner, executive director, Austin Area Chamber of Commerce, "That said, with the holiday season, there's going to be a certain number of dollars spent. If they feel better about the economy, it will be stronger."

Mike Schuster, owner of The Bootery in downtown Austin said the store has a loyal base of customers, which he would like to see stronger.

"Every store that's down here, you'll see the person that owns the store. They know each other," Schuster said. "That's why a lot of our businesses will be successful because we have that one-on-one relationship with our customers."

Both Schuster and Forstner said it is important to support local retailers by shopping in town.

"The people that own and operate these stores are members of the communities. They want to be here," Forstner said. "They will provide people with the service you come to expect in a small town. I think everybody's request is to give local stores a look. We've got some very nice, unique stores in the downtown area."

Stores in other parts of town have seen slower sales.

Scott Reinartz, assistant manager of human resources at Younkers, said he thinks the construction on 18th Avenue NW has detracted some customers. Younkers is located off the avenue in Oak Park Mall.

"It's difficult for the shoppers to get here," Reinartz said.

But he has also noticed that people are doing their Christmas shopping earlier. Some of the more popular items have been personal games and hand held electronics.

Reinartz said people from out of town shop at the Austin Younkers and he hopes Austin residents shop here.

"I believe it's important to stay in town to support local businesses. If you don't, you won't have anything to choose from," Reinartz said. "I believe we offer a good selection at good competitive prices."

Schuster said local businesses offer what larger, out-of-town stores can't, not only with shopping needs, but in the community.

"If they just give us a chance first, we can take care of a majority of their needs," Schuster said. "That's all we ask for. We have just as much as everyone else. We're fortunate to be downtown because we have a lot to show folks here. Austin people and surrounding-area people have been supportive of our downtown. But you can go all over the place and shop. But we're here and we pay local taxes and we try to support as much we can on local events."

Jessica Krulish, assistant manager at Main Street/Sterling Drug, said the store is busy when they have sales and promotions, but "so-so" at other times.

Because Thanksgiving falls later in the year, Krulish thinks people are putting off their shopping.

"People think they have all the time in the world," she said.

Forstner said the weather also is affecting people's willingness to shop.

"Last year we had a very warm winter season, and it's not good for people who sell coats, gloves, shovels and all those things that move snow," Forstner said. "Winter itself is probably a bigger factor overall."

Schuster also said the weather is important for business.

"If we get a little white stuff, it will help a lot," Schuster said. "We're in an area where that white stuff helps us."

While Forstner said this probably will not be a record-setting holiday season, retailers are thinking positive and hoping business will pick up after Thanksgiving.

"The holiday season is a time of year where they're very giving and we hope they stop in," Schuster said.

Dan Fields and Cari Quam can be reached by e-mail at :mailto:newsroom@austindailyherald.com