Merchants cautiously optimistic about holiday season

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(Host) With gas over three dollars a gallon, heating fuel near an all time high and plenty of bleak economic news, local retailers have been understandably concerned about this year’s holiday shopping season.

But as VPR’s Nina Keck reports, many store owners say they’re cautiously optimistic.

(ambiance from Northshire book store)

(Keck) Chris Morrow is general manager of the Northsire Bookstore in Manchester.

(Morrow)"Listening to the news, I was pretty pessimistic. But the big storm and the weather being cold and good over the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend – that helped us out."

(Keck) Because they’re dependent on the snow economy, Morrow said the lack of snow last Christmas hurt. While he’s hopeful this holiday season will be better, he says high gas prices are a concern.

(Morrow) "At a certain threshold people, will start driving less. I don’t know if we’ve reached that yet or not. But we obviously depend on people driving here from all over. And if gas prices are high, we’re going to get less traffic."

(Keck) Bernie Carr, who owns Carr’s Florist and Gift shop in Brandon, agrees. He says every year, Brandon area businesses host two special holiday shopping events where merchants extend their hours, reduce prices and offer various other incentives to boost sales.

Last Wednesday was this year’s first such Moonlight Madness event, and Carr says his store did well.

(Carr) "We have a giveaway and people sign up for the giveaway and we ask them to put their town down. And by taking their town address we can kind of get a feel from where we’re drawing from. And I will say this Moonlight Madness tended to be mostly locals. Maybe 10% out-of-town shoppers. That’s down from the last couple years. That could very well be a result of gas prices."

(Keck) High gas prices may push more shoppers to buy on-line rather than drive to a local retailer.

To compensate, many towns are sprucing up their decorations and using other incentives to provide more holiday ambiance.

In Rutland for example, shoppers can take wagon rides around the historic downtown, or have a visit with Santa.

Elke Reichelt’s family owns Clays – a women’s clothing store with branches in several cities, including Rutland and Middlebury. She says those local efforts pay off.

(Reichelt) "Oh I think it does. I know they’re doing a lot of promotion in Middlebury. They’re having people register to win 200 dollars in Middlebury money. I think it takes a while to get people to know that they’re doing special things around the holidays. So they have to do it year after year for people to get used to it."

(Keck) Just how much those incentives do or don’t do will be known next month.

For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck.


AP Photo/Toby Talbot

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