Local merchants begin to live
their nightmare before Christmas

Christmas might be coming early this year, thanks to the nation’s ongoing financial crisis.

Sunday's Child on Washington Street plans to sell Christmas items early. Store owner Lucia Owens knows she needs to offset slow sales resulting from the recent economic slump.
(CAMERON STEELE/Rockbridge Report)

Retailers in Lexington are advertising early, cutting back on seasonal hours and reducing inventory. They and others across the country face what economists have predicted to be the worst holiday sales season since 1991.

At the start of the month, Wal-Mart reduced prices on the 10 most-popular toys in an attempt to get a head start on the holiday season. And the halls of the local store will soon be pre-emptively decked with Christmas lights and inventory, said assistant manager Terrie Schiflett.

“Our Christmas will be set up by the 18th of October,” she said. “We are the largest retailer in the nation, but recent events like the bail-out have caused us to be cautious.”

For Schiflett, being cautious has meant that she and her fellow managers must cut both employee hours and inventory over the holidays. Schiflett said that cutting employee hours saves Wal-Mart from having to cut jobs. But she thinks making such changes early still won’t bolster Christmas profits nearly enough.

Big-name companies like Wal-Mart are not the only ones changing their expectations for the Christmas season. Smaller retailers throughout Lexington are under pressure to modify their sales plans, too.

Lucia Owens, owner of Sunday’s Child, a gift shop on Washington Street, said she has already begun to intersperse holiday items throughout the store.

“We started getting Christmas decorations and items in July in anticipation for a bad season,” Owens said. “But I still had to shrink my inventory.” Owens said she expects people to shop for Christmas and Hanukkah, but with a reduced budget.

Owens’ opinion is backed by recent reports conducted by retail market research and consulting companies. In September, TNS Retail Forward Inc. predicted that discount and dollar stores will make profits this holiday season as more consumers turn to bargain deals instead of high-end goods for gifts.

After reading reports similar to that one, Owens said, she made the necessary adjustments.

“I lowered my budget for spending for the entire fourth quarter, and I have not been stocking any high-end goods,” she said. Owens has kept most of her inventory within the $25 to $35 range.

The owner of a local cosmetic shop said she’s sticking to the same principle.

“I keep a good price range,” said Tracey Lackey, who owns Let’s Make Up.

Lackey is also the owner of Lexington’s only lingerie store, Intimate-U. The stores are located within a block of each other on Nelson Street, and Lackey attributes the success of both to the fact that she has never relied on high-end goods for the bulk of her sales.

But that’s not the case for Lexington retailers like Pumpkinseeds and George and Bob. Tom Lomax and his ex-wife Siobhan Gilbride, owners of the women’s clothing, home décor and shoe stores on Main Street and the men’s counterpart on Washington Street, have traditionally featured higher-end goods in their shops.

In the same TNS report last month, economists predicted that luxury and home-goods stores such as these would be the ones hardest hit this holiday season.

Lomax said that although any drop in sales they have experienced has been cushioned by catering primarily to Washington and Lee students, they are in the midst of brainstorming about how to enhance upcoming holiday sales.

“The problem is we buy [our clothes] six months in advance,” Lomax said. “Fortunately we … foresaw what might happen with the economy so we bought accordingly.” Lomax and Gilbride plan to combat the weak holiday season by featuring more lower-priced clothing than ever before.

But don’t expect to find any early promotional sales at Pumpkinseeds or its sister stores. Although Lomax thinks that the Christmas season will be slow, he doesn’t plan on having any sales before the holidays.

“We’ve never put clothes on sale before Christmas,” he said. “Right now we’re just watching and being cautious.” 




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