Easter spending on the rise nationally, locally

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Easter is just around the corner, and consumers are ready to spend more than last year, according to a March survey from the National Retail Federation and sales at local stores. Candy, gift and apparel store owners in Colorado Springs said they are seeing the increase, in large part, because of the return of Fort Carson soldiers who served in Iraq.

The National Retail Federation Easter Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey found that 75.6 percent of Americans plan to celebrate Easter. Those consumers celebrating plan to spend an average of $107.17, up from $102.76 last year. In all, consumers are expected to spend $104.47 billion on Easter this year.

Survey results indicate that the apparel sector will continue to see increased sales, with the average consumer planning to spend $20.85 on clothing, second only to food, at $31.65. Americans also plan to spend $16.87 on gifts and $14.97 on candy. Flowers, decorations and greeting cards for Easter see average spending nationally of less than $10 per person.

In Colorado Springs, candy stores, gift shops and apparel retail outlets are reporting an increase in spending on Easter-related items. Many store owners said they are experiencing the effect of soldiers returning from Iraq with hazard pay and bonus money to spend. Last Easter, more than 10,000 soldiers had left the area, and many of their family members also left town, said Andy Michopoulos, president of Michelle’s restaurant and candy store.

This year, he said, many of the troops and their families have.

He said retailers are fortunate that the Christian and Eastern Orthodox Easters fall on the same day. In years that they don’t, he said, it is harder for him to track Easter sales.

Many of his restaurant customers also order personalized chocolate eggs and other candy items to fill Easter baskets. Some of the big sellers at Michelle’s include chocolate rabbits, chicks, ducks and cream-filled eggs. Jelly beans and Easter-egg-shaped bubble gum also are popular.

One of Michopoulos’ customers, Marti Dyer-Allison, said that every year she buys her two teenage sons each a No. 3 dark chocolate and a No. 3 milk chocolate egg.

“You’d think they would grow out of wanting Easter items,” Dyer-Allison said, “but I guess I’ve spoiled them, and they’ve come to expect them.”

Candy isn’t the only item people buy for Easter. Vivian Pena-Lopez, manager of Seabel’s gift store, said her customers purchase baskets, decorative items, hostess gifts, kids’ stuffed animals, candles and silk scarves and flowers.

“Food items, such as coffees, cookies, bread mixes, salsa and pasta also sell well as gifts for any occasion, including Easter,” Pena-Lopez said. “In addition, fashion jewelry such as pins, charms and bracelets sell well for adult Easter gifts.”

Pena-Lopez said many of the gifts her customers purchase for Easter are in the $20 range.

“I’m very upbeat about Easter sales this year,” Pena-Lopez said.

Ginny Wesley, owner of Mountain Moppets children’s clothing store in Old Colorado City, said she is optimistic and pleased with this year’s Easter sales as well.

“We always see a rise in clothing sales around the Easter season,” Wesley said. “This year is no exception. Moms, dads, grandmas, aunts and uncles are coming in to buy bright, colorful spring outfits for the little ones.”

Wesley said customers have purchased girls’ dresses as well as boys’ sweaters, vests and dress pants for Easter. Accessories such as hair bows, ties, jewelry and belts have been selling well at Mountain Moppets, too.

“Apparel sales are off to a great start this year all over the country. With continued consumer demand and appealing spring fashions, we expect Easter sales to build on that momentum,” said Phil Rist, vice president of strategy for the National Retail Federation, said,

Although women’s spending on Easter is expected to be virtually unchanged from last year, the National Retail Federation study found that spending by men is expected to jump more than 13 percent. More men than women are expected to purchase flowers, and the average man will spend more money on clothing than women. Last year, the same number of men and women purchased flowers, and women spent more on clothes.

Once again, Easter candy will be the most-purchased holiday item, with 86.6 percent of consumers planning to purchase chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, marshmallow chicks and other traditional holiday merchandise.

Also, four out of five consumers plan to purchase food for Easter, 61.9 percent will buy gifts, 53.3 percent will buy greeting cards and 42.2 percent will buy clothes.

- Jan.Mowle@csbj.com