Whickerbill Gifts closes after 49 years downtown

Filed under: Retail |

Downtown is losing yet another historical shop. John Eastham, owner of Whickerbill Gifts at 214½ N. Tejon, is preparing for a final liquidation of his 49-year-old gift store.

Everything in the store will be on sale next week as he prepares to close the doors on a lifetime of memories. Eastham said he is ready to retire and because of his history with the store he wanted the business to end with him.

“We’ve had wonderful support from the community all the years I’ve been here,” he said.

Eastham started the store after traveling throughout Europe while in the Air Force. The gift shop first featured Scandinavian items. During the late ’60s Eastham added kitchen items, local pottery and crafts, and Japanese pottery.

“I think our customers like the variety,” he said.

Most of the shop’s business is local, he said, but tourists do stop in. “They call us from all over the country,” he said. “We do a lot of shipping. Tourists keep our card and call back.

“A lot of customers and store owners have said they are sorry we are leaving, it’s very gratifying.”

As soda sales decline, bottled tea sales soar

Arizona Beverage Co., based in Lake Success, N.Y., is a leader in the flourishing business of ready-to-drink tea. With sales topping $600 million last year, founder Don Vultaggio’s idea has proven to be a surprise hit.

With a 36-percent share of the retail market for ready-to-drink tea during the first quarter of this year, Arizona took the lead over products from some of the biggest multinational conglomerates in the beverage business, according to the trade publication Beverage Digest.

They include Lipton, made by PepsiCo and Unilever; Snapple, made by Cadbury-Schweppes; and Nestea, made by Coca-Cola and Nestlé. Arizona holds second place behind Lipton in total market, which includes sales from vending machines and fast food outlets, places that Arizona doesn’t distribute.

Arizona’s lead is getting wider. Sales have increased 48 percent during each of the last two years, the company said. Consumers have embraced tea because of a perception that it’s a healthy drink.

Arizona does use natural ingredients, but one of those is high-fructose corn syrup, which is laden with calories. As a result, a 20-ounce bottle of Arizona’s Lemon Iced Tea packs 225 calories and 60 grams of sugar.

That’s almost as much as the same size bottle of Pepsi, which contains 250 calories and 70 grams of sugar. Arizona’s diet versions use the artificial sweetener Splenda.

Meanwhile, the reputation of soda is suffering. Last year, sales of soda declined for the first time in two decades, falling 0.7 percent.

Mark Kirkland Studio gets new location

Mark Kirkland has moved his photography studio to Palmer Lake, to allow him to better serve his clients in surrounding communities.

Built from the ground up as a photography studio, the new location includes space for Kirkland’s wildlife photography and for photography lessons and Photoshop classes. “Teaching and mentoring are among my favorite things to do,” Kirkland said. “I love being able to give back.”

Kirkland also is the owner of 1 Day in Life Photography, executive director and co-founder of Peak Digital Imaging Society and vice president of Professional Photographers Guild of Colorado Springs.

Retail industry sales spending slows in June

According to the National Retail Federation, industry sales for June (which exclude automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) rose 6.7 percent compared to last year and increased 0.2 percent when seasonally adjusted compared to May.

June retail sales figures released by the U.S. Commerce Department show that total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants) increased 6.2 percent unadjusted year-over-year and decreased 0.2 percent seasonally adjusted compared to May.

While industry-related sales paint a somewhat brighter picture than the commerce numbers, they still represent a slight slowing in consumer spending. Year-over-year increases remain strong, but month-to-month gains appear flat.

Health and personal care stores showed strong gains, increasing 8.6 percent unadjusted from last year, rising 0.7 percent seasonally adjusted compared to May. Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores also showed robust growth, increasing 11.3 percent unadjusted from last June, while increasing 0.4 percent seasonally adjusted from the previous month.

Clothing and clothing accessories stores, benefiting from the summer heat, rose 5.9 percent unadjusted from a year ago, while only increasing 0.3 percent from May. Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers showed steady growth, up 8.4 percent unadjusted from last June. However, seasonally adjusted comparisons from the previous month showed a 1 percent decline.

Despite a slowing housing market, furniture and home furnishings stores remain healthy with a 10.4 percent increase in sales unadjusted from last year and 1.3 percent seasonally adjusted increase month-to-month.

Joan Johnson covers retail for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.