Retailers celebrate merry shopping season

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No one has official numbers yet, but Colorado Springs retailers from big to small say they believe they had their best holiday shopping season in years.

“Our staff with over five years of history here at the mall believe this was the best traffic they had seen,” said Victoria Harley, general manager at Chapel Hills Mall. “The parking lots were full day after day. The general traffic was heavy and most shoppers were carrying bags — always a great indication of sales.”

After talking with retailers, managers at all three major shopping centers, along with downtown and Old Colorado City retailers, said sales seemed to be up and it was a successful holiday season — certainly better than past years.

That anecdotal optimism is in sharp contrast to national headlines claiming this could have been the worst holiday shopping season for retailers since 2008. MasterCard’s Spending Pulse reported that spending was up 0.7 percent over 2011, a much smaller increase than analysts predicted and much smaller than the 2 percent growth retailers saw in 2011.

Good sales at local centers

It will likely be a month before local retailers have hard figures, but no one seemed disappointed.

“Our retailers did really well,” said Jill Lais, marketing director for The Citadel. “We had an extra weekend before Christmas this year, which was helpful.”

She said most of the retailers she talked to in the mall said their sales were up. Some had significant gains and others said they suspected they had moderate gains, but she didn’t hear anyone complaining of losses.

“Last year some of the stores had some big days to go up against and they might not have beaten those goals,” Lais said. “But they did well overall.”

Jennifer Crowley, general manager for the Promenade Shops at Briargate, said her retailers all had positive anecdotal reports though she won’t have hard figures until February.

“Most of the store managers said they felt much busier this year,” Crowley said.

And the outdoor center’s 1,500 parking spaces seemed to be constantly filled, she said.

“The little bit of snow we got the week before Christmas pushed people and got them into the Christmas spirit a little more,” Crowley said. “I thought it was interesting for an outdoor center for retailers to say the snow helped them.”

She said sales were up 8 percent in 2011, much higher than the 2 percent national increase.

“So, I’m curious to see what it is this year,” she said.

Smaller centers also busy

While shopping centers had positive news, so did smaller local retail centers.

“I think it was a lot busier downtown this year,” said Amy Christensen, Terra Verde store manager. “I saw a lot more traffic.”

At her store, she noticed a difference as well. While the store doesn’t usually analyze the numbers until after the holiday dust settles, she’s confident sales were up over 2011 figures. She said the early part of the season was tracking in line with 2011. But the last week before Christmas was a busy one.

It’s hard to say where the growth might be coming from — if it’s increased in-store marketing, events and promotions that have brought more people downtown to shop than in the past or simply an improved economy.

The store has a new marketing director, Christensen said, and she’s been aggressively promoting the store.

“I think there have been more people downtown, too,” she said. “There have been some good events that have brought people downtown.”

One of the biggest was the Downtown Stroll, which paired local restaurants with some of the shops on a Wednesday evening in early December when the ice skating rink was set up in Acacia Park.

Sam Eppley, who owns Sparrow Hawk Cookware and serves as the president of the Downtown Partnership board of directors, said he felt like it was a great year for downtown retailers.

“I thought it was an excellent season,” he said. “Sales were definitely up.”

He credits better marketing for downtown and small businesses in general along with improved confidence and increased certainty.

“I think the people who have jobs feel a little more certainty about them,” he said. “All you hear about are the people who are unemployed, not the vast majority who are.”

The success downtown spread to small businesses in Old Colorado City as well, said Dave Van Ness, executive director of the Old Colorado City Merchants Association. Shop owners there told him they thought sales were up 5 to 10 percent over 2011 holiday figures.

The two biggest days for retailers there were the Saturday before Christmas and Small Business Saturday, Van Ness said.

Again, he’s not sure if an improved economy drove people to the little local shops, a changing awareness about shopping locally or increased advertising for Old Colorado City.

He said the merchants association spent about 20 percent more on holiday advertisement in 2012 than it did in 2011 because it had more money after a very successful Territory Days in the summer. The association also has a new webpage and stronger social media presence.

Whatever it was, there were definitely more people in Old Colorado City this year. Whether they were buying or not, they were getting their pictures taken with Santa Claus. People waited two and a half hours for an audience with jolly old fella, Van Ness said.

He said 700 people had pictures with Santa in 2011. That shot up to 1,100 this holiday season.

“On the whole, most everybody was up,” Van Ness said.