SHERIDAN — A hindsight view of this year’s holiday shopping season yielded a last-minute rush amid shaky consumer confidence. In some ways, Sheridan’s shoppers are a reflection of a nationwide trend, though the community is still showing its conservative roots.
The holiday shopping season was the shortest in 11 years. For businesses that generally rely on the Christmas season to generate anywhere between 20 and 40 percent of annual revenue, competition was stiff. In spite of major retailers rolling out Black Friday sales a whole day early, Sheridan retailers reported that this year’s consumer rush was a last-minute endeavor.
Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce Director of Marketing and Communications Meredith Sopko did a preliminary survey of about a dozen different local businesses, and said this year’s emerging trend was procrastination.
“Several of them said it started out slow,” she said, pointing to the fact Thanksgiving occurred later in the year. “People came in and were late purchasers.”
That aside, Sopko said most “mom and pop” retailers reported a positive holiday season, either equal to or above last year’s performance.
Sopko said a full picture of this year’s local retail efforts is still being compiled on a case-by-case basis.
“The overall feeling is sales are good,” she said, indicating the same holds true across a diverse cross-section of retail sectors.
Owner of Roosters Michele Halseide said this year she felt like she was up against not only bigger corporate retailers, but also online vendors. She said that over the course of her 13 years managing her gift shop and toy store, she’s had to continually change up her floor space and product mix to stay competitive. She said staying in play means appealing to a broad range of shoppers, and the game is even tougher when faced with a slow-healing recession.
“Four years ago, when things started tanking, we stayed pretty flat,” Halseide said, indicating not much has changed for her since then. “Christmas was strong, but it wasn’t the good ol’ days at all.”
“People are scared here,” Halseide said, indicating dire economic reports cause Sheridan’s consumers to be wary when opening their wallets.
“We saw that trend and said, ‘OK, we’re going to bring in things on a price point that is manageable.
“I did not bring in expensive jewelry this year,” Halseide said. “I brought in a ton of stuff between $10 and $15, and that’s what sold — not the $70 necklace.
“I think that is indicative to me that things are not strong here at all, mostly because of fear. People are uncertain what their budgets are going to look like, especially with health care,” she added.
“I think we’re kind of bracing for maybe another six months of slow sales before things start to improve,” she said.
Despite iffy spending, Halseide said she did see a 21 percent increase in her gift sales right before Christmas, and her jewelry sales jumped more than 90 percent. That, she said, was an exchange for sluggish movement of her everyday staples.
“I think Sheridan is in a difficult position from the standpoint that has nothing to do with politics or even our local economy per se,” Halseide said.
“At Christmas time, we’re up against the online sales.”
Halseide’s observation might not be too far off of target. An unexpected, last-minute surge in online sales backed up Christmas Day deliveries for Fed Ex and United Parcel Service packages around the nation. In this way, local retailers joined a collective trend of scrambling in the days leading up to Christmas.
Halseide said small town shoppers tend to harbor a perception that the best bargains can be found online, and she constantly finds herself combating that myth in addition to striving to deliver unparalleled client services.
“I don’t know that people really get it that when they shop locally, they’re supporting families and people here,” she said. “As a small town, that needs to be a constant theme.”
Amid the aftermath of gift returns and deep discounts on festive decorations that are quickly becoming seasonally irrelevant, the New Year brings with it an opportunity for local retailers to engage in economic introspection. Some who stayed afloat this year see it as a silver lining to financial recovery. Others see it as too little, too late.
There are now 358 shopping days until Christmas.