Local retailers are cautiously optimistic about holiday sales projections in spite of bleak national consumer sales expectations.
In early October, a Nielsen forecast projected a 1 percent decrease in consumer purchases, according to www.adweek.com. If correct, it would be the first decline since the recessionary fourth-quarter period of 1991.
At The Open Window in Gloversville, owner Bud Johnston said he was cautiously optimistic in looking forward to the holiday season.
The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen
Robin Gray hangs ornaments on a tree at Frog Hollow Mercantile in Gloversville Tuesday.
The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen
Patrick Duell works on a stained-glass piece at Adirondack Stained Glass Works in Gloversville Tuesday
Johnston said he had cut back on inventory when Frontier Communications' downtown office closed and would keep inventory in line with what it was last year.
"Our buying has shifted," Johnston said. "We've gone from seasonal Christmas decor to everyday core stock like chimes and candles."
Johnston said his emphasis is on year-round items in reaction to market pressure from holiday items at chain stores, and in reaction to customer preferences and feedback.
Johnston said one way to compete with on-line and mall shopping is to have a destination for shopping that makes the experience pleasant for customers.
"People want more choices," he said. "We try to provide a complete holiday shopping experience with music, coffee and the ambience of the season."
Johnston said the atmosphere, the uniqueness of his inventory and the variety of choices are part of the lure at his store.
Co-owner Shelly Johnston said customers who come into their store can get guidance in shopping for friends that they can't get online or in typical shopping malls.
She said in stocking inventory, they are less likely to take a chance on unknown items for sale as part of their caution about the holiday sales season.
At Dunday's clothing shop in Gloversville, Joe Gillis said his reaction to market trends includes being more price sensitive in buying and providing deeper discounts earlier in the season.
Gillis is cautiously optimistic about the coming season.
"My inventory is about the same as last year," Gillis said.
Gillis said next-day delivery is often available for items, something that hasn't been available for special orders in years past and a reflection of competition with on-line shopping.
"Special-order turnover is faster," Gillis said. "That's because the Internet business is growing."
Gillis said Internet business poses a growing threat to local retailers.
He said 50 percent off some stock items will be part of customer expectations.
At Adirondack Stained Glass Works in Gloversville, co-owner Patrick Duell said even though his stock tends to be somewhat specialized, an emphasis on lower-priced items is part of the inventory plan this year.
"All our stock are made here, not imported," Duell said.
He said he expects sales to be brisk because of the hand-made nature of the items for sale.
"People don't mind spending more for quality," Duell said.
He said the store will have its annual open house for preferred customers on Black Friday and he will better be able to gauge how the holiday sales season will go after that day.
In response to economic conditions, Duell said he tries to cut back on utilities and be more efficient with production.
A film crew from PBS-TV was filming at the store Tuesday as part of a program on Adirondack rustic items. Duell said he hopes a wider knowledge of the shop's hand-made items through the TV show will help sales.
Across the street at Rossbach Shoes, Charles Rossbach said his three-generation shoe store has some loyal followers, and he thought consumers often shop locally for value and price. He said saving money on fuel by staying local is a plus for shoppers.
"With fuel prices coming down, it will put more spendable income in people's pockets," he said. "Hopefully, they will use that for consumer goods."
Rossbach said sometimes it isn't a bad thing that the area doesn't always follow national trends.
Janis Inglis has opened Frog Hollow Mercantile on Main Street in Gloversville and is hopeful for a good season ahead.
"We offer a wonderful selection of quilts, table linens and gift ware and are currently stocked with a large selection of holiday items," Inglis said.
Frog Hollow is across the street from Castiglione Jewelers, about to turn 80 years old in February, said owner Lou Castiglione.
"We've found business to be very good so far this season," Castiglione said. "We are doing better than some other jewelers I've heard from."
Castiglione said it is hard to know the reasons for his good fortune, but said he believes delivering quality jewelry with good value is part of it.
"I'm pretty optimistic," Castiglione said. "The economy doesn't really seem to affect this area. Boom economies elsewhere seem to have more peaks and valleys."
Broadalbin Pharmacy owner Michael Julius said he's being cautious.
"I'm not purchasing as much [inventory] as last year," he said. "I'm expecting the season to be so-so."
In Johnstown, Adirondack Charm co-owner Aimee Ricciardi said she's hoping to keep sales at last year's levels by having different options for her customers.
"We've made up 700 $6 gift baskets already," Ricciardi said. "People need low-cost grab-bag gifts."
In Speculator, The Inn at Speculator owner Neil McGovern said one way he's trying to coax customers into the inn for dining is by offering dinner specials highlighting his 30-year ownership of the Inn.
"We're celebrating our ownership of the inn since 1979 by offering $19.79 four-course dinners," he said. "We're hoping this will get people out."
Northville's Adirondack Country Store owner Joyce Teshoney said she's optimistic about the season.
"We have a Christmas room all year," she said. "Many of our summer residents shop for Christmas while they are here in the summer."
Nationally, Nielsen's gloomy forecast is in line with a projection issued last month by TNS Retail Forward, which said total dollar sales during the holidays would climb an anemic 1.5 percent, the worst in 17 years.
The Nielsen forecast includes projected sales at food stores, drugstores, mass merchandisers and convenience stores, across 125 product categories tracked by the company.
"All consumer, economic and trade indications point to a flat-to-declining holiday selling season across the core categories that Nielsen tracks," said James Russo, vice president of food sector marketing at Nielsen.
The projected decline in holiday season sales, said Russo, "is directly tied to the current volatile economic environment, during which close to 33 percent of households across all income levels are projected to spend less this holiday season."
That projection comes from a Nielsen consumer household survey conducted during the third quarter of 2008.
Russo notes several trends that have emerged since the economy began its downturn earlier this year, including "trading down, whether from higher-end retailers and brands to value retailers and brands, or from vacations to 'staycations.'"
Russo said consumer decisions are falling into either necessary or discretionary spending and that at-home entertainment is resurgent. And, he said, "consumers are seeking and responding to value solutions, as evidenced by the reemergence of coupon activity as an effective promotional tool."
Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at email@example.com