Island retailers happy
Island retailers say they are mostly OK with the holiday sales numbers they’re seeing this year. Like their counterparts in other cities around the country, Island merchants are feeling the squeeze of the slowdown in the economy, the skyrocketing costs of fuel and the downturn in the real estate market.
"Things are a little soft for the holiday, to tell you the truth, but overall they’re OK," noted Barb Jaeger, who owns White Egret, Egret’s Nest and Egret’s Landing.
"The year is looking pretty good overall and we are looking forward to a strong season."
Nanette Almeter of Irene’s agreed.
"We’re off a little over last year, but we’re doing very well with our after-Christmas sales, so we should catch up and be doing not too badly for the year," Almeter said.
She noted that the sale of Christmas items like sweaters was off because of the balmy weather.
"We only do well with those when we have a cold snap," she said. "But other holiday items like jewelry and gifts did very well and we sold a lot of party clothes and dresses this year."
Almeter said she’s a realistic optimist, and when she sees that sales are down a little, she tries to figure out what’s going on.
"Is it the style?" she said she asks herself. "Is this something I need to do something about? Is it the economy? Spending does go way down in a tough economy, but if you keep an eye on things, you can adjust before you get into trouble."
At Chapae, Owner Pat Slusser said she was down just a little from last year, but not too much.
"Things seemed a little slower this season," she said. "Traffic is picking up, but we have a lot of people looking and not buying. Everyone’s being more careful with their money."
Slusser said she’s been in business for 10 years, and she’s seen ups and downs, but she wouldn’t trade what she’s doing for anything else.
"We are in paradise," she said. "And you have to expect some ups and downs."
Business at Time Saver was off a little from last year. Owner Mondher Kobrosly said it’s getting tough.
"Because of the cost of gas, delivery people are now charging," Kobrosly said. "We’ve never seen that, and when you have small shipments, the cost per each unit is high – especially for the little guys."
Kobrosly said that though his overall numbers are down a bit, he still feels lucky.
"We’re lucky to be on the Island," he said. "It’s unique here. People come for fun, and that does help. We might be down 7 percent or so, but look at other areas around Tampa Bay. In St. Pete, they’re down 30 to 40 percent. Same in Tampa. We’re just down a little bit, and people who live on the Island remain loyal to the Island businesses."
Hurricane Liquors is the only business to report seeing its numbers way up over last year, according to Manager Tim Reidy.
"It’s been a record breaking year!" he said. "Of course, we don’t have any numbers for last year, because we didn’t open until Dec. 17, 2006," he said with his usual Irish twinkle.
"Seriously though, we can hardly keep things on the shelf," he said. "A couple of times I was worried we’d run out of something, but it’s all worked out pretty well. And it’s been very consistent — wine, spirits and beer."
Reidy said he’s seeing a surge of after-Christmas business and he’s looking forward to a strong season.
Several other retailers are reporting respectable sales.
Ginny Dutton, of Ginny’s and Jane E.’s at the Old IGA, said she’s had a successful holiday season.
"It’s interesting. We’re even busier with the after Christmas business," Dutton said. "We’re about even with last December, and I think we may even be a little up overall for the year. I’ll have to see when I run the final numbers."
Joy LeRoy was another retailer who noticed business pick up after Christmas at Whistle Stop, the shop she and her husband own on East Bay Drive.
"We’re doing very well with our after-Christmas sales," she said. "I’m quite happy about our season. We’re looking to get in some new stock and put the older things on sale."
Overall, LeRoy thought her final numbers would be about even with last year’s or only slightly down."
"That’s sort of amazing when you think about how off other parts of the economy are,’ she said.
Darlene McNamara, owner of Garden Hut, also thinks her sales are down slightly.
"It’s not terrible, but we’re off slightly," she said. "When visitors come to the Island, they spend so much to stay somewhere, to eat and to fill up their gas tank, that the amount they have to spend in the shops is less than it has been, so we see that in reduced sales."
No one’s even considering throwing in the towel.
"You have some up years and some down years. This year is a little down, maybe, but certainly nothing dramatic," Almeter said. "As a retailer, it’s your job to adjust and to keep positive."