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January 3, 2013

Retailers: Holiday season a good one

By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star

---- — Marketing efforts aimed at persuading Americans that the 2012 holiday buying season starts somewhere around Halloween don’t appear to be making much headway, regional retailers and business advocates said Wednesday.

“I think Black Friday will always be the traditional kickoff,” Southside Mall general manager Luisa Montanti said. “But for the past three to four years, I’ve just seen that trend that shoppers are still shopping the last week before Christmas. They’re consistently picking up a few items here and there throughout the month of December, but many of them are still focusing on that last big rush the week before.”

Scott McLaughlin, president of McLaughlin’s, which has stores in Oneonta and Norwich, said his sales numbers for the season mirrored that trend.

“We had a really good Black Friday weekend,” he said. “Sales kind of died off the two weeks after that, but basically finished the holiday season above last year’s.”

Overall, retailers and regional business advocates were optimistic that final sales figures would show the 2012 holiday season was at least as good and probably better than the 2011 season.

“All in all, at least in Oneonta, it was a good holiday season for us,” McLaughlin said.

Mary Beth Silano, executive director of the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, said she thought final sales numbers would show gains there, too.

“I haven’t heard back yet from the retailers,” she said. “I can only go from what I saw. I think the main streets were busier. I think more people were buying locally. They were trying to really do due diligence in buying items locally.”

“I think people can’t handle the crowds,” she added. “The holidays become so commercialized; they’re looking more to downscale. The economy, of course, isn’t that great, so I think staying closer to home helps everybody all around.”

But she said it wasn’t just the stores that seemed to be doing bigger business.

“All in all, I think the restaurants were busier,” she said.

For Southside in Oneonta, it appeared to be an excellent season, Montanti said.

“I haven’t spoken to every single store tenant,” she said. “Of the ones I have spoken to, they ranked within the top numbers in their district or No. 2 in their district.”

Those stores “definitely showed increases comparative to last year’s sales for the whole season,” she said.

Ed Lorenz, of Otsego Bicycles and a former partner in Sport Tech in Oneonta, didn’t have a 2011 benchmark against which he could compare sales because he opened in November.

“All things considered, I think (the season went) fairly well,” he said.

“Sport Tech closed up, and then I reopened this place about Thanksgiving, so it takes awhile to get the word out,” he added. “But I think the word is getting out among the cycling community that I am here again. And also people with ski work to be done — ski tuning and that kind of work.”

Lorenz said that in addition to selling bicycles as holiday presents, “helmets and clothing were probably two big sellers this year.”

Barbara Ann Heegan, executive director of the Otsego County Chamber, said she also noticed more traffic in downtown.

She said she spent some time at the recently opened Shops at Ford and Main.

“And I thought that they were pleased with the people shopping downtown,” she said of its tenants.