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Staff photo by Don Himsel

Noel Bishop sells glassware at the Steez Gallery on West Pearl Street in Nashua.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Downtown Nashua, area merchants hopeful for ’12

Most of the time, holding your own or doing OK aren’t exactly the kinds of assessments that corporate bosses, no matter how big or small their company, want to hear around the boardroom during year-end budget analyses.

But these days, the same reports that may once have triggered a loud fist-pound on the mahogany are more likely to bring a sigh of relief, maybe even a bit of cautious optimism that 2012 may, at last, feature a kinder, gentler first quarter.

On the local level, owners of several small and mid-size businesses concur that while 2011 certainly won’t be remembered as a good or even decent year on the final spread sheets, a generally better-than-expected holiday season left most with a good feeling going into the new year.

“We had a very active Christmas season. The numbers were good,” Philip Scontsas, owner of Scontsas Fine Jewelry and Home Decor, said last week. “Which was very good news, because fall was on the quiet side for us, and we didn’t know what to expect.”

Scontsas said he and other Nashua downtown merchants he’s spoken with are buoyed by what they’ve been hearing lately from shoppers. “More people are saying, ‘If I can (buy it) locally, I will,’” he said. “It helps us stay positive, which can be hard at times, but is very important.”

Sy Mahfuz, owner of Persian Rug Galleries, said his Main Street business had a “good year. Not a great year, but a good year.” He has a positive outlook for 2012.

Aside from the fact that other rug companies went out of business, Mahfuz senses consumers are prepared to finally make purchases they’ve delayed during the long recession.

“I want to believe,” Mahfuz said. People seem ready to “dig into their pockets to buy something new: a rug, a TV set or a movie. I’m optimistic. I think this coming year will be a good year. It’s an election year, and historically, they’re better.”

Christmas sales went well for The Steez Gallery, especially in the weeks prior to the holiday, said Alexa Bullock, who owns the West Pearl Street art gallery along with her husband, Noel Bishop.

Aside from customers who came with a purpose, Bullock was grateful to benefit from the increased foot traffic downtown as Christmas approached.

Bullock said she didn’t hear customers saying they preferred to shop in a smaller downtown store over a crowded mall, probably because the gallery offers artwork not typically found in a larger store.

“Every month just keeps getting better for us,” Bullock said. “We hope this year will be better. We are generating a buzz.” The gallery opened in spring 2010.

This past year, Mary Lou Blaisdell “reinvented” her downtown women’s attire store Design Wears to appeal to a wider range of shoppers, she said. The gift line became more cost conscious to fit in with the clothing end, she said.

“People are cautious on how they spend their money,” Blaisdell said. “They want the best thing they can get for their dollar. But I also do see people shopping a little bit again.”

Based on a strong December sales month and optimism, Blaisdell said 2012 should be a good year. “We can only go up from here,” she said.

Out in Milford, the same kind of personal service and “service after the sale” philosophy has been a major reason County Stores and its affiliates The Engine House, Milford Paint and Toyland have been weathering the economic storm pretty well, Milford Paint owner George Infanti said.

“Our contractor business, which is about 30 percent of our business, was down this year; less building means less demand,” Infanti said of Milford Paint. “But overall, I’d say we had a pretty good year.”

Toyland “held its own,” while County Stores, which his brother Jim Infanti runs, did well and The Engine House, its small-engine sales and service spinoff, “did quite well,” Infanti said.

“No question the crazy weather helped them,” he said of the surprise October snowstorm, which sent contractors and homeowners alike scrambling to County Stores for supplies and The Engine House for snowblower and generator sales and service.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 31 or Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-6528 or