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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Downtown shops report strong holiday sales

NASHUA – Local business owners were happy to awake this week to a white Christmas. But, earlier in the month, less white meant more green, according to business owners across the region.

Mild weather, along with an extended shopping calendar, combined to make this holiday season a strong one, business owners and managers said this week. The lack of snowfall encouraged customers to hit the stores early and often, owners said. And, with Thanksgiving falling earlier in the season, shoppers found extra time to spread the shopping, and the spending cheer. ...

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NASHUA – Local business owners were happy to awake this week to a white Christmas. But, earlier in the month, less white meant more green, according to business owners across the region.

Mild weather, along with an extended shopping calendar, combined to make this holiday season a strong one, business owners and managers said this week. The lack of snowfall encouraged customers to hit the stores early and often, owners said. And, with Thanksgiving falling earlier in the season, shoppers found extra time to spread the shopping, and the spending cheer.

“We were very fortunate. ... This was a great season for us,” said Phil Scontsas, owner of Scontsas Fine Jewelry on Main Street, which saw an uptick in sales throughout December.

“We had a great weather season, and the calendar was with us this year,” Scontsas said Wednesday. “All the stars lined up for us.”

At the jewelry store, December typically make up about 20 percent of the store’s annual sales, and, an initial estimate shows numbers stronger than expected, Scontsas said.

The same can be said for businesses throughout the community, many of which saw strong numbers throughout the holiday season.

The season started early this year, with Black Friday falling on Nov. 23. And business leaders quickly followed with Small Business Saturday, a local shopping initiative, launched by American Express, to promote local business.

The program not only brought more customers to downtown Nashua, but set a tone for shopping local that lasted through the holiday.

“A lot of local business owners really try to help each other, promote each other,” said Svetlana Yanushkevich, owner of WineNot Boutique, which saw increased sales over last year, in part because of the local efforts.

“It really gets people thinking about local business,” she said. “That helps a lot.”

Not all the business stayed local. Thousands of shoppers, both in-state and out, flocked to the new Merrimack Premium Outlets center, which opened in September. And the Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua saw a strong season as well, according to Jenna Coccimiglio, the mall’s director of marketing.

“We really got off on a great foot with a booming Black Friday weekend,” she said. “After that, we had a steady stream of shoppers throughout the entire season.”

The shopping centers may have drawn some customers from local businesses, owners said.

“I think that was part of it. Some people were heading up to the new outlet mall,” said Dick Avard, owner of Dick Avard’s Habardashery, a clothing shop on Main Street, which suffered a slow season.

But other business owners believe the new shopping center benefited local shops, drawing more traffic to the area.

“Honestly, I think it helped,” said Chris Fokas, co-owner of Martha’s Exchange on Main Street. “People will go shopping at the outlets, then stop in Nashua for a meal or the boutique shopping experience. … They saw what downtown had to offer.”

The holiday season marked the end of a strong year at Martha’s, which saw an estimated 17 percent increase over last year, Fokas said. Still, the news wasn’t as good for businesses elsewhere in the country.

Toward the end of the month, the tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn., coupled with the ongoing spending negotiations in Washington, D.C., tempered some shoppers’ enthusiasm and chased them from the stores, some owners said.

“I felt that things were going to be good. It started out that way,” Avard said. “Then, bingo, next thing you know, it hits. … People are very concerned about us going into a recession. … I can’t blame them.”

Avard’s experience mirrors that of other business owners across the country. A recent report by Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks spending, shows that holiday sales of electronics, clothing, jewelry and home goods increased just 0.7 percent over last year in the two months before Christmas – much lower than expected, according to the Associated Press.

But, with the holiday season nearly passed, local business owners remain pleased with their results, and looking forward, they see even more room for growth in 2013.

“I’m very optimistic. It feels like consumer confidence is a little up. People seem to happy to be out shopping,” Fokas said.

“Are (shoppers) quite as confident as they were 10 years ago? Possibly not,” Scontsas said. “But, I think they’re more confident than they were a year ago. … It’s a long year and, at the end, they’re going to reward themselves.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com.
Also, follow Berry on Twitter (Telegraph_JakeB).