Shorter shopping season may help local retailers

Shoppers will have a little less time for Christmas shopping this year if they follow the tradition of waiting until Thanksgiving is over to begin checking their lists.

Thanksgiving fell unusually late this year, cutting the season to just four weeks. But that may be good for some local shops, as last-minute shopping tends to be in-person shopping.

“Consumers tend to spend more at local brick-and-mortar retailers when they are pressed for time, said Ellen Ford, a marketing communications specialist with the San Francisco-based firm Womply. “E-commerce is certainly convenient, but it has a shelf life. The closer we get to a major holiday, the less realistic it is as an option.”

That should hearten local stores, even though other prognosticators describe online shopping behavior as growing more prevalent all the time. A study by Leanplum, a multi-channel engagement platform, said 95 percent of consumers are choosing to do at least half their holiday shopping online this year.

Still, local stores and shopping malls expect to do a major portion of their business between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year as always.

“We’re the perfect place for a last-minute gift. No question about that,” said Mike Kauffman, general manager of Eastview Mall.

Christmas decorations, holiday music and personal service give shoppers an experience they just can’t have online, local retailers said. Not to mention the ability to sit on Santa’s lap, smell a hand-made candle and meet an author before you buy their book.

“The future success (of brick-and-mortar stores) relies on entertainment and experiential situations that online and the internet just don’t provide,” Kauffman said.

Brockport's Lift Bridge Book Shop
Brockport’s Lift Bridge Book Shop

Shoppers can probably find books much cheaper online, says Lift Bridge Book Shop co-owner John Bonczyk but they just can’t find the personal service that a real, live, independent bookstore provides. They can come into a store like Lift Bridge and ask the staff for help picking out a book that will please a 10-year-old boy they know, even though they don’t know what the boy is into or like to read, he said.

The selection in the store reflects his and co-owner Sarah Bonczyk’s understanding of what the local community wants, rather than what publishers are promoting.

“No one sent me a box of books and said, ‘Sell these.’ I went through a box of books and said, ‘This one, this one and this one,’” Bonczyk said.

Local stores build relationships, even with people who aren’t regulars, he said.

“I know their life story by the time they leave,” Bonczyk said. “We’re almost therapy for a lot of people. People are starving for that connection. Our goal is to be welcoming to whomever you are, whatever you’re bringing in.”

Nevertheless, Lift Bridge has struggled because of the loss of local school-district book contracts, he said, and the owners are hoping this holiday shopping season will be strong enough to remain in business.

The Christmas season indeed can be enough to ensure a business’ success. Kauffman said Eastview gets about 30 percent of its revenue between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, a period that represents less than 17 percent of the calendar.

“It’s the biggest season of the year. It’s the make-or-break season,” said Jean Westcott, owner of The Artful Gardener on Mt. Hope Avenue. “If I don’t have a good holiday season, I go into the new year in the red.”

Westcott said she starts ordering from artists in August the one-of-a-kind goods she’ll sell in November and December. Besides hand-crafted gifts, including pottery, jewelry and candles, she sells gardening accents and provides garden design services.

“There’s always going to be people who just want to sit behind their computer and order for ease. I make no attempts to compete with that,” Westcott said. “I try to deliver an experience destination … I just make sure what I have isn’t something people can look at and then price compare online.”

The experience includes a garden walk during the warmer months, and in the store the sound of a flowing fountain, a Pandora music selection, and the scent of burning candles.

“I pay attention to the details of packaging, making it really pretty,” she said. “Hopefully when people see this bag that says The Artful Gardener, they’ll get excited about what’s inside.”

Both Westcott and Bonczyk said they are concerned about the shopping season being a shorter one this year.

“Based on past numbers, I think it really affects the bottom line when it’s a shorter season,” Westcott said. “Last year was the longest holiday season I have experienced and my numbers were the best in the 10 years I’ve been here.”

Kauffman, on the other hand, believes the season just telescopes to meet the amount of time people have.

“History has shown that when you have the shorter season, it really doesn‘t have any impact on the whole. It gets a little more condensed,” Kauffman said.

Using economic conditions and historical patterns, the National Retail Federation is predicting consumers will increase their spending this year by 3.8 to 4.2 percent. But weather patterns can have a big impact, warns AccuWeather, which adds weather into the predictive mix. AccuWeather recently downgraded its shopping increase prediction from 3.8 percent to 3.6 percent. An unusually warm October followed by an unusually cold November has already disrupted late-in-the-year shopping, particularly for coats and other cold-weather gear, the weather company asserted.

“Our estimate of 3.6 percent still reflects a healthy growth – it is above the average of the past four years,” said AccuWeather Founder and CEO Joel N. Myers. The previous years saw annual boosts of 3.4 percent.

Westcott is just hoping there won’t be too much snow. A big storm can shut down access to her shop for a couple of days, she said.

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Sheriffs and security at Eastview Mall share safety tips, assistance

Outgoing Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero, other law enforcement officials and security staff at Eastview Mall shared some safety and security tips for senior citizens at the mall this week.

The annual holiday shopping safety event was paired with the monthly Seniors and Lawmen Together (SALT) program that Povero began more than two decades ago. The mall frequently hosts SALT, which provides an informational program, physical exercise and a chance for dialogue.

Many of the tips shared by sheriff’s deputies and mall security amounted to often-heard, common-sense advice, such as keeping valuables and packages out of sight in cars, parking in well-lit areas and double checking to make sure cars are locked.

Perhaps less known was information Lt. Al D’Agostino, head of security at Eastview Mall, shared with the seniors gathered for the program Tuesday morning. He said they can rely on mall security for help with a number of situations, such as finding a car when the driver has forgotten where it is, retrieving keys locked inside a car, providing a jump for a dead battery, and escorting shoppers to their cars whether it’s day or night.

“Don’t feel like you’re imposing on us. That’s what we’re here to do,” D’Agostino said. He said mall visitors who need help can just come to the mall’s security office or ask for someone to be summoned. The phone number for assistance is (585) 223-2930.

Two sheriff’s deputies are routinely stationed at the mall, and the number increases during the busy holiday season, said the mall’s general manager, Mike Kauffman.

Povero said the last four or five years have been record low years for car break-ins at Eastview, and other deputies urged elders to make sure they report any suspicious activity.

Kauffman said security staff frequently patrol the mall’s parking lots in cars during cold weather and on bicycles in the warm months.  The holidays don’t present any unusual safety and security challenges, he said, other than there are many more people visiting, including some who are unfamiliar with the mall and may need assistance because of that.

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New steakhouse coming to Eastview Mall

A Syracuse steakhouse has begun construction on its second location – the former Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano space at Eastview Mall in Victor.

Prime Steakhouse plans to open in late September or early October.

“We are looking forward to bringing a fresh new dining experience to the Rochester market. We hope to create an atmosphere where friends and family can enjoy exceptional service and superb appetizers, steaks and entrées,” said Dan Klamm, owner and partner in Prime Steakhouse.

“Being able to fill the Biaggi’s space so quickly with such a desirable tenant speaks volumes about the property, its appeal to potential tenants, and the mall’s future success,” said Mike Kauffman, general manager for the Ontario County mall. “A fine-dining steakhouse has been on our wish list for a while and we are looking forward to their opening this fall.”

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