Ho, ho, ho-liday shopping helps local businesses


BRATTLEBORO -- Santa's workshop wasn't the only place busy in December.

Countless local businesses, still recovering from a worldwide economic collapse about six years ago, were working hard to capitalize on the holiday shopping season and many saw a significant spike in sales in recent weeks. The time immediately following Thanksgiving Day is typically the most hectic for businesses, as people across the country scramble to get the perfect holiday gifts for their loved ones.

Pal Borofsky, who co-owns Sam's Outdoor Outfitters with his son Brad, told the Reformer the shopping season was quite successful for his chain of businesses. There are locations in Brattleboro, Keene, N.H., and Hadley, Mass.

"The snow and cold weather made all the difference in the world," Borofsky said behind his work desk in his office at 74 Main St. "We carry everything. When you get cold you need base-layer underwear, you have to have hats, gloves, jackets, sweaters, coats."

He said it helped that most of his inventory consists of things people need -- and not just want. He said this holiday shopping season was "quite a bit better" than last year and that Sam's, which has been in his family since 1932, has seen "a super year" in general. Borofsky said the worst years were 2011, when Tropical Storm Irene struck, and 2012, when everyone in the state was still recuperating. He said the Brattleboro store lost most of its footwear merchandise due to flooding from the storm and its warehouse was filled with water.

Twice Upon A Time, an antiques and collectibles store across the street from Sam's, was busy in the run-up to Christmas, as people stopped in to purchase trinkets from yesteryear.

"It was good. We had a couple of slow days because of the weather -- we're pretty weather-dependent -- but otherwise it was a very good Christmas holiday," said Randi Crouse, who has owned the business for the past 27 years. "A lot of people tell me the reason they come here is to find the odd and unusual. And they feel good about it because it's kind of like recycling when they buy something."

Greg Worden owns the building on Main Street that now houses Kitchen Sync, a tuxedo store and Vermont Artisan Designs (along with Gallery 2). He told the Reformer he won't know how successful the shopping season was until he calculates all the numbers, but said it was always pretty steady, though some time was lost due to the late Thanksgiving. He said the monetary figures should be similar to last year's.

"I'm just grateful people are out and about," he said in Gallery 2, standing next to some pieces made by contemporary glass artist Josh Simpson. Worden also said the restoration of the Brooks House, which was severely damaged in a fire in April 2011, a few months before Tropical Storm Irene hit, will bring more people to Brattleboro's downtown.

According to Reuters, heavy discounting and increased promotions helped increase sales in the United States this holiday season. Sales between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 rose 2.3 percent, compared to 0.7 percent a year earlier. The sales growth was reportedly the highest in three years.

Nancy Logan, owner of Wilmington Candle Company, said the shopping season was "just OK" for her business. Wilmington was devastated by Irene and town officials have been fighting with FEMA to be reimbursed for repair work.

The Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance (BFDDA), which aims to boost the village's economy through new enterprises, hosted a "Shop Local" campaign as a way to bring buyers into The Square. Promotions and deals were offered as incentive for village residents to buy their holidays gifts at small businesses.

Pat Fowler, the president of BFDDA and owner of Village Square Booksellers, said her business saw a good December.

"Our ‘Shop Local' program really seems to work, really seems to resonate with our customers and they make a big effort to come downtown," she said Friday. "And we had a couple of good events."

Fowler said was of the events was a Ladies Night in which all women shopping her store on a certain day got a discount.

"We're all in it together. We all have to survive together. It really takes a concentrated effort by the businesses downtown to keeping things going. And it's nice to feel appreciated by our customers," she said.

The "Shop Local" campaign, Fowler said, lasts through Dec. 31 and, as part of it, various area businesses offer a card people can fill out for a chance to fill more than 100 different prizes if they purchase at least $250 of items. Fowler said this year has been slower than 2012, but thinks it is likely an industry problem, as there have not been many must-have books published recently. She said series such as "Harry Potter" and "The Hunger Games" are way past their prime.

The Windham Antique Center has been breaking revenue records since it opened almost two years ago. Owner Michael Bruno said this holiday shopping season shot sales up past last year's mark.

"Having less time between holidays this year seemed to create a last-minute rush," he told the Reformer.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.


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