The Long Island shopping spirit suffered repeated blows this past holiday season, dashing many small retailers' hopes of robust sales.
While national chain stores reported solid holiday sales growth of 3.1 percent Thursday, the flurry of sales so many small retailers had hoped would rescue a sluggish year never materialized, independent shop owners said.
Superstorm Sandy began the pummeling by shortening the season and eating into consumers' budgets. The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that took 26 lives weighed heavily on shoppers' minds, and the uncertainty of the "fiscal cliff" debate tempered spending, local merchants and experts said.
"October, November and December we usually do very well and this year it didn't happen," said Florence Leniston, owner of Bubba Brown's Treasures, a Port Washington shop selling a mixture of old and new home decor, jewelry and other gift items. "You had to sympathize with a lot of people because they took a big loss with the hurricane. And then with all the news of Democrats fighting Republicans, people were afraid to spend money."
The holiday season for larger national chains rebounded in December, according to a report released by the International Council of Shopping Centers, a Manhattan-based trade association. Twenty major retail chains reported a 4.5 percent gain in year-over-year December sales for stores open at least a year. In November, the sales increase was 1.7 percent from the prior year.
"Those numbers could have looked so much better if the government didn't play hanky-panky with this fiscal cliff," the huge budget cuts and tax increases Congress partially resolved this week, said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for the NPD Group, a market research firm in Port Washington.
In the storm's immediate aftermath, many local retailers selling traditional holiday gift items lost several weeks of business.
"I know people like to say they didn't have much business for five or six days, but it was more like three to four weeks for Babylon," said Wally Levins, owner of Coastal Island Treasures and vice president of the Babylon Village Chamber of Commerce.
Although many small merchants said more customers made the effort to shop local, they were spending less money.
"A lot of people were buying for one individual [name] they got out of a hat instead of buying something for everyone," said Jean Ann Weller, co-owner of Jake's Island Outpost in Huntington, which sells the Life is Good brand.
"We didn't have those crazy days where you were trying to help three customers at a time," Leib said.