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Local retailers anticipate a strong holiday shopping season

A holiday display is all decked out at

A holiday display is all decked out at Hicks Nurseries in Westbury on Oct. 20. Credit: Bryan Bennett

Kerry DiSalvatore carried plush Santa and Mrs. Claus dolls out of Marshalls on Wednesday that were so large they almost obscured her face.

She also carried two Annalee dolls in her bag as she left the discount store in Gateway Plaza in Patchogue, where she lives.

The dolls were Christmas gifts she purchased on her first day of holiday shopping, more than two months ahead.

“If I see something, I do [buy early], or if I know someone I want to get it for,” said DiSalvatore, 60.

Long Island retailers are already gearing up for what they expect to be a very strong holiday shopping season this year. They anticipate holiday spending will be buoyed by healthy consumer confidence, and by a low local unemployment rate of 3.3 percent — the lowest since 2007, according to the New York State Department of Labor.

The so-called “retail apocalypse,” in part due to online competition from Amazon and others, has brought multiple chain-store bankruptcies nationwide in recent years, including Sears, Toys R Us and Mattress Firm.

There were 7,087 U.S. major store closings announced last year — a record — and 4,612 closings have been announced so far this year, according to Coresight Research Inc., a Manhattan-based retail analysis provider. In contrast, 2,122 major store closings were announced in 2016.

In some cases, local retailers face less brick-and-mortar competition as national chains close stores.

Retailers can expect to fare better on Long Island than in most other places across the country, said Marshal Cohen, a retail industry expert at the NPD Group, a market research firm based in Port Washington.

“We spend more than the average person. We earn more than the average person. And we live a lifestyle that caters to that,” he said.

“Christmas creep,” the effort to lure holiday shoppers earlier and earlier, has been going on for years, and more shoppers are partaking, even though they will not spend any more money — they’ll just spread out the shopping over more days, Cohen said.

Most holiday shoppers, 60 percent, will still wait until at least November to start buying gifts this year, according to a survey of 7,313 adult consumers from the National Retail Federation, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group. The federation is projecting national retail sales in November and December to increase between 4.3 percent and 4.8 percent — or to between $717.45 billion and $720.89 billion — over sales in that period last year.

Cohen’s projections are more modest, as he expects sales to rise nationally between 3.5 percent and 3.8 percent, but Long Island runs about a percentage point higher than the national average, he said.

Consumers nationwide are planning to spend an average of $846 on gifts this holiday season, up 14 percent from last year, according to a survey from Experian, a consumer credit reporting agency whose North American headquarters is in Costa Mesa, California.

‘I don’t see it slowing down’

The troubles at Mattress Firm and Sears, both of which filed for bankruptcy protection this month and said they would close up to 842 stores combined, have boosted sales at Farmingdale-based P.C. Richard & Son, an electronics and appliance chain that also sells mattresses.

Those higher sales will flow into holiday shopping, said Gregg Richard, president of the chain, which has 66 stores in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

“I don’t see it slowing down at all,” Richard said.

Twice a year for about the last 10 years, P.C. Richard holds an employee-pricing period, when customers can buy appliances at employee discounts of 10 percent to 40 percent off, Richard said. It usually starts the last week of October, but the promotion was moved up to Oct. 13 because of the Sears store closings, he said.

Other positives for the holiday season include increasing consumer confidence and the introduction of a smart-home products category at the chain’s stores, Richard said.

Norwalk, Connecticut-based grocery chain Stew Leonard’s, which has six stores, opened a Farmingdale location in January 2016 and an East Meadow store in August 2017.

The grocer typically rings up 25 percent more sales in December than in other months, and most sales come in the last two weeks of the month, said Dan Arthur, president of the Long Island stores.

“I think we’re going to do better. This is our second full year on Long Island,” he said.

The chain’s holiday season kickoff is in the middle of November, when it offers Thanksgiving-related promotions, as consumers begin shopping for their holiday feasts.

Stew Leonard’s sells Christmas trees, wreaths and other holiday decorations, but most of that is put out after Thanksgiving.

Keeping up

This year, the percentage of holiday shoppers that will buy online, 55 percent, will equal the share that will make purchases in department stores, the National Retail Federation said. Discount stores will get 51 percent of holiday shoppers.

Brick-and-mortar retailers are pushing convenience and their online shopping amenities this holiday season.

On Tuesday, Walmart announced it was expanding its free two-day shipping eligibility to millions of additional products from third-party sellers on Walmart.com. There is no membership requirement, but the orders still must cost more than $35. The retailer also is now allowing eligible items purchased from third-party sellers to be returned in Walmart stores.

“The improvements will begin to roll out this November, just in time for the holiday season,” the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer said in a statement.

Target wasn’t far behind.

“This holiday season, for the first time, the retailer will offer free two-day shipping to all guests on hundreds of thousands of items, beginning Nov. 1, with no minimum purchase or membership required,” Minneapolis-based Target Corp. announced Tuesday. The promotion will end Dec. 22.

Not everyone is rushing to use the newest technology to drive sales.

Huntington-based specialty toy retailer Little Switzerland Dolls, a 38-year-old business that is part of an 81-store cooperative, does not sell much merchandise online, and it carries classic toys, such as Madame Alexander dolls and rocking horses, owner Lily Bergh said.

It offers a high level of service, such as gift-wrapping and home delivery of large play kitchens and dollhouses, she said.

“I think a lot of it is repeat business for me,” Bergh said.

Toys R Us was never really big competition for the store, but she still expects to see a boost in foot traffic in December, the busiest month of the year for her, because of last summer’s demise of the nation’s largest toy chain, she said.

At Hicks Nurseries, a family-owned garden center in Westbury, springtime is when business blooms, but the retailer pulls in 10 percent to 12 percent of its sales during December, said Vincent Scavone, retail general manager.

Its Christmas Gallery, which includes ornaments, lights, collectible figurines, Christmas trees and other items, is started in September and expanded after Halloween. Santa will be on hand for photos from the Friday after Thanksgiving until Dec. 23.

Despite the competition from online retailers, Hicks does not have online sales.

“I think it’s something we’re thinking about,” but because of the traditional family visits for the popular fall festival and photos with Santa, it has focused on improving the in-store experience, Scavone said.

Strong holiday sales will be somewhat of a double-edged sword for consumers this year, Cohen said.

It will mean the deep discounts won’t be as plentiful as they have been in recent years, as retailers have gotten better at controlling their inventory and offering products that are actually desired, Cohen said.

Also, with Christmas falling on a Tuesday this year, it will give extra shopping days over the weekend, unlike last year, when Christmas fell on a Monday and people traveled to visit friends and family on Saturday and Sunday before the holiday, he said.

The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, will again reign as the biggest day for store foot traffic, but for daily spending, Black Friday will fall second to Dec. 22, the Saturday before Christmas, which has been nicknamed Super Saturday, according to RetailNext, a San Jose, California-based retail analytics company that tracks foot traffic.

All ruffles will be fluffed and ribbons will be tied when Tutti opens its doors on Black Friday.

The high-end children’s clothing boutique in Greenvale will kick off its holiday shopping season the day after Thanksgiving with special gift boxes for shoppers to fill with their selections, said Christina Connelly, who founded Tutti in Manhattan in 1990 and now owns just the Long Island location.

The Greenvale store will have on display its full stock of shirts bearing Hanukkah and Christmas themes, as well as other seasonal gift items.

December is the busiest month of the year for Tutti — sales are 30 percent higher in December than the average month — and the banner year it is having so far bodes well for the winter holidays, Connelly said.

“Back-to-school [business] has been great. So far, it’s been a really good year, so I feel like the holiday season is going to be just as good,” she said.

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