January 02, 2002 11:00 pm
JEWELRY BUSINESS: Carol Bloom, left, picks up her repaired watch from Sharyn Nunn at Laurence's Jewelry Friday afternoon. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).
JEWELRY BUSINESS: Carol Bloom, left, picks up her repaired watch from Sharyn Nunn at Laurence's Jewelry Friday afternoon. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

It was a mixed bag as far as judging how local holiday sales went in

La Grande this year, according to a sampling of some of the business owners.

In some cases, there was a hesitancy or reluctance on the part of the public to spend on Christmas gifts. In others, there was an outpouring of support for the local stores.

In the end, local sales appeared to finish slightly above the level of a year ago. Nationally, counting the post-holiday, sales are predicted to be about 1 percent over the previous Christmas.

Most local stores followed a national trend by marking down items well before Christmas, in response to predictions of lower consumer spending in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

It was a positive year for us although sales were down a little, said Emporium manager Gary Carlson. We broke even for the season. As far as dollar volume, things were pretty much even with last year.

We took markdowns earlier, but we also carried a lighter inventory this year, so were in a good position for spring lines. Were not overstocked with winter goods.

In fact, he said, the store is already getting in some spring lines, notably for juniors and women. The Emporium will run its usual January sales, Carlson said, to liquidate some goods.

There were 50 percent off signs at various counters, with other items marked down a little more. For example, you could get a mans warm flannel shirt for $21.95. It is regularly priced at $45.

JC PennEys manager Jim Lippold said the store on Adams Avenue had a pretty good Christmas overall.

I dont have the final figures yet, but I didnt see much difference from last year. In fact, people were in a really good mood this year. We should end up in the positive.

Lippold said there were a couple of cold days right before Christmas that might have kept some shoppers away, but generally about the same number shopped as last year. He had some pre-Christmas markdowns, and a half-price after-Christmas sale on numerous items, including men and womens outerwear, sweaters and tops, sleepwear, handbags, hats and gloves. The four-day half-price sale ended Saturday.

At Blue Mountain Sports in the

La Grande Town Center, you could get 20 percent off on most goggles and buy other items marked down 30 percent to 60 percent, such as a vest for $39. Athletic shoes priced at $55 were going for $44. Gloves were marked down from $31.99 to $19.99.

I was very pleased with our Christmas sales, said Blue Mountains Shelly Fischer, who manages the store for owners Greg and Deanna Hebard.

People were buying a lot of gifts. December is the busiest month of the year for us, and we had snow this year, which helped. Were happy and pleased that local people supported us.

Fischer said some items had been marked down before Christmas to bring in the early shoppers. The cold weather brought in people looking for coats, hats and gloves. And the sales are continuing.

Another store thankful for the support of local residents is Laurences Jewelry at 1114 Adams Ave., especially since Jack Laurence was diagnosed with cancer at the end of May.

The moral support from the community has been fabulous, absolutely wonderful, said Donna Laurence, who gets plenty of help from Laury Dalton and Sharyn Nunn in running the store.

Weve been busy, busy, busy, and everyone coming in was in really good spirits. We just had a phenomenal Christmas season, Donna Laurence said.

Hot-selling items included ear pins, diamond studs, pendants, radio-wave clocks and music boxes, she said.

Gordon Later, owner and operator of Earth n Book on Adams Avenue, said things were better than last year.

Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, spurred on by recent movies, were good selling books, too, he said.

We sold a lot of fictional books, good literature, and adventure books, including true adventures such as those on mountain climbing and floating rivers, Later said. There was more interest in books about the region, such as the Mark Highberger series.

He said December is his biggest month of the year.

We dont do sales gimmicks. Most of what we do is just try to have the books people want. The variety we have keeps a small store going, Later said.

Maurices manager, Shelly Perry, said, Things went pretty well, close to last years volume. We had about the same number of shoppers as last year. Our inventory now is low; we had a lot, but we sold a lot, too.

The store reduced some prices before Christmas; and the post-Christmas sales include items, mainly winter clothing, for sale up to 40 percent below the list price, Perry said. For example, a mans pullover sweater regularly priced at $28 was marked down to $19.99.

Downtown, at Good Things, Sharon Dykes said we ended a little down for the year. We had just as many people shopping, but they were more conservative in how much they spent. If they had spent $100 last year (2000), they would spend $75 this year (2001).

With the declining stock market and war situation, people are a little more cautious. But things went a little better than I thought they would, Dykes said.

With her inventory a little high now, she has post-Christmas markdowns on numerous items.

I had to have pre-Christmas sales, too, in order to sell the items. People seemed to be saying, If you dont mark it down, you wont sell it.

Since she buys each January for the next Christmas season, Dykes said there was no way to project how sales would go, and the war situation made things iffy.

Home electronics were supposed to sell well nationally, and they did all right in La Grande.

We are holding our own, said John Schoen of Radio Shack. Certainly the events of Sept. 11 put a damper on sales, but we did OK. I would not call it a good year, just an adequate one.

He said the top sellers were the new telezippers, digital satellite systems and DVD machines.