Local stores see uptick in holiday sales

Written by Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer December 21, 2011 08:41 pm

Hobby Habit owner Dave Campbell demonstrates the radio-controlled aircraft flight simulator hes selling at his store this holiday season. Campbell said overall Christmas sales have been respectable this year. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer
Hobby Habit owner Dave Campbell demonstrates the radio-controlled aircraft flight simulator hes selling at his store this holiday season. Campbell said overall Christmas sales have been respectable this year. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer

Most of the downtown businesses taking part in The Observer’s informal — very informal — survey on holiday sales Monday were upbeat and cheerful.

Because Christmas is about toys, the survey usually begins at the Hobby Habit, the only store in La Grande completely dedicated to playthings. Owner Dave Campbell said he’s enjoying one of his better holiday seasons, and added he’s had a good year overall.

“As of today, we’re up 3 percent for December, and 10 percent for the year,” he said.

Campbell has carved out a niche selling toys that people actually pick up and play with, rather than X-Boxes and Playstations and other high tech entertainments.

This holiday season, as in past years, Legos, family board games and radio-controlled airplanes and helicopters are the sure sellers.

But while Campbell mostly stays away from the computer and video games, he said he’s had some luck this year selling a computer-driven radio-controlled aircraft simulator. Sales of that item picked up markedly, he said, after he installed a kiosk that demonstrates the product.

Campbell said that overall, he thinks the spirit of gift giving is coming back to a community benumbed in recent years by economic hardship.

“I think the folks in Union County that were fortunate enough not to lose their jobs are figuring out that things are not as bad as the national news portrays them,” he said. “I think deep down, things haven’t changed that much here.”

Down the street at La Grande Stereo and Music, Mike Mallory said he too is having a good season. Many people do believe in the gift of music, he said, so Christmas sales are important to his business.

“We try to be consistent all year, but December is clearly the best of times,” Mallory said.

While he didn’t have exact numbers at his fingertips, Mallory said he knows for sure business picked up for him this month, as it does every Christmas. He said the holiday rush generally starts about Thanksgiving and builds.

“We’ll be busy right up till Christmas Eve,” he said.

No one product is a hot seller over the rest. Shoppers in Mallory’s store have well-rounded needs and desires.

“It can be anything from a guitar pick to a full fledged stereo surround sound system,” he said.

Still another downtown merchant happy with the way things are going this Christmas is Kelly McGee, owner of Marie Josephine, a gift mercantile on Adams Avenue.

McGee said her December sales are substantially up from last year. She said the Christmas rush built gradually this year, and became noticeable about a week and half ago.

“There’s been a lot of publicity about shopping local, and I think it’s done some good,” McGee said.

McGee sells a broad range of gift items, everything from soaps and candles to clothing and furniture. Locally and regionally made products serve as a strong drawing card, she said.

“People come in looking for a lot of different and original things, and they like it that I have a lot of Northwest-manufactured goods, and Fair Trade items,” she said.

Items made close to home also are an important part of the business mix at The Blue Turtle gallery on Adams. In fact, all the things for sale there come from Union, Wallowa, Baker or Umatilla County.

Owner Sandra Young opened the gallery three years ago, and has learned how important holiday sales can be. She said business has been fairly good this year, just as it was her first two years.

“It was really busy Saturday. We do all right the rest of the year, but especially well at Christmas,” she said.

Farther west on Adams, Kathy Gregersen, owner of Alma Jane’s, said she isn’t complaining about holiday sales this year, but wishes they were a little better.

Unlike the other merchants in the survey, Gregersen deals mainly in antiques and pre-owned merchandise, things she calls sweet treasures from the past.

She said she understands that not everybody does Christmas shopping in a store like hers. It’s a challenge to overcome.

“We’ve tried to promote that it’s okay to buy things from the past,” Gregersen said. “Everything we have here is very high quality, clean and repaired.”

Gregersen said her customers tend be out-of-towners, people who get off the freeway  to hunt for the kind of treasures she sells.

But even if holiday sales have been a little slow, there have been some bright spots.

“I’m totally sold out of men’s Pendleton shirts and coats, and people love our vintage holiday decorations,” Gregersen said.

Her husband, Gordon, said he thinks business will pick up  at the last minute.

“We offer gift wrapping, and when you say that, the guys come running,” he said.

Then too, it wouldn’t hurt if the snow would fly. Alma Jane’s currently has a fine selection of vintage sleds, the kind made of old-school wood and steel, not plastic.

“It’s stuff for informal winter sports,” Gordon said.