Holiday sales slow in Craig

Internet sales, a slowing economy, bad weather, good weather, longer shopping season, procrastinating shoppers, presidential election chaos and higher heating bills are reasons retailers in Craig and national experts give for sluggish holiday sales.

With less than a week until Christmas, most retailers say it's still too early to tell if sales will remain sluggish.

Nick Kamzalow, owner of the Outdoor Connections in Craig, said his sales have been, "So-so. It's starting to pick up now."

Kamzalow believes Internet sales and people starting their Christmas shopping late are behind his slowed holiday sales.

Although he has tried a couple of tactics, such as advertisements, specials and longer hours to bring in more shoppers, Kamzalow said he thinks only time running out before Christmas will bring in more shoppers.

Items leaving in many shopper's bags are snowshoes, sleds, ice-fishing equipment and animal calls, he said.

The situation at Kmart is similar.

"Compared to last year, sales are a little soft," said Manager Jake Zakrzewski.

Sales have been down in all of the eight stores in Zakrzewski's district, which includes Grand Junction and the Front Range.

"It's not just the Craig area," Zakrzewski said.

Kmart has been running two-day specials on Fridays and Saturdays to help boost sales, but "that really hasn't made much difference," he said.

While the International Council of Shopping Centers Web site is reporting music, video and home entertainment sales to be down by 21.3 percent, Kmart's sales in those departments have been very good, he said.

According to Zakrzewski, some items that would be hot sellers aren't due to limited availability. Though Sony's PlayStation 2 and Dreamcast are at the top of many youngsters' wish lists, parents won't be able to put them in their carts. Kmart is sold out of both items, and Zakrzewski isn't sure if the store will get more in before Christmas.

"Sony is way behind on the production of them," he said.

Zakrzewski can only guess what difference Internet sales are making this holiday season.

"One way or another, it has to have some effect. How much I couldn't tell you," he said.

Weather is also a big factor for holiday shoppers. If the weather is nice, many Craig residents travel to Denver and Grand Junction to do their holiday shopping, Zakrzewski said. At the same time, many people from smaller towns in the area drive to Craig to shop when the roads are clear. If the weather is bad, Craig residents generally don't leave town to fill their holiday shopping bags, but residents in outlying areas can't get to Craig to buy their presents.

"We're caught in a catch-22," he said. "If the weather's too good, it hurts us. If the weather's too bad, it hurts us. It's got to be right in between."

Linda Booker, owner of On the Shelf bookstore in Craig, said holiday sales started slowly this season and about two weeks late, but look pretty good now.

"It's a little hard to say how it's going to add up," Booker said. "There's just no way to tell what Christmas is doing at this point."

Sales at On the Shelf have been increasing for the past two weeks, and as long as that trend continues, it will be a good holiday season, she said.

Booker, a member of the Downtown Business Association (DBA), is participating in the DBA's holiday programs, including the working women's shopping lunch, children's shopping day and the upcoming men's shopping night. She has also kept her store open until 8 p.m. on Fridays.

Booker said she hasn't noticed many holiday bargains in stores this season. Sales don't seem to have much impact on Craig shoppers, she said.

"If people are going to shop in Craig, they're going to shop in Craig. If they're going to shop out of town, they're going to shop out of town," Booker said.

While there isn't one certain item that seems to be flying out the door this Christmas, Booker said Harry Potter books and "Stranger in the Woods" by Carl Sams, a children's book illustrated with wildlife photos, are selling particularly well. Classic fairy tales and Mother Goose book sales are also up from last year.

"It doesn't seem that the industry is pushing any one book this year," she said. "That's usually what drives the sales at Christmas is whatever the industry is pushing."

According to Booker, there are many factors influencing holiday sales. She feels the election finally coming to a close and last weekend's storms have been good for Craig's sales. She also said the ups and downs of the stock market influence sales.

"You can only do so much," she said. "If you get all upset about it, it's not going to help."

Booker believes she has lost some business to Internet booksellers. She said customers are attracted to Internet shopping for reasons other than discounts. "It's also the choices, the ease, the fact that people can sit at their computer at 10 p.m. and order their presents," she said.

She doesn't see Internet sales dropping any time soon, and is trying to counter the Web's effect by experimenting with her own Web site. Customers can't order books on Booker's Web site, but they can make special orders by sending an e-mail. Booker will deliver customers' special orders for free. "Whether it's drive it to their house or put it in the mail," she said. On the Shelf has received quite a few special orders, but customers don't seem to care about the free delivery, she said.

Sweetwater Trading Company, which sells items ranging from candles and jewelry to furniture and home decorations, is experiencing increased business this holiday season, said store owner Sheila Brennise.

"I think people are tired of discount stores and are going back to speciality retailers," she said.

According to Brennise, the most popular items with Sweetwater's customers are candles and candle accessories. Ornaments and stuffed bears are also selling well, she said.

Brennise said her sales were up in November and are on track to be up in December. She is waiting to see if fewer people will shop on Christmas Eve because it falls on a Sunday. Christmas Eve was Sweetwater's biggest day for sales last year.

"It's been a good holiday season for me," she said. "I'm looking forward to the rest of the week. Sunday is the only day I'm unsure of."

Shoppers are filling their grocery carts as well as putting presents under the tree.

Safeway Food and Drug in Craig is busier than last season, said assistant manager, Bob Tait.

Tait's description of this holiday season: "Two words Very hectic," he said. "People are coming in droves, and they're buying lots of stuff."

Most holiday shoppers are cruising the aisles for party items and food for their holiday dinners. Customers are stocking up on turkey, candy, fruit baskets, party trays and Chex for Chex mix, Tait said.

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