Craft show kicks off holiday shopping

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Craig's first Holiday Craft Show at the Centennial Mall on Friday and Saturday was one not so subtle reminder that the holiday shopping season has begun. Judging from the surplus of vehicles in the mall's normally half-vacant parking lot, a horde of shoppers shared similar thoughts: Let the buying begin.

But why do shoppers buy locally or search elsewhere for holiday gifts?

A handful of shoppers at the Craft Show said they tried to shop locally first but inevitably left town to purchase big ticket items, citing reasons such as price and availability.

According to Amber Kawcak, the holiday shows are traditionally her first stop to shopping in town.

"I try to shop Craig first," she said while purchasing a brightly colored crocheted rug from a vendor at the show.

Yet dreaded long lines and the lure of cheaper prices without taxes often had her shopping the Internet. Shopping online offers Kawcak an outlet to find toys and other specialty items not available locally, she said.

This year, as in years past, the big family present will be purchased out of town, probably in Grand Junction.

"We're going to get a computer for the family," she said. "We usually go out of town for the big items, like electronics."

But shopping locally affects, among other things, local sales tax receipts.

That is no more evident than by the city and county's spiking sales for the month of December, which usually reflect the year's highest numbers.

Last December, Craig collected almost $233,000 while the county realized almost $173,000. The robust 2002 December month brought in at least $70,000 more tax dollars than the city's slowest month that year, in February. During that time, the county collected more than $55,000 of its most lethargic month of sales.

One way the Craig Chamber of Commerce spurs shopping locally is through its promotion of Spree Bucks. The coupons are purchased through the chamber and are redeemable at area shops. Last year, $200,000 passed hands through the program, said Chamber President Cathy Vanatta.

"The Spree Bucks are good because it ensures that the dollars stay here," Vanatta said. "People need to understand that if they want businesses to remain here, they have to shop at them."

Vanatta guessed that residents leave town to shop because they don't realize "that businesses can order for them."

She added local businesses may be caught in a "Catch-22" when they need more customers to keep the doors open but can't buy in volume to offer lower prices and compete with the larger markets that customers want.

But, according to some recent studies, local holiday shoppers may not be spending dollars in Craig or within the state lines this year.

Holiday USA Online Retail Sales said the fourth quarter 2003 spending represents $20.4 billion, up from $12.6 billion in the fourth quarter 2002.

Brand Keys, an Internet statistic service, predicts 50 percent of shoppers will be spending their money online, a 15 percent increase over 2002. That spending will equal an average of $710 per person or roughly nine percent more than last year, the study said.

While some claimed online shopping was one of their top choices for purchasing holiday gifts, the option wasn't alluring to Hayden resident Ron Wilson.

"I have a computer but personally I'm scared about putting my credit card number on the Internet," he said.

Ron and his wife, Bonnie, buy holiday presents for two sets of grandchildren, a feat they estimated cost about $1,000 last year. Shopping in Hayden is out of the question for their needs, Ron said, and he waged the community felt the same.

"I think that people got into the habit of going out of town and so it's really hard to get them back," he said.

Though the couple attempts to shop in Craig ultimately the city to the southeast gets most of their business.

"For shopping we go to Grand Junction as a rule," Ron said.

In the far reaches of northwest Colorado, JC Penney catalog shoppers hail from as far east as Yampa and west to Rangely, said Katie Shaffer, JC Penney Catalog merchant.

"In our area, catalog shopping is a way of life," she said from her office at the Centennial Mall. "Northwest Colorado doesn't have anything as far as versatility."

Some of Shaffer's customers buy solely for the holiday season, but others use the year-round service. She attributes a general increase in customers to the "quality" and range of items JC Penny's offers compared to the local competition.

"It's like you're shopping from a whole store when you shop from the catalog," she said.

According to Wendy Seely, price and availability determine where she shops for holiday gifts.

"We know what we want and twice a year we go to Junction with a list," she said of her family's habits.

Every ten years the Craig resident said she's witnessed the number of local businesses hit highs and lows, a reason perhaps that shopping out of town may be more reliable, she said.

"We do this local thing, but we also do Internet shopping and the whole gamut," Seely said.

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