Juneau shoppers waited, bought much

Three Franklin Street shops didn't open during this Christmas shopping season

Posted: Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Juneau retailers report that shoppers were late to buy gifts but purchased enough goods to make this season more profitable than others.

"We were so slow in November," said Norma Carandang, owner of Northstar Gift Shop. "It started to pick up around Dec. 15."

Hearthside Books and Nugget Outfitters said their busiest day was Dec. 23, and their second-best day was Christmas Eve. Both are located in the Nugget Mall.

Ron Flint, general manager of the outdoor clothing store, said he was surprised by Friday's numbers but said more locals probably took off the afternoon from work to do some heavy shopping.

The best sellers at Hearthside were books in the "Chronicles of Narnia" series and the Sudoku crossword puzzles, co-owner Deb Reifenstein said. People also bought more gift cards this year, a positive trend for businesses because customers will not return or exchange gift cards after Christmas, she said.

According to the National Retail Federation, consumers will spend $18.48 billion on gift cards this holiday season, up 6.6 percent from a year ago.

Flint said his store did well considering the lack of snow so far this winter. A flat sheet of plastic that folds into a bowl for campers was a popular stocking stuffer, he said.

Jaimie Sorg at Georges Gifts and Jewelry on South Franklin Street also said business picked up two weeks before Christmas with shoppers buying items on their lunch breaks.

Only a handful of gift shops near the cruise ship docks remain open through the holiday season or year-round, and most of them are locally owned.

Carandang said two nearby stores and a coffee shop on South Franklin Street did not open this winter as in past seasons. She also said rent rises each year, making it harder for businesses to operate.

Sorg said even though business is slow in the off-season, closing is not an option.

"It comes down to the pride of being locally owned," she said.

Galligaskins, another gift shop in the area, usually enjoys early Christmas sales from its catalogs from September through November, but this year's busiest month was December.

Owner Gaile Swope said more than 1,000 orders a day were placed this month from catalog sales, while employees worked until 3 a.m. to fill them. Typically the store sees 600 to 800 orders a day in the winter; total catalog sales were up this season by 25 percent, and sales from the retail store were slightly up as well, Swope said.

Customers were buying more higher-end goods such as gold and art, "which is a really good sign for us," Swope said.

Alaskan & Proud market sold a lot of double-smoked hams and prime ribs for Christmas dinners, said CEO Ben Williams of the Ketchikan-based company.

The store did better this holiday season than last year, possibly because more people were not traveling but spending Christmas in Juneau, according to anecdotes Williams heard from customers.

"People seemed to be in a good mood this year," compared to others, he said.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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