Christmas shopping a mixed bag

By Greg Gelpi

Up, down and undecided, Southern Crescent businesses are having a mixed holiday shopping season, and an area economist said the final sales tally could grow even more.

It's been a "drummer's Christmas," Troy Bryant, the owner of Tara Music in Jonesboro said.

Every few years, drum sales skyrocket, he said. Monday alone, the locally owned music shop sold six drum sets.

Along with drums, Tara Music has sold high-end guitars.

"A lot of times when economic times are tough, the high-end stuff sells better," Bryant said. "Those with money aren't as affected by the ebbs and flows of the economy as the rest of us are."

Overall, sales have been up, he said, adding that he does two-thirds of his total sales in the last third of the year.

"There's a modest increase," Bryant said. "It's about what it's trending all year."

The idea that the economy is down isn't accurate, he said.

"I think the media has everybody so freaking scared," Bryant said.

Sales have been slow for others. Morene Massengill of Morene's Dolls in McDonough said business has been "drastically slow."

"I think business for everybody on (the McDonough Square) has been slow," Massengill said. "Although it's picked up a bit this month, it hasn't been as ludicrous as in the past."

The doll shop sells dolls from those that are "very inexpensive to very expensive," she said. Her dolls, though, are a "luxury" item, which people can do without.

"I have regular collectors, and they have slowed down too," Massengill said. "It's sort of a sliding scale."

Morene's Dolls has been open for about 20 years, but business began declining about four or five years ago, she said. Sales plummeted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"Business has not picked up since 9/11," Massengill said.

Although sales figures won't be in until January, Tanger Outlet Center in Locust Grove has done well this holiday shopping season, General Manager Barbi Baker said. On Monday alone, 22,000 shoppers were at the outlet mall.

"Our shopping has definitely been up for the season," Baker said. "All of our sales numbers are up so far."

This area tends to be sheltered from economic blows because of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Emory Brock, the director of the Clayton County Economic Development Authority, said Monday. The airport pumps in business activity and passengers through the counties.

"It ain't gangbusters, but it's better than where it has been," Brock said.

He warned, though, that the recently elevated terrorist threat could have a negative effect on the economy.

"There's speculation that could dampen the few remaining days left of Christmas sales," Brock said.

Associate Dean of the Business College at Clayton College & State University Jacob Chacko said in his opinion spending is up overall, but not for some businesses.

"It's all an opinion," he said. "People are not sure whether the consumer spending is up or down."

The final verdict, though, is still out, since many shoppers bought gift certificates, which won't be reflected in spending until after the gift certificates are redeemed, Chacko said.

Consumer spending numbers have been up for the previous months, so economists had high expectations for Christmas, he said.

"I don't think that was realistic," Chacko said. "Overall, the spending will be much higher than last year."

Upper-end level stores aren't fairing as well as moderately priced and bargain stores, he said.

Retailers have attempted to read the economy and adjusted their holiday business tactics accordingly. Some are slashing prices before Christmas in hopes of drawing more business, Chacko said.

"I think some of the retailers are getting antsy," he said. "They're trying to get people there now."

Some, like toy stores with the new Elmo toy, are overstocking.

"The toy stores are really trying to get rid of a lot of toys," Chacko said. "I think they over-ordered."

The true test will be if the economic conditions last, he said, worried that the current conditions could be the result of an "artificial high."