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Local retailers say sales better than expected



Local store owners are in good spirits after their holiday sales met or exceeded expectations.

“The recession hasn’t hit us as hard as it’s hit other spots,” says Bruce Micklus, manager and part owner of Rockin Rudy’s. “Revenue-wise it was our best year.”

Store owners and managers in the Missoula area report either “very slight” decreases compared to last holiday season’s earnings, or increases between 7 and 25 percent. Not all were expecting a holiday sales boon.

“We cut back on our advertising expenses to try to survive the winter,” says Jack Stelling, new-car manager at Grizzly Auto Center. Now, he says, their sales are up 25 percent.

Mark Anderson, store manager at Bob Ward’s, was surprised that they may have done “a little better” than last holiday season.

“November was pretty soft but December was strong and right where we were hoping to be,” Anderson says. “We were a little surprised by that given the national issues.”

What consumers lacked in cash this season, they made up for with their willingness to “charge it.”

“I saw more plastic this year than I’ve ever seen,” says Scott Laisy, owner and manager of Butterfly Herbs.

Garth Whitson, owner of Shakespeare & Co., says he will soon be getting credit card processing.

“I’ve never been hit up so many times for [credit cards],” Whitson says.

The numbers appear to confirm store owners’ impressions that shoppers were willing to spring for the holidays.

Stephen Seninger, a professor at the University of Montana’s School of Business and director of economic analysis at its Bureau of Business and Economic Research, tracks consumer confidence in Montana.

“That [consumer confidence] index has rebounded strongly in the last couple of months since the events of 9/11. So that would be a pretty good indicator of what the stores are seeing,” says Seninger. “It’s come up at least 10 percent.”

So, what will January and February look like for stores and consumers?

“This time of year can be as important as the holidays because you can catch up,” Micklus says, whose staff will be remodeling, cleaning and doing display work over the winter.

Like many owners, Debbie Dudley of Laurel Creek Clothing and Gifts, will purchase for her store as usual.

“I bought for spring in November and I’ll buy for fall in March,” Dudley says.

As for what consumers’ moods will be, Kim Bennett, owner of the Kiddie Connection, has stopped trying to guess.

“The general public is so hard to predict in retail,” Bennett says. As unpredictable as consumers are, Laisy’s celebratory approach to the season may be best: “We had some eggnog and rum with employees.”


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