According to a survey by the online small-business community Manta, nearly half of small retailers are optimistic about holiday sales this year. Sherri Cronin, executive director of Downtown Westfield Corp., said she’s upbeat as well.
“Consumer spending is up, and there seems to be some growth in the retail sector,” she said. “I’ve seen it even in our own downtown. We’ve had a number of new businesses open, mostly independents.”
John Holub, president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, said the majority of Main Street retailers he has spoken to share that optimism.
“The most recent predictions I’ve heard are 2.8 (percent) or 2.9 percent over last year, so stores are looking forward to some modest gains,” Holub said. “Anything in the black is a reason to be optimistic. Seventy-five percent of all economic activity revolves around consumer spending. Obviously, retail plays a large part in that.”
In Westfield, half the businesses are national retailers, and Cronin said the traffic to those stores helps smaller retailers, too.
“The nationals have a lot of discounts and promotions that attract consumers, so independents near the nationals do see an increase in foot traffic,” she said.
Small businesses can’t rely on large chains to bring in customers, so they often carry specialty products and offer personalized services that the larger stores can’t always provide.
“Independents understand their customers,” Cronin said. “They can call them when a new shipment of a certain product comes in, or if they have something that they know a customer will like.”
In September 2010, Patrice Bavos opened the Hip Thrift and Art Gallery, in Westfield. A bad economy didn’t dampen her enthusiasm or her confidence in the store, which sells thrift items and art created by locals. Bavos said last year’s holiday sales were great through December, but slow sales during three months of snow forced her to dip into her holiday profits to stay afloat. Still, she remains confident.
“I’m involved with someone who is going to market my store on the Internet,” she said. “I’m also going to have music and poetry-reading events. That should put us over the edge.”
Another boon to her and other independents may be Small Business Saturday. Last year, more than 200 businesses joined American Express in declaring the day after Black Friday as a time to drive shoppers to patronize local merchants. American Express customers who register their card online and use that card for a $25 purchase at a small business on Nov. 26 will receive a $25 statement credit.
“It sounds like a pretty good idea,” Bavos said. “The incentive is there.”