2014-01-24 / Community

Local retailers reflect on holiday sales

By Stephanie Sumell

They came. They shopped. They spent a lot.

According to a recent report by ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based retail tracking firm, American shoppers spent more than $218 billion during the holidays—a 2 percent increase over the same time period the year before.

That uptick reflects numbers given by MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse, a New Yorkbased company that tracks consumer spending on clothing, electronics, jewelry and furniture. MasterCard Advisors showed that holiday sales between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 were up 2.3 percent from the year before—the highest sales growth in three years.

During a recent interview with Fox News, Sarah Quinlan, senior vice president at Master- Card Advisors, said last-minute Christmas shoppers helped bolster numbers.

“People call it Super Saturday for a reason,” Quinlan said of the Saturday before Christmas. “There was this early surge of Thanksgiving shopping and then there was this late surge over the weekend (before Christmas). People really came out . . . and shopped.”

So how did Moorpark retailers fare during the holiday season? Well, it depends whom you ask.

Linda McCarthy, chair of the Moorpark Chamber of Commerce, said local business owners are slowly shaking off the economic pessimism caused by the recession in 2008.

“ People seem to be moving ahead with their (business) plans,” said McCarthy, CEO of Business Network International of Ventura County.

Although McCarthy said she didn’t have any hard numbers as to how the city’s retailers did this year, she pointed to the fact that the Chamber has been increasingly successful in getting sponsorships for its various events, a sign of an improving economy.

Sandy Johnson, the co-owner of Hearts of Jade Succulent Garden, Art and Gift Shop on High Street, said business was “steady” this holiday season.

“ December was our best month all year,” Johnson said. “We probably did 50 percent more business than we did last (December).”

Hearts of Jade, open since Sept. 2012, features indoor and outdoor decorations, including metal sculptures, birdhouses, pottery, wind chimes and a variety of succulent wreaths and arrangements.

“We do a lot of one-of-a-kind things you don’t see anywhere else,” Johnson said. “Succulents are big right now, (so) we’re just kind of riding the wave.”

The Moorpark resident said she and her husband, Chris, are thankful for the community’s business.

“We love our jobs,” she said. “The people of Moorpark and the surrounding area have been really supportive.”

Other Moorpark stores didn’t fare as well.

Shelia Villata, co-owner of Moorpark Party and Halloween Unlimited on Los Angeles Avenue, said the novelty store experienced a sluggish fourth quarter.

“ October is ( usually) our peak month,” she said. “It should have been our busiest month of the year but sales were down.”

Villata, a longtime Moorpark resident, said she suspects the Oct. 1 launch of the Affordable Healthcare Act contributed to the store’s decline in sales.

The uncertainty of how the nationwide healthcare act would impact premium costs for individuals and families led some to curtail their holiday spending.

“People were freaking out,” she said. “My opinions are my opinions, (but) I believe it affected businesses across the board.”

McCarthy echoed those thoughts and said the rollout of Obamacare may have caused shoppers to think twice before spending at the register—a sentiment that may have thinned profits.

Despite her store’s decline in sales, Villata said, she and her husband remain “vested” in their business.

“We’re fighting to hold on,” she said. “When you put 22 years into something, you don’t want to let it go.”

And they’re counting on their community for help.

“The people of Moorpark are amazing,” Villata said. “We really try to support our own here.”

Some businesses by nature don’t expect high sales during the holidays.

Vince DeFalco, the owner of Comanche Custom Cycles on Spring Road, said the fourth quarter is usually very slow.

“By Thanksgiving, it’s dead,” he said.

And this year was no different. The Agoura Hills resident said the Harley Davidson custom and repair shop’s peak season extends from April to September, “when the kids go back to school.”

“ We’ve been here for 20 years,” DeFalco said. “After years of doing this, you begin to see patterns in people’s spending behavior.”

He said the business was hit hard five years ago when the economy tanked.

“ When the economy was stronger, about 75 percent of our clientele were contractors,” he said. “But when that went downhill in 2008, many of those guys lost their homes, sold their boats and sold their bikes. . . . And once they disappeared, they disappeared.”

But DeFalco said he always enjoys seeing new faces come through his door.

“ It seems as though ( the economy) is trying to rebound,” DeFalco said. “Time will tell.”

Some people prefer to do their holiday shopping from home.

According to comScore, a market research firm, Americans spent $42.8 billion online from desktop computers during the fourth quarter.

Brenda Cusick, owner of the online retailer Avocado Diva, said she was “grateful” for a successful holiday season. The Moorpark resident ships avocados and avocado products to customers around the country through her website avocadodiva.com.

“Our (Christmastime) sales doubled from last year,” said Cusick, who receives approximately 50 percent of her yearly orders during the fourth quarter. “People who ordered one or two boxes last year ordered eight or 10 boxes this year. . . . It was wonderful.”

She offers holiday-specific packages and gift baskets to give the fruit a festive appearance.

“People love them,” Cusick said. “We sold this package of avocados that was shaped like a wreath. It was circle of avocados with a big red bow on it.”

The Moorpark resident is already planning for next year.

“I’m lucky,” she said. “Avocado Diva doesn’t just have customers. It has fans.”

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