Beaufort County retailers weather shortened holiday shopping season

dburley@islandpacket.comDecember 26, 2013 

Shoppers exit from Belk with their purchases at the Cross Creek Plaza in Beaufort on Dec. 26, 2013.

THEOPHIL SYSLO — Theophil Syslo Buy Photo

For Nan Sutton, the holiday shopping season keeps business alive.

Sutton owns Lulu Burgess, an eccentric store on Bay Street in Beaufort that specializes in knickknacks like fake mustaches, wacky colored socks and cocktail napkins with clever puns.

"All year long you don't clear anything. That's why we look forward to November and December," said Sutton, who estimated that about a quarter of her annual sales come during the holidays. "When you're a gift store like me, those are the biggest months."

But this year's shopping season was cut short for retailers. Because Thanksgiving fell late on the calendar, Beaufort County merchants lost almost a week between Black Friday and Christmas, compared with 2012.

The shortened season meant six fewer days of sales for small-business owners like Sutton. It has also triggered more after-Christmas bargains at big-box retailers, online stores and mom-and-pop shops trying to rid shelves of the season's inventory.

Business at Bennali's on Hilton Head Island, steady throughout the holiday season, started to heat up last weekend with Christmas vacationers, according to manager Courtney Brewer.

"Christmas crept up so fast, shopping wise," Brewer said. "I think a few more days would have made a huge difference."

She said those days "cut some pretty big losses," at the store, which sells sandals, hats and leisure wear.

To make it up, it's holding 30-, 40- and 50-percent-off sales through February, Brewer said.

"We're trying to get as much of the old inventory out as we can and before we bring in the new stuff," she said.

At Island Girl, also on Hilton Head, manager Danielle Puckey said it seemed more customers did last-minute shopping because of the abbreviated season.

"But a lot of people were prepared and knew what they were looking for," she said.

Without revealing numbers, Puckey said the store "did fine."

"We sold a lot of boots. And jewelry is always big around the holidays," she said.

Nationally, the compressed shopping window did not help what has been a sluggish holiday season for retailers.

Sales at U.S. stores dropped 3.1 percent to $42.7 billion for the week that ended on Sunday, compared with the same week last year, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks data at 40,000 locations. That follows a decline of 2.9 percent and 0.8 percent during the first and second weeks of the month, respectively.

Retailers are pulling out all the stops online and at brick-and-mortar stores to recover.

Amazon.com rolled out offers Thursday, including 70 percent off select clothing, shoes, watches and jewelry.

Big-box stores such as Walmart opened at 5 a.m. to welcome bargain hunters.

At Kmart in Beaufort, customers have been greeted with deep discounts on winter garments as the store sells its abundance of flannel shirts, wool sweaters and knitted scarves.

"We call it clean-up, or recovery," store manager Alvin Squirewell said.

Sutton, the small business owner, said her after-Christmas sale, which includes all items except greeting cards, can sometimes be as important as her holiday figures.

"I want to get as much money in the bank so I can go back to market," she said. "I buy all new items in February, then it all starts over again."

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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