Christmas decorating goes on in tough times

Northeast Mississippi residents are transforming their homes into winter wonderlands and Santa’s workshops, despite the national recession.
Retailers say shoppers have been snapping up Christmas decorations as the holiday approaches. Some, like Hobby Lobby, say sales have beaten expectations. Others, like Mid-South Nursery and Village Green, say sales seem to be in line with last year or are up slightly.
Countrywide, two-thirds of shoppers say they are cutting back on their spending this holiday season. According to a survey from the National Retail Federation, 34 percent of Americans will put up last year’s decorations.
The retailers in Northeast Mississippi say they are seeing more of their customers reusing decorations, but they still are shopping.
“People may not be spending as much as they normally do, but they definitely are updating,” said Bettie Fellows, co-owner of Mid-South Nursery in Tupelo.
The trend this year, Fellows and other retailers say, is for shoppers to spruce up Christmas items they already have. For example, instead of buying a new wreath or a new permanent Christmas tree, shoppers are getting new ornaments or ribbons to decorate.
“They are buying the heck out of ribbon,” Fellows said.
Added Jim Troxler, owner of Village Green in Tupelo, “We’re not seeing as many tree sales but what is happening is that people are spending more for what they do have, decorating the trees that they’ve had.”
Nancy King of Tupelo is one of those shoppers. She decorates her house every year, but said she wants to do it economically. She’ll use the same silk ribbons for three or four years, ironing them each year to make them look new.
When she needs a new look, she’ll change her ribbon colors. This year, she bought red and green ribbons from Mid-South.
“Just a couple yards of new ribbon will go a long way,” she said.
Ribbon has been flying out the door at Hobby Lobby in Tupelo, too.
Store manager Robin Curbow said ribbon and other popular items have been snapped up all summer.
Since then, Christmas-related items have sold like wildfire, and the store has had to condense what it has left. Garden decorations already line some of the shelves where holiday-themed merchandise sat just days ago.
“It’s unreal,” Curbow said. “Sales have surpassed our expectations. Our Christmas section is going to be much thinner in the next few days.”

Open house success
Fellows also said that her store has been flooded with Christmas shoppers since the store’s open house in November. The staff has been racing to keep wreaths and fresh Christmas trees stocked. They are also backed up on their custom Christmas orders, such as specially designed wreaths.
Shoppers also are buying higher-ticket items. Collectible Christopher Radko ornaments have done well this year at Mid-South, and Fellows said the store has had its best year ever with Mark Roberts fairies, which start around $35.
Julie Douglas of Tupelo last week bought her annual Radko ornaments at Mid-South. She’s been giving them to her sons every year, so they double as gifts as well as ornaments. The plan, she said, is once her sons move out they will take the ornaments with them for their trees.
“It’s a great tradition,” Douglas said. “I don’t consider it a big expense for something they are going to have forever that will remind them of home.”
Fellows said that every year she has shoppers who give holiday decorations as gifts. Red poinsettias are the most popular gift item, she said.
And whether the shoppers are buying for themselves or for others, the good news for retailers is that they’re still spending.
“The week of Thanksgiving and the next two weeks are our busiest of the year,” Fellows said. “We work for months and then the business comes in weeks.”
This year, Mid-South’s open house in November was its biggest day ever for sales and traffic, said co-owner Byron Fellows. He also expects to see large crowds on the store’s traditional busiest day, Dec. 26, which is Mid-South’s half-price sale.
“We are very thankful that we’ve had a good Christmas season because the rest of the year has not been great,” Bettie Fellows said. “It’s tough for a lot of people and a lot of retailers.”
At Village Green, Troxler said sales of permanent Christmas tree sales are down a little from last year. Orders for custom wreaths and garlands also are fewer.
As he has done in the past during the Christmas shopping season, Troxler opened a temporary store inside Northpark Mall in Jackson. And this year, he also opened a temporary location at the Dogwood Festival Mall in Flowood.
Sales of Christmas decorations and related items from those two stores, plus the Tupelo store, are on par with last year, he said.
He thinks overall sales during the holiday selling season will meet last year’s figures and could show a small gain.
“Sales have been as good as they’ve ever been,” he said. “But there’s always the struggle of not having enough of the right thing. Most of our Christmas items have to be ordered by March, and you have to figure out then what’s going to be good in October and November. Customers really go after what they want, and you have to try to figure out what that might be.”

Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@djournal.com. Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.

Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal