Christmas shopping season looks good in Alabama

By Bob Johnson/The Associated Press

Merchants in Alabama are reporting a robust Christmas shopping season so far and they hope an abundance of procrastinators will make the season even merrier.

At the Robert Moore & Co. Christmas Town in Mobile, general manager Larry Heard said one trend this year is shoppers who come in at the last minute. He said the late shoppers could be positive sign leading in to the final days before Christmas.

A spokeswoman for the Alabama Retail Association, Nancy Dennis, said her organization estimated that $9 billion would be spent by shoppers in Alabama during November and December. She said a 4 percent growth in sales is expected from 2011.

“It’s been a good holiday season so far,” Dennis said, and it could end up being the best Christmas shopping season since the recession.

Nationally retailers are reporting a trend of shoppers showing up late and waiting until the last moment to order online, partly because companies are doing a better job handling late deliveries.

Dennis said the final figures for Christmas shopping won’t be known until people cash in their gift cards. She said the cards have become one of the most popular Christmas gifts.

Christopher White, a spokesman for the Riverchase Galleria shopping mall in Hoover, said retailers he has spoken with say foot traffic is about the same or down slightly from last year, while sales are up.

“People are spending more, so that’s really good,” White said.

The mall’s 10,800 parking spaces were about 85 percent full the past two Saturdays even though only four of the mall’s five anchor store spaces are currently occupied. Some people may be hesitant to go to the mall because of construction work at that fifth store site, which will reopen in 2013.

“We have tried to get the word out that it is not a problem, but that could still be affecting us,” said White.

The mall has 155 retailers and about 1.6 million square feet of leasable space.

At Mobile’s Bel Air Mall, manager Tim Nolan said the past week had been the best of the season, better than the day after Thanksgiving, known as “Black Friday” and considered the busiest shopping day of the year.

He said this year showed a continued improvement since the recession started.

“Each year gets better than the previous year,” Nolan said

He said the extra days meant an extra weekend for people to get out and shop.

Meanwhile, at Christmas Town in Mobile, Heard said shoppers were not just loading up on presents, but were also buying fancy ornaments for the Christmas tree. He said the ornaments can be passed down from Christmas to Christmas.

“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” Heard said. He said other Christmas-related items, like nativity sets, are selling well this year.

He said his store is continuing to see a growth in the number of people doing their holiday shopping on the Internet.

“Internet sales will surpass our store sales in three years,” he said.

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Associated Press Writer Jay Reeves in Birmingham contributed to this report.