HED:Barnes Crossing-area retailers report good gains with holiday sales
By John Cummins
For many mall-area retailers in Tupelo, 1997 and its holiday season will be one for the books.
Retail spending grew both in the Tupelo area and across the country, according to both national and local statistics.
Overall, each square foot in The Mall at Barnes Crossing averaged $330 in sales during 1997, said mall manager Jeff Snyder, equaling a 12 percent growth in sales over 1996.
“Of course, we’re very pleased with that. In 1996 we experienced an 11.5 percent increase in sales, so we beat that,” Snyder said. “We budget each year for an 8 percent increase, so anytime we get above that it’s great.”
Snyder partly attributed the rise in mall sales to strong national and local economies. But he said Tupelo in particular is becoming more of a regional shopping center, drawing shoppers away from Memphis.
Snyder also gives credit to what he called “a new merchant mix” in bringing customers to The Mall at Barnes Crossing, noting that stores such as The Gap and The Buckle located there during 1997.
In addition, shoppers perceive The Mall at Barnes Crossing as being a safer destination than many Memphis malls, Snyder said, increasing the mall’s traffic.
“Say you live between Memphis and Tupelo, and can get to each on a four-lane that you can travel 70 mph. You can come here and get the same merchants, and in a safer environment,” Snyder said.
Bucking national statistics
According to Commerce Department figures, all retail sales nationwide, after adjustment for inflation, grew 2.8 percent in 1997, compared to 2.6 percent during 1996. Analysts were expecting a slower than normal holiday season after national November retail sales fell short of expectations.
A post-Christmas buying binge showed that Americans weren’t Scrooges after all. According to the Merrill Lynch retail index, which measures sales at department stores and discount chains, sales rose 5.2 percent in December, compared to 3.8 percent in November and 3.5 percent in December 1996.
Many Barnes Crossing-area stores well surpassed those figures. 1997 sales in selected categories at The Mall at Barnes Crossing often showed dramatic jumps over 1996 figures.
Unisex clothing, typified by stores such as The Gap, The Buckle and Reed’s, saw combined mall sales increase 65 percent in 1997.
Personal services, typified by hair and nail salons and optical stores, saw a combined sales increase of 30 percent, while book and music stores saw a combined sales increase of 17 percent.
The specialty food category had sales grow by 15 percent, while jewelry sales at The Mall at Barnes Crossing increased by 13 percent. Shoes and athletic footwear stores at the mall saw their combined sales rise by 10 percent.
Women’s apparel sales stayed flat, however, with a combined sales increase of about 1 percent, Snyder said.
Big and small stores saw gains
Discount stores such as Wal-Mart did especially well. While Wal-Mart declined to release individual figures for stores in Northeast Mississippi, nationally the chain reported a sales increase of 16.8 percent over December 1996 figures. For an incomplete fiscal 1997, the chain was looking at an overall sales increase of 6.1 percent over fiscal 1997.
Even retailers that fared poorly nationwide took advantage of the strong local economy. J.C. Penney, which saw declines in 1997 same-store sales figures nationwide, continued to post gains in Tupelo. Same-store sales are for stores open at least one year.
Store manager Tom Wynn said that for the year, the J.C. Penney at The Mall at Barnes Crossing posted a gain of 10 percent over 1996 figures. That included a 7 percent gain in December1997 sales compared to December 1996 figures.
Parisian manager Joanna Kirkpatrick said that her store did well for its first year, after locating here in April. Both Parisian and McRae’s are divisions of the Proffitt’s department store chain.
“We’ve been performing extremely well against plan, and had a very good holiday season,” Kirkpatrick said. “For us as a company, we did better than we thought we’d do.”
Smaller chains with stores at The Mall at Barnes Crossing also did well. Jack Reed Jr., of Tupelo-based Reed’s department stores, said all four Reed’s locations posted gains. But Reed said the challenge for smaller chains isn’t necessarily increasing sales.
“The big companies have to make the quarterly earning statements, and are under pressure to show results to stockholders,” said Reed. That means the big chains can often discount items to very slight profit margins, hoping for bulk sales. The practice is one smaller retailers can’t follow.
“Our challenge isn’t going to be increasing sales, but increasing profitable sales,” Reed said.
Retailers in the Barnes Crossing-area also reported a stronger than usual January.
“The whole mall was crazy through the first two weeks of January,” said Kirkpatrick, before sales slowed down for the last two weeks. Sales have since picked again for the first two weeks in February, she said.
January for J.C. Penney’s Tupelo location, said Wynn, has “been outstanding” as customers have taken advantage of the store’s promotions and discounts.
All told, the store posted a 30 percent gain in January over the same time period last year, Wynn said.
Snyder said the increases at The Mall at Barnes Crossing were almost expected.
“We’ve always been traditionally strong in January and February, and we’ve always had increases during these months.”
Wal-Mart reported a strong January1998 as well, showing a 14.9 percent gain against the same month in 1997 in its nationwide figures.