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Retailers hopeful for holidays
Despite gloomy national forecast, locals are optimistic
Gretchen Williams of the Walker Pharmacy Gift Shop shows off a display of Trollbeards on Friday afternoon. The beads, which let buyers make do-it-yourself jewelry, are expected to be a hot seller this holiday season. - photo by JAKE HALLMAN/Staff
     Local merchants are getting ready for what they hope will be a robust Christmas shopping season even though many economists believe it will be the weakest in decades. From deep discounts to discount cards, local retailers are trying to offset the sales declines that are affecting every segment of the marketplace.
      Bob Templeton, general manager of the Hobby Lobby in Statesboro Crossing, said his company has always relied on deep discounts to sell merchandise.
      "It is our corporate policy to always have some items in our stores that are discounted by 50 percent," he said. "What we will do the day after Thanksgiving is to have more items than we normally would have discounted. We will expand our hours to be open from eight in the morning until nine at night for the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. I am hoping that we will continue to do as well as we have been since opening this past October."
      The Thanksgiving shopping weekend, from Friday through Sunday, accounted for about 10.1 percent of overall holiday sales last year, according to ShopperTrak RCT Corp. Bill Martin, ShopperTrak's co-founder, declined to offer estimates for the day this year, but said he believes that even though shoppers will be deliberate in their spending it will remain the biggest selling day of the season.
Some local retailers do not rely on large numbers of shoppers the day after Thanksgiving to make or break their seasonal earnings.
      "We are very lucky in that we aren't solely a retail outlet," said Todd Branyon, co-owner of Yard and Haus in downtown Statesboro. "In addition to our store, we are contracted out to accessorize homes and professional commercial space as well as preparing those venues for the holidays. That has always been a big part of our business, and it helps our retail side tremendously."
Branyon said this will be the business's third Christmas season, and he senses a change in the marketplace.
     "Our gross sales are roughly the same as they were last year, and we are very grateful," he said. "We have received a lot of wonderful publicity and that has helped, but I will be honest with you, we are concerned about the first quarter of next year. We are trying to prepare for that."
      Devra Walker, co-owner of Walker Pharmacy, said they are trying to be innovative by promoting a discount card this shopping season celebrating their 25th year of being in business.
      "Our three pharmacies have large gift and seasonal sections," Walker said. "We sell everything from gifts to clothes and toys. So, we are offering a card for customers to get a 25-percent discount on merchandise in the store. We know that this is going to be a weaker Christmas shopping season as we have already seen some drop in our numbers. This is one way that we hope to increase sales."
      One retail segment that is not "singing the blues" is the video gaming industry. People flocked to buy video games in October despite a drop in consumer confidence to a historic low, spending $1.31 billion in U.S. retail stores on hardware, software and accessories. That's a gain of 18 percent from the same month a year ago, according to data from market researcher NPD Group.
      Local video game retailer GameStop is more than optimistic about this year's holiday shopping season.
     "Our sales numbers are higher this year than last," said Ken Grell, manager of the Statesboro GameStop. "People look at video games as a form of entertainment that costs less in that you don't have to leave your house or travel anywhere to be entertained."
      Grell said his store is doing a tremendous "used" game business.
      "We have customers that come in with two and three games to trade in at one time," he said. "A lot of our customers are trying to get a new game without having to spend additional money. Used games and equipment are a huge, huge part of our business."
      Grell said his store is opening at 7 a.m. Friday morning in anticipation of a big sales day.
      "We are going to be here, and we hope the customers will to," he said. "I know we will have a few very special sales for that morning, but we won't be notified of what they are until Tuesday night when we see the flyer. I suggest coming out early if you want to get those super specials."

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