The buyers are back and they are spending — big time. That was the consensus among local, non-mall retail merchants in both Old Town Alexandria and the Mount Vernon area.
The Friday after Thanksgiving has been dubbed "Black Friday" by financial analysts. It refers to whether or not retailers can look forward to realizing a profit — being in the black, or not — being in the red, for the year. Nearly half of all retail income occurs during the holiday spending season.
A totally unscientific, random poll of store owners and managers in Old Town Alexandria, Belle View Shopping Center and Hollin Hall Shopping Center following this past weekend's shopping frenzy painted an overwhelmingly positive picture. Increased sales over the 2003 shopping weekend ranged from 14 percent to 25 percent.
"That is a significant increase for us," said Kathy Richards, owner, Kathy's Korner, a Hallmark card and gift store in Belle View Shopping Center. She registered the 25 percent increase.
ALTHOUGH CARDS were up nationwide, according to national sales statistics, Richards said, "We saw a lot of gift buying as well as decorative buying in addition to the cards. It [Black Friday] was a lot better day than last year. I think a lot of people are relieved the election is over and want to relax and enjoy this holiday season."
Her evaluation was buttressed by Betsy Husser of House in The Country, 107 N. Fairfax St., Old Town. "We had a really good day and weekend. The weather also helped this year. It was nice compared to last year's rain," she said.
"The whole weekend was good throughout. They were really buying. I estimate we are up overall about 14 percent over last year," Husser said.
Jeff Albert, owner of Rugs to Riches, 116 King St., had "so many people in the store you could hardly see the merchandise. It was a very positive day, double last year."
Stanley E. Rudy, owner, Wilfred Rodgers, 320 King St., said, "It was definitely not a red day. It was much better than last year. If this trend continues this should be a very good shopping season. Our fiber optic tree topper sold out but we have reordered."
Just down King Street at "Why Not," a children's store that sells everything from toddler clothing to educational toys and books, located on the corner of King and Lee streets, owner Kate Schlabach, pronounced the weekend sales "excellent."
"We did a lot more than last year. And, they were buying a little bit of everything. There didn't seem to be any must have item," she said.
GALLERY LAFAYETTE, tucked to the rear of Gadsby's Arcade, 320 King St., can be a good indicator of economic trends given its location and specialized merchandise. "It was really a pretty good weekend. There was a mix of buyers and lookers. It was definitely up from last year," Todd Healy, owner, said.
On the more cautious side was John Cholpik, sales associate, Radio Shack, Belle View Shopping Center. "We were definitely very busy but overall it was about the same as last year. Shoppers seemed to be looking at everything we had available. But, there was a definite interest in DVD's and digital pen camera," he said.
That caution was backed up by Kevin W.C. Green, owner, The Virginia Florist, Belle View Shopping Center. "We did well. But, I believe Black Friday is really a big box retailer day. Our sales were up a good 10 percent for this period over last year. Our flower sales are up due to corporate sales," Green said.
For Dorothy Trimber, owner of The Blossom Shop, Hollin Hall Shopping Center, another combined floral and gift store, it was a frustrating day. "I had decided that we would close early that day because last year had been quiet. And, it was very quiet this year until afternoon," she said.
"My business really picked up in mid afternoon. I think everyone flocked to the malls and big retailers for the bargains Friday morning. Saturday and Sunday went great. It was much better than last year," Trimber said.
Right next door at 7910 Fort Hunt Road, Deborah Bentley, owner, The Gift Store, said, "Overall, everything seems to have done very well. It was a lot better than last year."
SHOPPERS ALSO seemed more open to the unusual. One store that typifies that description is ArtCraft, 132 King St., Alexandria. "We were extremely busy this year," said Theoni Panagopoulos, assistant manager.
The holiday season's first major shopping weekend was summed up by Helen Valdez, manager, The Discovery Channel Store, 118 King St., Alexandria.: "They were buying and I was happy."