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Area Merchants Give Holiday Sales Mixed Review

2003 was the strongest retail sales year since pre-9/11.

Retailers in Alexandria and the Mount Vernon district gave 2003 holiday sales a passing grade. For the most part, sales were equal to, or slightly better than 2002.

That assessment ranged from the giant retailers such as Wal-Mart to the local merchants in both Old Town and two neighborhood centers in the Mount Vernon area.

"It pretty much came up to our expectations. Electronics and toys went very well, which really helped," said Tracy Battle, manager of Wal-Mart on Richmond Highway. Her assessment was borne out by national statistics which showed a 0.5 increase for December over November.

Dorothy Trimber, owner, The Blossom Shop in Hollin Hall Shopping Center, found Christmas sales to go "really well. I was very happy overall."

The after Christmas sales were found to be "exceptionally well. They were lined up outside the store even before we opened right after Christmas. I had one lady who came back three times on Friday and twice on Saturday. Another called to make sure we would hold the items she wanted," said Trimber.

Next door, Deborah Bentley, owner, The Gift Store, said, "Sales were pretty good. We were close to our numbers for last year. If nothing else happens, next year should give a much clearer picture."

OLD TOWN merchants also split on their evaluations. "It was probably a medium season," said Betsy Husser, manager, Christmas Attic's House in the Country. "Not as good as last year. We were busy, but it was never a crunch."

That was echoed by Bianca Veleu at Artcraft. "It was about the same as last year. Our best mover was the stick furniture from a studio in Iowa," she said.

But Wilfred Rodgers proclaimed the 2003 holiday selling season as very good. "We had a couple of bad days due to the weather. But, overall it was very good. We didn't notice any drop from 2002. We sold out of many of our specialty items."

Todd Healy of Gallery Lafayette, attributed his good season to, "We were very fortunate, thanks to our many friends and clients. It was better than 2002."

Others were not so sure. Kevin W.C. Green, owner, The Virginia Florist in the Belle View Shopping Center felt "it went up a tick. But, I think the general feeling is that it was nearly flat."

Two others in the same center which had been so devastated by Hurricane Isabel in September, arrived at exact opposite conclusions about this past holiday sales season. Paul Hanson, manager, Skater's Paradise, said, "It was much slower than last year."

At the other end of the spectrum, Tyrell Crozier, manager, Radio Shack, saw an increase but not as high as earlier months in 2002. "Every month I've been here since last March, we've increased ticket sales by approximately 15 percent, except for December. We squeezed by with a five percent gain over the same month a year ago. But, even though we saw fewer people, they bought larger items."

FOR SOME, the slower holiday sales turned around at the beginning of the new year. Libby Bryant, manager, Hodges Gallery, Belle View center, found the first two weeks in January offset a lackluster holiday season.

"We did alright for Christmas but not as much as we expected. I think a lot had to do with the way Christmas fell this year. Most of our framing customers either come in November or January to get work done," she explained.

The local picture reflected the national assessment. Government analysis reported a retail sales increase in December coupled with inflation remaining flat. Prices rose only 0.2 percent in December, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. The annual increase last year was 1.1 percent, the least in 43 years, they reported.

National Retail Federation reported holiday sales of general merchandise increased approximately 5.2 percent. This represented an increase of $205.6 billion over the previous year.

Overall retail sales in 2003 rose 5.6 percent, compared with 3.1 percent in 2002, according to government statistics. This made 2003 the strongest retail sales year since pre 9/11.