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Merchants seeing more green

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- Reflecting what business observers are seeing nationally, some Albany merchants are enjoying a rebound in business for the holiday season.

"We are busier now compared to last year and more so around Christmas," said Terri Stumpe, owner of the Royal Collection that has been in business 24 years in Albany.

That comes after a prominent retail research firm raised its national forecast for Christmas holiday spending for the second time in as many weeks.

Stumpe's store deals largely with clothing and accessories, but similar observations were made Wednesday by Honey Bolton of Place on the Pointe and Phyllis Curry, owner of The Carriage Trade.

"Everything's been going great this year," Bolton said of Place on the Pointe, which has been in Albany about 25 years and offers personalized gifts and housewares.

"We're really busy this time of year," she said. "We've even started opening a little bit earlier" to accommodate customers who want to get Christmas shopping done while children are at school.

Curry, who has owned The Carriage Trade for 20 of its 43 years, said that "traffic has been better" this year her store, which also specializes in personalized gifts and housewares.

"People seem to be buying more compared to the last two years," she said. "There has been improvement in general this year but even better for the Christmas season."

Stumpe sees a couple of reasons why the locally-owned stores are seeing better sales. One of those boils down to consumer confidence, a big factor in personal spending.

"People are more confident about things," Stumpe said.

The second possible reason, she said, is a conscious move to support locally-owned business. "people are wanting to support local businesses," she said. "They know how important local business is."

On Wednesday, ShopperTrak upgraded its outlook for holiday season spending after a November surge exceeded expectations. The firm, based in Chicago, said it now expects holiday sales to rise 4 percent over last year, up from a previous projection of 3.2 percent made in mid-November. Its original estimate was for a 2.9 percent increase.

ShopperTrak said November's revenue rose 5.8 percent compared with a year ago, as stores successfully pulled in shoppers with discounts. ShopperTrak had expected 3.7 percent.

That organization's improved view came a day after the National Retail Federation upgraded its outlook. The NRF now expects total holiday sales to rise 3.3 percent, 1 percentage point higher than its original 2.3 percent growth forecast.

The increasing optimism comes as government figures released Tuesday showed retail sales for November jumped 0.8 percent over October, marking the fifth straight monthly gain. The increase was led by department stores, which posted a 2.8 percent gain.

Shoppers, however, have had a bit of a hangover so far in December.

Sales for the week ended Saturday fell 0.4 percent compared with last year, according to ShopperTrak. Another culprit in that decline was a Midwest snowstorm that dumped mounds of snow on Sunday, closing major highways in several states. Minnesota's Mall of America, the nation's biggest mall, was forced to close a few hours earlier on Saturday.

That means that more pressure will be on stores in the final 10 days before Christmas, which have been becoming increasingly important.

Last year, that period accounted for 34 percent of holiday sales, up from 31 percent from 2006, according to ShopperTrak.

And a big part of that may come this weekend. While Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving -- is looked at by many as the "busiest" shopping day of the year, the distinction actually falls most years on the final Saturday before Christmas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.