The criterion for having a “merry” Christmas covers a broad spectrum, from seeing family and friends that have spent time apart to getting that special thing you’ve been wanting from Santa all year.
But in the retail business, it’s all about the ring of cash registers and making sure customers are happy so that next year, they’ll know where to shop. With a week to go before Christmas arrives, Naperville merchants say they are feeling pretty good about how things have gone this year.
Local sales tax revenue is a good barometer, and Christine Jeffries, president of the Naperville Development Partnership, reports that according to the latest sales figures from the city, Naperville is looking at a 10 percent bump in revenue this year.
“Auto sales in Naperville are a huge part of that revenue and represent about 4.2 percent of the total, and we understand that our car dealers are doing really well,” Jeffries said. “But in talking with merchants, the sidewalks are busy downtown and we’ve seen a lot of traffic at stores along the Route 59 corridor. We also have about 95 percent occupancy rate in the downtown which is a good sign things are healthy there.”
Merchants ranging from corporate stores to independent shops downtown describe sales as being on par with those of a year ago to well surpassing expectations.
Laura Sabato, who manages Adagio Teas which opened three years ago, said she “is thrilled and couldn’t be happier.”
“We do sell more teas in the winter and with the cold weather arriving earlier, it has certainly boosted sales,” Sabato said. “I think the word about us has been getting out there and people are telling more of their friends about us. This will be our best year in sales since we opened.”
Sabato was asked how she thought other merchants were doing and only said, “I wish I knew.” But up the street, SaraBoo Creek, an accessory shop, reported that sales are also expected to exceed last year’s totals.
“I think because we had our Christmas merchandise out early this year, we kind of got a jump on things,” said lead associate Kim McGuire. “We’ve seen a lot of heavy traffic, and a lot of people are buying personalized plaques and ornaments. We did put our holiday things out earlier, and it’s turned out to be fruitful for us.”
Mellissa Smith, who manages the Sur la Table in downtown Naperville, also said foot traffic has built after a slow start and that “a lot of great customers have come in looking for catalogue merchandise.”
“We did have sort of a slow start but business has been good and we feel like we’re going to meet our expectations,” Smith said.
Along the Route 59 corridor, Go Green Baby, an eco-friendly gifts and essentials store for babies and young children, is having a good year, thanks in part to its free gift wrapping and curbside service.
“People can order items online, and we’ll gift wrap them and bring them right out to their car for no charge,” said owner Heidi Bertino-Daum. “It’s very handy for people who have a baby inside the car. We’ve been here two years this April and we’ve been very busy this season.”
In the end, shoppers make or break the season, and with a week to go, most reported spending as much or more on gifts this year for a variety of reasons. Angie Davis of Sandwich said she had already purchased presents for her two children but “still had 10 more people to buy for.”
“I’m going to have to do some power shopping in the next few days and I have a lot of kids to buy for still, and the items are going to cost more,” Davis said. “These aren’t little kids anymore, and you can’t just get them something small for $10. I’m definitely going to be spending more this year.”
Davis thinks most shoppers are still “being cautious about what they spend” and Irene Carapia of Naperville said “problems with work this year” were going to force her to scale back.
“I really can’t spend what I did a year ago, and I have no choice,” Carapia said. “I have to get some things for my grandkids, but my own kids are going to get less.”
Leah Vinik of Naperville said she was spending more this year, thanks to “finding more of the right or unique gifts.”
“In terms of total spending, I think most people are going to maintain the ‘status quo’ but for myself, I’ve found more things that I wanted to buy,” she said. “My kids always get what they want, but I’ve found some unique things this year for myself and others and bought them.”