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Mixed Reviews Along Route 12A

Valley Retailers Do Holiday Season Math

  • Julie Geoghegan, of Hartland, reads a book to her son Eoin,3, at Bonkers in the Power House Mall in Lebanon, N.H. on December 27, 2013. Eoin spent some of his Christmas money while Julie took note of his interests for his upcoming bithday. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Julie Geoghegan, of Hartland, reads a book to her son Eoin,3, at Bonkers in the Power House Mall in Lebanon, N.H. on December 27, 2013. Eoin spent some of his Christmas money while Julie took note of his interests for his upcoming bithday. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • James Gerjevic, of Wilder, Vt., shows an Elmo toy to his 10-month-old daughter Ellie, at Bonkers in the Power House Mall in Lebanon, N.H. on December 27, 2013. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    James Gerjevic, of Wilder, Vt., shows an Elmo toy to his 10-month-old daughter Ellie, at Bonkers in the Power House Mall in Lebanon, N.H. on December 27, 2013. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Julie Geoghegan, of Hartland, reads a book to her son Eoin,3, at Bonkers in the Power House Mall in Lebanon, N.H. on December 27, 2013. Eoin spent some of his Christmas money while Julie took note of his interests for his upcoming bithday. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)
  • James Gerjevic, of Wilder, Vt., shows an Elmo toy to his 10-month-old daughter Ellie, at Bonkers in the Power House Mall in Lebanon, N.H. on December 27, 2013. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

West Lebanon — Although national reports indicate increased holiday sales, independent Upper Valley shopkeepers on Friday said they’d had a mixed retail season.

Local merchants pointed to snowstorms, the short shopping season, lingering economic troubles or recovering markets to try to explain the varying December numbers.

Along Route 12A in West Lebanon, several retailers, including the Mouse Menagerie and Encore Books, said holiday sales hadn’t been as strong as they had hoped.

“You always hope it will be better,” Lois Higgins, of Croydon, and manager of the Mouse Menagerie said. “Let’s just say it was not as good as in years past.”

Encore Books, which sells used books in Staples Plaza, was forced to close early a few days, bookseller Tamaran Beck said, because of “excessive snow and ice and sleet.”

Assistant Manager Nickie Rogers attributed the low foot traffic to the shop’s move six months ago. “People assume that we went out of business, but we’re just a few doors down,” she explained.

A.J. Maranville Jr., the owner of Hobbies ‘n Stuff on Glen Road, offered a similarly lukewarm outlook.

“It’s what I call a normal season as far as volume of the sales. If we had done more advertising, I don’t think it would have made a bit of difference. People don’t have the disposable income,” he said.

Maranville, as well as merchants at Vermont Violins, and Encore Books, pointed to the challenges of competing with online shopping and the larger box stores in West Lebanon.

Besides, Maranville added, “Kids want electronics. The hands-on, having to build things, isn’t a priority.”

In contrast, Sarah Luhmann, manager of the Powerhouse Mall, hadn’t tallied numbers but said foot traffic appeared to have been stronger than last Christmas. Locals, as well as tourists, filled the mall, which is home to L.L. Bean, Eastern Mountain Sports and several other stores, throughout December, storekeepers reported. Even two days after Christmas, the festive holiday air lingered; children clambered into a red sleigh in the mall’s entrance and Christmas lights festooned the banister.

Upstairs, at Bonkers toy store, employee Justin Cate said, “I’ve seen some families five or six times. We have a lot of regulars.” The store sells a colorful miscellany of toys and knickknacks, including postcards, puzzles, plastic figurines, and the most popular this year, Legos and the “classic board games,” Cate said.

“We had a slow November, but a busy December,” agreed co-worker Allisa Fifield.

“A couple days, people came in saying they parked illegally, the lots were so full, they parked up on the banks.” And, she added, “It wasn’t just the mall; Lebanon was busy, people were walking around all the time. It hasn’t been like this for a while.”

Vermont Violins and Something Sweet also reported substantial traffic, and Colonial Antique Markets owner Andy Anderson described the season as “the busiest Christmas in five years.” The upsurge in spending, in fact, may reflect a larger national trend of increased economic activity.

U.S. retail sales rose 3.5 percent during the holiday season this year, helped by deep discounts at malls and purchases of children’s apparel and jewelry, MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse said.

Sales of holiday-related categories, such as clothing, electronics and luxury goods, rose 2.3 percent from Nov. 1 through Dec. 24 compared with a year earlier, the Purchase, N.Y.-based research firm said Thursday.

SpendingPulse tracks total U.S. sales at stores and online via all payment forms.

Falling store traffic in recent weeks and uneven demand, especially for apparel, spurred chains to risk earnings by pouring on the discounts to generate sales. Retailers including Gap Inc. were offering as much as 75 percent off and some, including Macy’s Inc. and Kohl’s Corp., kept stores open around the clock starting Dec. 20.

“You are seeing, ‘It’s OK for me to go out and spend,’ ” Sarah Quinlan, a senior vice president at MasterCard Advisors, told Bloomberg News. “That being said, they are still being cautious, and they are picking their retailers. It is not hot 2006-2007 spending we are seeing.”

Browsing at Pier 1 Imports on Friday, a few shoppers, at least, acknowledged increased local spending.

“We shopped a lot more online last year, but this year I talked it over with my husband and we wanted to be more personal,” said Debbie Devoid, of Quechee. “We went around and personally picked things out for people.”

Her main interest, Devoid added, was “mostly household kind of things.”

Maryellen Sullivan, of Plainfield, offered different reasons to buy from local merchants. “I have no interest in traveling to shop,” she explained. “I like to be local.”

“That’s very important to her,” her daughter, Meg O’Neill, of Salem, Mass., chimed in. The family, the two agreed, had spent slightly more than last year.

Perhaps, mall manager Sarah Luhmann suggested, December won’t be the end of the local businesses’ good fortune.

“West Lebanon is really becoming quite the hub for shoppers,” she said. “Who knows whether this is an ongoing trend, but I’m excited for 2014.”

Material from Bloomberg News was used in this report. Katie Jickling can be reached at katiejickling@gmail.com.