Sanford shop owners hope for late Christmas shoppers

Dec. 21, 2013 @ 06:36 PM

Anyone who still hasn't finished shopping for Christmas presents isn't alone, according to a survey by Consumer Reports.

The group reports that nearly all Americans will buy at least one other person a present this holiday season — but a full nine percent of those surveyed admitted that it's fairly likely they won't be done shopping for Christmas presents by Christmas. More than 30 percent of those interviewed hadn't even started shopping yet, compared to just 11 percent who had all their shopping done before December even started.

With Thanksgiving falling so late in the year, people have had fewer days to shop, said Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce President Bob Joyce.

"I am hearing from merchants we are having a good Christmas season but not great," he said. "And these last couple of days we will see the merchants put out all the stops to get the procrastinators into the stores."

Even still, sales have been pretty good this year according to at least a couple downtown Sanford retailers, both old and new.

Hobby Shop owner Marsh Asbill said business at his store on Steele Street has been booming — especially the custom framing they do for everything from artwork to jerseys and memorabilia.

"Our framing business has been awesome," Asbill said Friday. "... It's unbelievable. Probably the best year we've ever had."

He said part of the reason for his success is the established nature of his business, which has many loyal customers. One business that can't make such a claim is The Pirate's Cove, which just opened about three weeks ago on Carthage Street right across from First Citizens Bank.

Pirate's Cove manager Rawlins Bagnall said despite its newcomer status, the store — which sells strategy and role-playing games, action figures, snarky t-shirts and a number of other items which make it a veritable nerd's paradise — has developed both repeat customers and a steady stream of unique visitors even though it doesn't have tons of people driving in from out of town like Asbill's shop does.

"There have been a number of people who stopped by simply because it was called The Pirate's Cove," he said. "Our foot traffic has been great."

He said there are a lot of older folks in Sanford who might not be great at online games, but that everyone is good at board games and card games — and grandparents often like to use those kinds of games to bond with grandchildren who might otherwise be engrossed in phones and computers.

For those gift-getters who prefer something a little flashier, people shouldn't procrastinate too long — Southern Jewelers, one of the county's most popular jewelry stores, is closing at 2 p.m. Christmas Eve — and Kathryn's Hallmark and Fiona's in Spring Lane, which sells some jewelry in addition to shoes, clothes and more, is closing at 6 p.m. the day before Christmas.

While Black Friday is a big shopping day for many stores, the weekend before Christmas is consistently a big shopping time for people to "finish their lists," according to Belk Store Manager Christy Thornton. 

"It's extremely important," she said. 'This makes our year. We appreciate all the local residents who patronize our store."

And while last-minute shoppers will be able to find much of what they need in the few blocks of stores in downtown, or in the several big-box stores elsewhere in Lee County, many will either want or have to shop online instead.

Online shoppers are probably using Amazon for at least one gift. But the procrastinators out there need to place orders by 11:59 tonight in order to have gifts delivered before Christmas using the company's two-day shipping. For those getting clothes and procrastinating even more, Nordstrom, as an example, will let you order as late as 3 p.m. Monday and still get free shipping for deliveries by Christmas Eve.

And while last-minute shoppers, by definition, don't have the luxury of shopping around or waiting on a good sale, all hope is not lost. Finance website Market Watch says that for certain items, deals might actually be better now than they were previously in the year since retailers are trying to offload merchandise that might not sell well after Dec. 25.

Holiday decorations are in that category where they're joined by pajamas, sweaters, other winter clothes like wool pants or heavy coats and scarves, and even cameras.

But people don't necessarily have to buy a fancy camera — or a fancy anything else — to impress the gift recipient. The Consumer Reports study referenced earlier also found that 82 percent of Americans would prefer a practical gift to a luxurious one if they had to choose between the two.  

Herald reporter Anna Johnson contributed to this story.