Local Retailers Say Brick-and-Mortar Holiday Season is Starting Off Strong

Black Friday and Small Business Saturday played well in Pasadena, and now a cavalcade of tree lightings, holiday festivals, and promotions aim to keep registers ringing

Published : Friday, November 30, 2018 | 5:49 AM

The sidewalks of Old Pasadena (pictured) were crowded last weekend as good weather and deep wallets fueled a strong start to the 2018 holiday shopping season, retailers and experts report.

Based on early reports and conversations with local independent retailers and economic experts, Pasadena merchants enjoyed a good Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, as well as a strong Cyber Monday, and retailers can look forward to a strong holiday shopping season.

Playhouse District Association Executive Director Brian Wallace told Pasadena Now Wednesday that local merchants in his District had a “pretty strong weekend, and are really excited to kick off the holiday season with some good traffic.”

“I think what’s helping is that the merchants that we have here are either offering things or experiences that are difficult to replace online,” Wallace continued, “Stores are offering a wider and more interesting array of inventory that keeps people wanting to come back into the stores.”

Online sales didn’t seem to slow down hiring for the big shopping days, either, Wallace noted.

“Both Vroman’s and Target were doing holiday and seasonal hiring … good indicators that they expect a strong shopping season,” he said.

Target looked to hire 120,000 seasonal workers nationwide in October, a 20 percent increase over last year, with about 28,000 positions in California and 13,000 seasonal jobs in the greater Los Angeles area.

Old Pasadena Management District President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Mulheim shared his observations of the weekend shopping days by saying “it seemed to be a busy weekend. The garages were busy. There was lots of foot traffic. We saw lots of bags, long lines in the retailers both Friday and Saturday. So it seems to be a good, strong start to the season, but you know, we won’t see hard numbers for a while.”

Mulheim pointed out that one of the strengths of Old Pasadena is “the critical mass of independent retailers.”

As Mulheim explained, “About 200 of our businesses are small, local, independent businesses. Many of those are only in Old Pasadena. So they don’t have a huge online presence or have retail capabilities online. You’re going to get small, local, artisan driven goods, you’re coming here, you’re not buying that online.”

That description rang true for Larayne Brannon, owner of the boutique shop Clothes Heaven, who said her store had a strong weekend.

“Small Business Saturday was a bang-up day,” she added, “Definitely better than last year.”

According to ShopperTrak, a retail research firm, “findings indicate that shopper visits resulted in only a combined one percent decline for the two-day period compared to last year, with a 1.7 percent decline in traffic on Black Friday versus 2017. This slight traffic variance is consistent with data results over the last several years,” the firm noted.

“The fact that the combined shopper visits remained almost the same this year compared to the last three years proves that the notion of Black Friday not being popular anymore is a myth,” said Brian Field, senior director of global retail consulting for ShopperTrak. “Shopping in physical stores during the holidays continues to be an exciting annual event for consumers and based on the Black Friday traffic data, retailers are in for a successful holiday season.”

Much of the weekend numbers are anecdotal, says Pasadena Economic Development Manager Eric Duyshart, who explained, “The city does not have a direct way to gauge a particular day, but when I was out shopping with my family, it seemed like the overall activity was strong.”

Speaking of the competition between retail and online sales, Duyshart noted that “(retailers) have to always stay aware of the trends and to stay competitive, they need to worry about competitors on the street and online.”

Sylvia Paixao, owner of C`est La Vie clothing, said Tuesday, “We had a very good Black Friday. ‘Shop Small Saturday’ was a little bit slower than Black Friday, but overall it was good.”

Paixao’s shop is brick-and-mortar only with no online presence.

“We are a boutique,” she explained.” So for us, it’s a little bit hard to do the online because we import unique clothes and we don’t have big quantities.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Carolyn Gray, owner of High Low Vintage in Pasadena, is now only online since closing her retail store back in August. She also reported her business enjoyed a successful shopping weekend.

As Gray explained, “I had developed my customer base, including international, to the point that I could. So HLV is digital only now. But I can say that I had record-breaking sales over the weekend online! There isn’t a country that I don’t have repeat customers from.”

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