Hope for the holidays

Published 8:25 pm Tuesday, November 11, 2008

FRANKLIN—Downtown merchants say they are staying hopeful about holiday sales, despite several grim forecasts that say they could feel otherwise.

“I’ve been here before, but I haven’t felt the crunch like I do now,” said Gerry Patnesky, owner of Alphabet Soup. “I’m hoping (the predictions) are wrong. I’m going to stay optimistic.”

According to the National Retail Federation, retail sales will be up a tiny bit, but will still mark the smallest increase since 2002. That estimate covers November and December and includes online sales, but excludes sales by auto dealers, gas stations and restaurants.

The NRF predicts that shoppers’ main concern this year will be cost.

“Retailers are going into this holiday season with their eyes wide open, knowing that savings and promotions will be the main incentive for shoppers,” NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullins said in a press release. “No one is canceling Christmas because money is tight, but consumers will be sticking to their budgets and looking for good deals when deciding where to spend this holiday season.”

To that end, downtown merchants are banding together this Saturday for the annual Christmas Open House and will offer refreshments, discounts and prizes, among other things, to help draw customers into their stores.

“We’ll have to have sales to bring people in,” Patnesky said, adding that she is going to mark down items in her store by 20 percent and slash prices on all of her retired Vera Bradley purses.

The purpose of the open house event is twofold, said Dan Howe, Downtown Franklin Association executive director. First, customers will enjoy the convenience of shopping locally and second, businesses will reap the benefits of that.

“Hopefully people will continue to shop at home like they have been,” Howe said. “We’ve been lucky so far with beautiful days.”

Howe said the new Visitors Center at the old train depot will be open Saturday as well.

Beverly Myers, owner of City Paint, said the open house is always a festive event, and many shop owners play Christmas music to set the mood. Several merchants will offer free tickets for downtown carriage rides, too. “It does bring a lot of people in,” she said.

Mary Huffman, president of Brady’s Jewel Box Inc. said she, too, is offering sales and refreshments to lure shoppers into her store.

“We have new merchandise in and big discounts,” she said. “I’m looking at this in a positive way. What other way can we look at it?”

Shoppers may have a tighter hold on their wallets this season, but they will still open then when the time comes, predicts Vicky Baker, owner of Kilby’s Flower Shop.

“Christmas is Christmas, and I think people will still spend,” she said.