Retailer expectations high for the holiday shopping season

UPPER CUMBERLAND – Even before the haunts of Halloween expired, before the candy was unwrapped and the costumes unpacked, retailers all across the country – and the region – have already stepped full-scale into their holiday shopping season prep.

And for good reason. The Upper Cumberland is poised to have positive sales after a modest year in 2014. The National Retail Federation (NRF), the world’s largest retail trade association, is also optimistic. It expects sales in November and December to increase a “healthy” 4.1 percent; holiday sales on average have grown just 2.9 percent over the past 10 years.

It’s all welcome news considering the first half of the year was a “volatile” one, according to NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay, and the summer comparatively “uneventful.”

“We’re seeing some of the same reports here, although things have picked up the last several months,” said Henry Bowman, an analyst with the Upper Cumberland Development District (UCDD). Based on state sales tax collection reports this year and informal estimates, he expects the region will run a 5-6 percent increase overall.

“Anecdotally, just looking at the traffic around town (in Cookeville), it’s up dramatically,” he added. “Looking at the crowds in restaurants, particularly during the weekend, it’s going very well. Those things can be deceiving, but it certainly looks like things are picking up.”

While some stores have already seen a fair share of holiday shoppers, most retailers say the big rush starts mid-November on. Others see a pick up in December, weeks – even days – before Christmas hits.

“December definitely is the biggest month of the year,” said Matt Phillips, owner of the Jewelry Emporium, located in Jackson Plaza in Cookeville. “We’ve had a phenomenal year, and we’re hoping for an even more phenomenal holiday season.

“The economy seems to be doing better in our town,” he added. “All my friends who have businesses seem to be up this year also.”

Up Interstate 40 in Crossville, Glenda Witt, owner of Gigi’s Boutique on Highway 70 East, says 2014 sales have been steady, and she expects certain items in her store – like Pandora jewelry – to be hot sellers come November and December.

“We are very price conscious with our clothing, and I think that’s a key,” Witt said. “And we also have a big web presence. Our online sales are awesome.”

The store has grown by an additional 1,500 square feet in recent weeks, a purposeful effort to double inventory in time for the holiday season. City wide, Crossville posted a best in terms of sales tax collections, bringing in more dollars during the first three months of the 2014-15 fiscal year than in any three-month period since records have been kept.

Cumberland County, comparatively, has been somewhat tepid. Quarterly state sales tax collections were up 2.4 percent in September’s report and 2.6 percent over the latest 12 months. The region is up 4.3 in terms of annual numbers.

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