Drew and Denise Bernabei limped home on Christmas Eve last year exhausted but not unhappy.
The owners of Sasso Jewelry & Gifts had an exceptional Christmas shopping season and, true to form, a number of desperate husbands rushed in Dec. 24 in search of last-minute gifts for their wives. The stragglers padded the bottom line nicely.
Drew Bernabei is betting on another good Christmas this year even though there are fewer shopping days than in 2018. Last year, Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 22 and left 33 shopping days until Christmas. This year, Thanksgiving falls on Nov. 28, which limits the shopping season 27 days.
Bernabei, for one, isn’t worried.
“I think just having the four weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas is not necessarily a bad thing,” he said. “I think it makes people a little more efficient. They’re going out early and people have definitely started Christmas shopping already.”
And Bernabei isn’t exactly heart-broken about having fewer Sundays to throw his doors open to holiday shoppers.
“We love working only four Sundays as opposed to five,” he said. “It’s only noon-4 but it’s enough of a convenience for our customers to make it worthwhile.”
Other retailers are singing a similar tune. The comparatively short shopping season didn’t bother most of those retailers interviewed.
Melissa Jesse owns Five-22, a women’s clothier in downtown Princeton, and she agreed the duration of the season won’t necessarily dictate her sales.
“I think it’s going to be fine even with the shorter shopping days,” Jesse said. “We’ve had a great year so far and everyone is supportive of small businesses.”
Mary Olson, co-owner of Prairie Fox Books and Rock Paper Scissors, both in Ottawa, said she was initially concerned about the week she’s effectively losing because of how the calendar fell.
“So far, though, it feels as if there’s been more traffic before Thanksgiving than there had been in the past,” she said. “I think it will end up being OK.”
Not everyone shrugged off the truncated sales season. Jeremy Reed, owner of That Guy’s Secret, said he’s sufficiently concerned with the lost days that he’s extending store hours to Sundays from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Even if Christmas 2019 falls short of the 2018 retail season, that’s OK because last year’s was so strong that a minor drop-off still could drive in big bucks.
Ottawa and Utica both had record December sales totals last year.
La Salle had its best Christmas shopping season in 10 years. Peru had one of its best December sales ever. Mendota came within 1% of toppling its holiday record.
The increasingly important shopping days in November, led by Small Business Saturday, make that month almost as strong. Mendota and Oglesby set November records and other communities posted strong figures.
Will the trend continue this holiday season? Weather will be a factor, but retailers pointed out 2019 has been a good year overall.
Year-to-date retail figures were available only through Aug. 31, but a survey of eight cities with a strong retail presence showed every city broke at least one monthly sales record this year.
“The fall quarter so far has been pretty nice,” Reed said, “and I think it’s an indication that the fourth quarter is going to be good.”
Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or TCollins@Shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_Court.