By Joshua H. Silavent - Staff Writer
November 20, 2012 - Retail businesses were perhaps the first to see the onslaught of the nation’s economic recession during the 2008 holiday sales season as household income and discretionary spending fell dramatically. Seasonal hiring declined as a result, throwing a shockwave through the industry. Retailers nationwide added just 324,000 jobs in 2008 between October and the end of December, marking the worst holiday hiring season in 22 previous years, according to the global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas (CGC), Inc.
But things have generally picked up each year since, even if just slightly. 2011 marked the largest hiring increase during the holiday season since 2007. But 2012 might prove a little leaner given the uncertainty about what recent elections might mean for the nation’s economy and the looming “fiscal cliff,” a potentially devastating mix of tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect in January. “November will give us the best indication of how 2011 stacks up when it comes to holiday hiring,” John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of CGC, said in a statement. “It is likely that a lot more of the holiday hiring plans announced by national retailers, including J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Best Buy and Macy’s, will show up in the November hiring figures.”
Meanwhile, most sales forecasts for the holiday season have been positive. For example, the National Retail Federation reports that sales will likely increase about 4 percent from 2011, accounting for more than $586 billion in spending.
However, whereas big box retailers have made a strong recovery since bottoming out in 2008, mom-and-pop stores and boutique shops continue to have their ups and downs. And these kinds of retailers operating in Long Beach seem to mirror this trend in some ways, making the holiday sales season all the more important for their bottom line.
Belmont Shore’s 2nd Street shopping district is an obvious retail gem in a city that tends to lack a broader retail identity. It is a haven for young families, college students and residents of the coastal neighborhood, providing unique shopping, dining and entertainment venues.
The Belmont Shore Business Association (BSBA) helps support the 200-plus retail and service storefronts along 2nd Street through various promotions, events and marketing campaigns. But the holiday season is when the BSBA really shines.
The sales season tends to get its start each year the day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday as it’s known to Americans. But in Belmont Shore, the next day is going to be just as important. That’s when BSBA members will take part in Small Business Saturday, which many retailers report was a successful endeavor last year, according to BSBA Executive Director Dede Rossi.
Of course, that’s just the beginning of what promises to be a month of holiday festivities on the shore. The 30th Annual Belmont Shore Christmas Parade will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. on December 1, and 2nd Street will be decorated with lights and ornaments all month long.
“We want to make the 2nd Street district in Belmont Shore a nice atmosphere,” Rossi said, “kind of bring back that old, small-town feel.”
The BSBA also is promoting a holiday shopping weekend December 7-9, with carolers, Santa and live entertainment in addition to special promotions and deals at local stores. “We did it for the first time last year and it was a really good weekend,” Rossi said.
Moreover, an open house event along 2nd Street will occur on 12/12/12, which also kicks off the 12 days of shopping on the shore promotion, and in-store deals, holiday treats and daily specials will be available for shoppers. Parking at meters will be free on weekends beginning December 8.
All of these efforts benefit local stores like The Rubber Tree. Owner Joy Starr said that because 2012 has been a challenging year, the holiday sales season is extremely important for many businesses along 2nd Street.
“You have to be creative with new ideas” of attracting new customers, she said. That’s why The Rubber Tree regularly provides social media promotions and specials.
The store is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and will be holding in-store discounts of 20 percent on December 6 and 7.
All things considered, businesses have been doing well in Bixby Knolls this year, said Blair Cohn, executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association.
He has received a steady stream of calls from new professional and retail businesses throughout 2012. But staying competitive means being proactive, which is why the First Fridays events have been so successful in Bixby Knolls, Cohn said. He added that spreading out special events like this that attract customers throughout the year minimizes the make-it-or-break-it element that so many retailers suffer from during the holiday season.
Still, the importance of the holiday season for some retailers cannot be overstated. Christy Parpini, owner of Bella Cosa Boutique in Bixby Knolls, described the holidays as “extremely” crucial for business. She is offering a free gift to customers who spend $50 or more at her store.
Association members kicked off the holiday sales season with an area block party on November 15 and they will participate in Small Business Saturday November 24. And on December 8, the “Bixby Knolls Shop Hop” will take place. Customers who shop that day will get bingo cards and receive a stamp for every $10 spent and enter to win a “huge” gift basket with items from participating retailers, Cohn said. “It’s kind of like taking Small Business Saturday and pushing it one more time into December,” he added.
These types of events help connect the many retail stores in Bixby Knolls, which provides a sense of camaraderie among owners in a traditionally competitive environment.
“I can honestly say that if we opened our store anywhere else,” Parpini said, “we probably would be out of business.”
East Anaheim Street
Members of the East Anaheim Street Business Alliance (EASBA) have seen their sales in 2012 be “kind of reflective of the overall economy,” said president Rod Wilson. Customer service, therefore, has become especially important in order to retain customers and attract new clients. “The personal touch means everything,” he added.
Businesses along the East Anaheim Street business corridor – from Junipero Avenue to the west, Pacific Coast Highway to the east, 11th Street to the south and 14th Street to the north – offer a diverse array of shops and services with a mix of owners from different ethnic backgrounds.
Wilson said this is why the EASBA promotes its Stop, Shop and Dine campaign. “You can drop your car off and get it serviced,” he added. “You can get your hair and nails done. You can grab a meal. You can pick up a birthday present – all in one area and you can walk it.”
Some EASBA businesses will participate in Small Business Saturday, but the holiday sales season, while always important, is not as significant here as in other Long Beach neighborhoods, Wilson said. This is both a good and bad thing.
“Part of the challenge with East Anaheim Street is that it’s not Belmont Shore or Bixby Knolls,” Wilson said, referring to the lack of gift stores and other traditional shopping outlets along the corridor. On the other hand, “certain types of businesses, whether the economy is good or bad, will survive because they’re providing basic services or things that people need to get by on a daily basis,” he added. “And I think that’s more the nature of East Anaheim Street.”
Safety has long been a concern for shoppers along East Anaheim Street, and the EASBA unveiled new security cameras at the intersections of Redondo and Temple on November 19 in order to provide greater assurances to visitors. This initiative will likely help support the EASBA’s efforts to expand promotions for its members and host community-wide events in 2013.
Though retail in Downtown Long Beach is typically dominated by restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, shopping stores play a vital role to the health of the business community and support a growing residential base.
“We’ve had renewed interest in downtown,” said Kraig Kojian, president and CEO of the Downtown Long Beach Associates.
This is evident at Shoreline Village, a collection of gift shops, retail stores and restaurants that primarily serve tourists. But this focus is evolving. Property manager Maureen Baker said that retailers there would participate in Small Business Saturday as a way to reach out to the local community. That day, Shoreline will give away free world clock calculators to shoppers who spend $25 or more and also provide free gift-wrapping.
There also will be live entertainment (including every weekend leading up to Christmas). “We hope to make it a very festive occasion,” Baker said.
Kojian said it was important for downtown businesses, whether retail or restaurant, to reach out to Long Beach residents. “I would encourage all of our downtown corridors . . . to market to more than their traditional base,” he added, “and that does include residential because that’s a built-in audience.”
East Village Arts District
Times have been tough in 2012 for some retailers in the East Village Arts District, which makes the holiday sales season exceedingly important for the boutiques and specialty shops in the area.
Many of the stores will likely team up for promotions and advertising this season, though the finer details are still in the works, said Village Treasures owner H. Maxie “Max” Viltz. She added that retail arts stores hope to take advantage of Black Friday, but admits that it’s difficult competing with big box retailers on such a day. “Specialty shops, we get kind of left behind sometimes,” she said.
Village Treasures is an African gift shop, boutique and gallery that has operated in the arts district for 11 years. Viltz has seen good times and bad, with last year’s holiday season being “very disappointing.”
“Let’s just hope they find their way to Village Treasures and the East Village for some of the unique things we have done here,” Viltz said of holiday shoppers this year.
Fourth Street’s Retro Row is nothing if not eclectic with its coterie of vintage clothing stores, gift shops and entertainment venues. And it is this uniqueness that keeps retailers strong throughout the year.
“Our annual success does not depend solely on November and December,” said Chris Giaco, a co-owner of inretrospect. He added that the dynamics of Retro Row mean that Black Friday winds up being like most any other Friday. That said, Giaco is quick to point out that the holiday sales season is important for all retailers, no matter where they’re located or what they’re selling.
That’s why businesses in the area have connected to host a holiday open house event from noon to 6 p.m. on December 8. In-store promotions, an annual appearance by Elvis Santa and local food trucks are among the day’s festivities.
Giaco said inretrospect would have hot cider and other holiday refreshments available for customers and that his store was actively bringing in vintage holiday merchandise from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
East 7th Street
Long Beach Skate is truly a success story in the city’s retail sector. Running strong for about two and a half years now, the eclectic skate shop appears to be only getting better with age.
The small business prides itself on customer service and being connected to the community. It supports a number of local charities and aims to make skating both cool for kids and responsive to the needs of today’s youth.
This focus has paid off for the company’s bottom line. “People don’t want the sense of just going somewhere and paying a register,” said owner Tim Scanlan. They’d rather pay their neighbor instead, he added.
This is evident on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, which are “probably the two biggest days of the year for us,” Scanlan said.
Moreover, Scanlan has been encouraged by turnout at his store during the holiday sales season because his shop on East 7th Street, he said, is not part of a larger retail community like Belmont Shore, Retro Row or Bixby Knolls.
Interestingly, Scanlan said that while the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas brings in good sales, the season doesn’t really end there. “We’ve had great Decembers, but almost better Januarys,” he said, adding that kids often get cash for Christmas or return gifts they don’t like and then come to the skate shop to get what they really want.
Long Beach Marketplace
The Marketplace along Pacific Coast Highway and its intersection with 2nd Street is always a festive place during the holidays, with decorations and Santa and activities for kids. It makes the retail center a destination for many Long Beach shoppers, as they have the opportunity to do some shopping, grab a bite to eat, even take in a movie, all in one place.
Delne Krost, manager of Chaussure fashion store, said the Marketplace always has a good vibe during the holidays. At her store, she said women are always coming in and picking out dresses for holiday parties and events.
Chaussure is virtually an institution among the ranks of Long Beach retailers. Open for nearly 30 years now, it supports local charities and benefits from having a loyal customer base. This fact makes the tough economic times of the past few years a little easier to manage.
“We have just been so blessed,” Krost said. “We work hard and we do a lot of new marketing . . . and it’s worked.”
Chaussure will host an event at its store December 6, with portions of sales proceeds going to support the Long Beach Cancer League, a charity long supported by storeowners Barbara McElrath and Beverly Patel. The store also will offer free gift-wrapping to customers.
“It’s a win-win for the community,” Krost said.