Holiday Sales Surprising for Kent Retailers
Downtown shops welcomed many first-time buyers
Downtown Kent merchants enjoyed a brisk holiday sales season due, in part, to the many "new faces" they saw coming through their doors.
Store owners have varying theories as to why so many first-time buyers stopped in Kent to shop this year, but all agree that pre-Christmas sales were very encouraging for the buy-local movement.
"I think we've reached critical mass," said Cass Mayfield, who owns McKay Bricker Framing and Black Squirrel Gallery on Main Street. "There are just enough stores now that downtown is a destination. When there were only three or four nice gift stores, it just wasn't a big enough draw. Now people come down to make their way through all the stores."
Her co-owner husband, Bob Mayfield, added, "We had a very good Christmas season. Traffic was very good and sales were good, despite the snow. We saw a lot of new people along with our regulars … People were spending their money a little bit more freely."
Just a few doors down from McKay Bricker is Empire, where owner Catherine Cartwright-Jones said her holiday sales season was "really rather lovely. We had person after person coming into the store saying, 'This is the best store in Kent.' We're very happy with that."
Cartwright-Jones said the significant number of new customers coincided with events being held nearby, such as the annual Festival of Lights. "We had many customers who came in because they were going downtown to an event," she said, adding that many are likely to return.
Sue Nelson, owner of Sue Nelson Designs Ltd. on South Water Street, is happier than she expected to be with her pre-Christmas sales. "We had a pretty good season. We were expecting a lot less, quite honestly, with the recession and all. But we're pleased."
Nelson credits the ongoing demolition of downtown buildings for the boost in new customers at her business.
"We had some regulars, but we had new people coming in, too," she said. "Our location is catty-corner from the demolition. A lot of people who came in from out of town to visit relatives would walk around that block, then come over and talk to us. Just today, we had three people in at different times talking about that. Everybody's excited to see what's going on."
Across the street is Woodsy's Music-Audio-Video, where owner Paul Braden also welcomed many new customers. And like his fellow downtown retailers, Braden is happy with seasonal sales. "We really don't have the figures at this point, but it was brisk for a while right before Christmas," he said.
And the selling season is still under way. "We have a lot of young students, and there were gift cards (bought) for them that we're now cashing in on after Christmas," Braden said.
Karen Barrett, who owns City Bank Antiques with her husband, Don, said they had a mixed holiday season, with more shoppers than usual, but lower overall sales totals. "We had a tremendous amount of sales, but they weren't big-ticket sales ... Numbers were down a little from last year," she said.
Barrett is encouraged, however, by the many new customers she met. "I answered the question, 'How long have you (the store) been here in Kent?' a lot … probably about 75 percent of our shoppers were new," said Barrett.
Back on Main Street, Off the Wagon manager Kyle Buckley said "we definitely saw an improvement from last year. We get our (sales) numbers next Monday and will know for sure."
In addition to repeat customers, Buckley also saw an increase in "new faces" that he attributes to word-of-mouth advertising. "We had people from out of town coming in, saying they heard about our store from people who live in town," he said.
No matter the reason, the increase in new shoppers has downtown retailers feeling optimistic about the future.
"I had many people tell me they were determined to do all their Christmas shopping locally this year, and were very happy they were able to accomplish that. That's quite encouraging for the 'buy-local' movement," said Cass Mayfield.