Business

Holidays draw Tri-City customers

Holiday sales brought cheer for some Tri-City retailers after a largely grim year end.

JCPenney at Columbia Center mall lost about 7 percent in pre-Christmas sales in 2008. But in the 2009 holiday season, sales were 8 percent higher than expected, said Lee Boman, store manager.

He said the store may have underestimated the demand for women's winter boots and some electronics items, which sold out quickly. Store sales during the Christmas and New Year's holiday period in 2009 have him thinking positively about 2010.

"We're excited about the first quarter," Lee said, adding he's optimistic about a better showing in the spring.

"We had a good Christmas," said Linda Pasco, owner of Lemon Grass, a Kennewick boutique store. It was better than the 2008 Christmas, she said.

Customers appeared to have had a more positive frame of mind, and that translated into increased sales, said Allyson Hayes, staff manager at Ariel Gourmet & Gifts in Richland.

"Our shelves are pretty empty," she said.

Food and kitchen gadgets sold at a faster pace than the store could replenish them, she said, and that shows the economy has improved.

"We are so fortunate we don't even realize it," said Charlie Grigg of Grigg's Department Store in Pasco, referring to the relative strength of the Tri-Cities' economy.

Sales at his store grew throughout the year and peaked during the holiday season, he said.

Pasco of Lemon Grass said she thinks customers bought things to pamper themselves, though many began their holiday shopping later than usual. She had to re-order many items, including some bath and body products.

She said she distributed a store discount coupon via an e-mail list to help generate business for her store. People often bought gifts in the $20 to $35 price range at her store, Pasco said.

Boman said he thinks a combination of discount offers, wider selection and JCPenney brand recognition helped bring customer traffic to the store.

"We focused on providing a pleasant customer service experience," he said, and that seems to have paid off in helping increase the store's gross sales.

But the average transaction at his store declined 39 cents this holiday season, from about $40 a year ago, Boman said. That's partly because consumers were careful about spending their money.

Food always is a big selling item during the holidays, Hayes said. She was preparing Tuesday to order more inventory for her store, as she said the business outlook in general is brighter.

-- Pratik Joshi: 582-1541; pjoshi@tricityherald.com; Business Beat blog at www.tricityherald.com

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