Tri-City shoppers out in force as Christmas nears

Shoppers are choosing more practical gifts this year, but Mid-Columbia merchants say business has been as brisk as the weather.

Items selling well include warm work clothing, spa pampering, sport goods, E-readers and food-related products.

"Carhartt everything is selling -- overalls, jackets, it's all going out the door," said Heidi Porter, manager for Basin Department Store in Kennewick.

Across the river, at Grigg's Department Store in Pasco, firearms, sporting goods and barbecue grills are best sellers, said Lance Norman, store manager.

"Clothing is doing good. Insulated work wear is a big one, along with hunting boots and shoes in general," Norman said. "Instead of buying splurgy items, shoppers are going more for shoes, coats and things they can use around the house. They're more practical this year."

Norman said Grigg's also sold a lot of Christmas decorations, which surprised him.

"I think people are tightening their pocketbooks but not so much they can't have a little fun. It's likely they're sprucing up their own place and not taking that trip to Grandma's this year," he said.

That agrees with the national trend reported by the National Retail Federation in Washington, D.C.

"Consumers have not been suffering from a lack of spending power, they've just been missing the confidence to use it," Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the retail group, said in a news release.

The federation reported that consumers nationally are stocking up on clothing, accessories, books and music. Health and personal care stores also are doing good business, which also has been true in the Tri-Cities.

"Spas are all about wellness and feeling good and relaxing," said Vonda Smith, owner of Z Place Salon and Spa in Kennewick.

She has seen sales of gift certificates for half and full days of spa pampering increase dramatically in recent weeks.

Shoppers also can buy gift cards with a set dollar amount that the recipient can use for anything -- a massage is the most popular option, Smith said.

"A lot of people go that route if they don't know what the other person wants," she said.

In that case, another good choice is food.

"Local foods, like Chukar Cherries, AJ's Mustards and Killian Korn, are selling, selling, selling. That area of the store is fast becoming a wasteland of nothingness," said Allyson Hayes, manager of Ariel Gourmet & Gifts in Richland. "Inventory will be easy to take after Christmas."

And if a gift recipient likes to cook, there always are kitchen gadgets, pots and pans, Hayes said.

Electronics always are best sellers during the holidays, and this year is no exception, said Mike Bevelacqua at Best Buy in Kennewick.

"Many customers are splurging on large packages like surround-sound systems, something for the whole family to use and enjoy," Bevelacqua said.

He said small electronics such as digital cameras and camcorders, video games, car audio equipment and GPS and radar detectors also are popular gifts.

Bevelacqua added, "iPads and Blu-ray DVD players are also selling well, especially the players. The price on those has come down so much you can get one for less than $100 now."

E-readers such as the Kindle and Nook also are hot items.

"It's essentially an electronic book," Bevelacqua said. "You can download a book to the device for less than you would pay for the book off the shelf. If you read a lot, it will save you money."

He said shoppers definitely have been turning out.

"We've had it all -- snow, ice, freezing rain, fog. But they deal with it, there are plenty of customers coming in the door," he said.

Sales also have been brisk at the Coin Cradle in Kennewick, where holiday shoppers are buying friends and family a hedge on the future. The 2010 annual coin sets issued by the U.S. Mint are some of the shop's best sellers, said store manager Gary Gerlach.

"We also have coin sets for presidential dollars and National Park quarters," Gerlach said. "With gold and silver going up, these make nice gifts."

But what's really selling, Gerlach said, "are 1-ounce silver rounds with various Christmas designs on one side. The other side is blank and can be engraved."

On Wednesday, the rounds cost $35.30, which was what the silver cost plus $6. The price fluctuates according to the price of silver.

"We've sold over 300 of these so far," Gerlach said.