Beachside businesses see boost in holiday traffic

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Retailers say they are seeing more traffic to their shops this holiday season and generally better sales though buyers still seem to be holding on to their cash and are on the lookout for bargains.

Most of the shop owners said business has been brisk since Thanksgiving, and while customers still might not have as much cash to spend as a few years ago, they are making purchases.

What the business owners also say is that they have noticed shoppers seem to be in a more festive mood.

“People are not complaining as much this year, except for now maybe about the weather,” said Betty Cochrane of Irish Treasures. “For a while there, even I didn’t really want to be here, people were so down and so mad at everything. Now it seems to have passed, they have moved on and they are thinking about Christmas.”

Julie Knight, owner of the Gazebo, which bills itself as a fun boutique for fabulous women, says she has noticed more traffic to her Ocean Drive shop.

“It is definitely busier. There are a lot more people in and it feels like there is more bustle and that people are buying. But I have also brought my price points down, so we are also having to sell at lot more to cover the same overhead from two years ago,” she said.

Meg Offutt, owner of Kemp’s Shoe Salon & Boutique, has noticed the same trend at her store on Ocean Drive.

“So far it has been very good. We had a very good November and we have had a good start to December,” she said. “There is more traffic, it is definitely busier than it was last year. I think in November we saw more winter residents.”

Most of the retailers did say the new normal is shoppers who are not as free-wheeling with their cash as in the boom years. Many are adjusting to that new reality.

To help bring out more beachside shoppers, many members of the Oceanside Business Association are keeping extended hours on Thursdays until 7 p.m. through Christmas to allow customers who aren’t always free during business hours to visit their favorite stores.

“Everyone can’t always get out during the day, and this gives people a chance to do some shopping and maybe get dinner at one of our local restaurants,” said Martin Bireley of the Beach Shop.

The OBA is also participating in the 3/50 project to support local businesses.

The campaign asks that customers pick their three favorite local shops and try to spend $50 a month at each one. Supporters of the project claim if half the employed people in the United States spent $50 a month at an independently owned business, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue.

Their handout states: “For every $100 spent in independently owned stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, $43 stays here. Spend it online and nothing comes home.”

With most of the retailers heartened from more foot traffic into their stores, Julie Denning of Kilwin’s Chocolates & Ice Cream didn’t know what to expect this holiday season. Denning opened her store in January and she and her husband are enjoying their first Christmas in Vero Beach as chocolatiers.

“We are thrilled with how it is going. The response has been fabulous from the community. People come in and of course they love the chocolates, but we also have stocking stuffers galore,” she said. “It is better than we expected and it is getting better every day.”

Many of the retailers said their best selling items this Christmas season were clothing accessories and smaller stocking stuffers.

“People are looking for fun interesting things that might make an old outfit new,” said Deana Marchant, owner of Sassy. “Cashmere wraps are really hot right now. People also still want a lot of color and color accessories.”

Julie Knight of the Gazebo also said accessories are hot ticket items at her boutique.

“For a clothing store December is not always our busiest time because it’s hard to buy clothes for other people,” she said. “Across the board, my accessories are selling the most.”

Bireley of the Beach Shop says his best seller this season is something his wife talked him into on a whim at a retail show in Atlanta. It is an inexpensive replica of the Toy Watch Sandra Bullock wore for her character, Leigh Anne Tuohy, in the movie “The Blind Side.”

“I never noticed the watch in the movie, but my wife did and she said let’s buy 20 and see how they do,” he said. “I think we sold 10 in the first few days and they have been going out of the store ever since.”

Aside from the extended hours most of the retailers, said they weren’t expecting to run any blowout sales or hawk items to get customers into their stores, though that doesn’t mean you won’t find a surprise or two if you wander in off the street to visit a local vendor.

“We don’t run specials, but we do things on an individual basis,” said Betty Cochrane of Irish Treasures. “We will do things like we will serve Bailey’s in the afternoon, just because we thought about it in the morning. We are not doing it to bring people in; we are doing it to thank people who are here.”

All of this is giving retailers hope that the increase in Christmas traffic to their stores will extend into the New Year and provide momentum for a solid season of sales.

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