Local shops prepare for the holidays

'Small business Saturday' helps, say local retailers

With less than a month to go until Christmas, local retailers are looking forward to increasing sales as they close out 2013, a year which saw sales increase over previous years.

"The last five weeks of the year are critical," said Glen Robbe, store manager of the Books Inc. at 301 Castro St. "We just do way more business than we normally would."

According to Robbe, the Castro Street location of Books Inc., has been doing well over the past few years, despite the slowed national economy -- a fact he attributes to Silicon Valley's relative stability compared to the rest of the country. Still, he noted, the recession did cause people to "put their wallets away."

Of late, however, Robbe said numbers have been up at his store.

Tamara Michel is the owner of Boutique 4 at 279 Castro St., which sells clothing and accessories. She said the end of the year isn't a "make or break" time for her business. Nonetheless, she does see more customers in the run up to the holidays, and that's a good thing as far as she is concerned.

Michel said Boutique 4 felt the pinch of the recession -- especially the during the "hardest years" of 2009 and 2010. But things seem to be back on track. "Compared to then, business has doubled," which she views as a sign the local economy is going strong.

"Every day I have people walking in that just joined a company or just started a company," Michel said. "A lot of people are hiring."

Both Robbe and Michel said they appreciate the efforts of American Express, which since 2010 has promoted the Saturday after Thanksgiving as "Small Business Saturday."

"It's gotten a lot of traction over the last three years," Robbe said, noting that he believes the event has brought customers into the store. "We definitely see people with their American Express cards."

Wayne Whelan, co-owner of the Therapy clothing and accessory boutique at 250 Castro St., said he appreciates the effort the credit card company is making, but added that he'd like to see every day be a "local business day."

"It would be better if they did that as a part of their daily routine," Whelan said. He said he is concerned that people don't shop locally frequently enough, even if there is more awareness around the movement.

Shopping at locally owned stores or small, local chains -- like Therapy or Books Inc. -- helps ensure that the customer's money stays in the local economy, he said. "When people call us a 'chain,' I kind of gulp."

Though Therapy just opened its 10th location in Berkeley, Whelan doesn't consider his company a chain -- at least not in the sense that big box retailers are chains. "They could be sharing the revenues with dictators and despots, heaven forbid," he chuckled.

Whelan said he thinks people get a more intimate experience shopping at a small store like his, or at Boutique 4 -- unlike at the mall, which can feel claustrophobic.

"I think when people come into the Therapy store and it's crowded, they don't feel they are being imposed upon," he said. "It's more of a party atmosphere."


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