Biz Buzz: Many local retailers saw strong sales in December

This holiday season was a cheerful one for several local retailers, and the retail industry nationally saw a solid 4 percent increase for the 2010 holiday shopping season — the first uptick in two years, according to a report released Monday from ShopperTrak.

Nationally, while overall shopping levels haven’t returned to a prerecession pace, the 2010 holiday season “should be seen as a relatively encouraging sign for retailers heading into 2011,” said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based customer research firm.

In San Luis Obispo, “downtown retailers had fabulous holiday seasons ... better than expected,” said Deborah Cash, executive director of the Downtown Association, who added that the Santa’s House in Mission Plaza saw a record number of visitors.

Aaron Linn said his family businesses in Cambria — which include a restaurant, cafe, home gift shop, gourmet food store and farm store — saw flat sales during heavy rains before Christmas. But the week between Christmas and New Year’s saw a 10 to 15 percent sales gain year over year, he said.

John Linn, co-owner of Linn’s, said his mail-order and online sales grew 21 percent year over year from December 2009.

Sports Authority manager Daniel Costales was happy with increased sales this holiday season at his San Luis Obispo store, though he declined to disclose the percent change. Lisa Smith, owner of Whiz Kids toys of San Luis Obispo, was pleased to report sales equal with last year.

“Flat is the new up,” said Art’s Cyclery co-owner Scott Smith, who saw a 5 percent increase over the year-earlier period. “Five percent is fair. ... For the way things are, we’ll take it.”

Holiday sales were hurt the previous two seasons as the recession took its toll on consumers. Retail sales nationwide fell slightly, 0.1 percent, in 2009 as foot traffic fell 3.4 percent. In 2008, sales fell 5.7 percent, while foot traffic dropped 15 percent, according to ShopperTrak.

Bob Lund, the owner of Lund’s fine gifts in the Village of Arroyo Grande, was disappointed this year that business was down 5 percent, and “off a bit” throughout the Village.

“We were hoping to do better than last year, which was not spectacular,” he said.

Recent beautification efforts and a high level of merchandising and personal service meant the Village was as inviting as ever for shoppers, he said. “What else could you do?”

Nationwide numbers suggest consumers made fewer visits to malls and individual stores but spent more once they got there.

The sales gain for the combined months of November and December 2010, compared to the same period in 2009, occurred even as customer traffic remained flat, according to ShopperTrak.

— Julia Hickey and The Chicago Tribune

Nonprofit aims to educate about food

A group of California college students has started a nonprofit organization based in San Luis Obispo to encourage consumers ages 14 to 24 to be aware of how and where their food is grown.

I Love Farmers ... They Feed My Soul Inc. has no paid employees or office but reaches out to young people through its Facebook page, which has more than 27,000 members.

“When kids go to college, that’s when they make their first discretionary food purchases,” said J. Scott Vernon, a professor in the Agricultural Education and Communication Department at Cal Poly and mentor for the organization.

The Facebook page provides a forum for discussion about agricultural issues, and visitors are encouraged to visit the group’s website, which has links to several industry resources and statistics.

The nonprofit encourages students to buy food products grown in California or the United States in order to reduce their carbon footprints, stimulate the economy and avoid dependence on foreign food sources, according to Vernon.

The group uses proceeds, including sales of its apparel line, to travel to campuses to educate young people about American family farmers and ranchers.

The group recently elected its first board of directors: President Megan Brownell of Nipomo; Vice President Luke DeGroot of Fresno; Secretary Mindy Burris of Denair; Treasurer Brean Bettencourt of Turlock; and Cody Penfold of Kingsburg. The organization’s website is

— Julia Hickey