Local stores report steady holiday sales

As the countdown to Christmas began this week, most local businesses The Tribune surveyed reported sales tracking with or slightly better than last year.

According to an analysis reported by the Associated Press, the national economy is predicted to be growing at nearly 4 percent in the fourth quarter — the strongest rate since the first quarter of 2006, which experienced 5.4 percent growth.

Deborah Cash, executive director of the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association, said that national numbers aren’t immediate indicators of what is happening in the somewhat insulated local economy. “Our ‘bads’ aren’t as bad and our ‘goods’ aren’t as good,” she said to characterize the sales trends in downtown San Luis Obispo. Lisa Smith, owner of Whiz Kids toys of San Luis Obispo, said she has seen sales consistent with last year, but added that “people are more careful with their dollar.”

At Kwirkworld in San Luis Obispo, where manager Lara Gannon reported sales are down about 10 percent over last December, people are buying the least expensive items despite heavier foot traffic.

However, Smith of Whiz Kids said “customers are supporting local, independent businesses in a big way this year.”

Steve Fleury, owner of Best Bike Zone in Paso Robles, would agree. “I have people come in literally everyday saying they’re trying to shop local and keep money local. And as a business person, that’s very positive to hear.”

Fleury said his sales are up a record 40 percent compared to last December. Since then, the store has doubled its size to offer a greater variety of bikes.

To ensure customer loyalty, Coast Electronics stopped selling Sony televisions because there was no warranty service offered locally — and that was something co-owner John Weiss wanted to guarantee for his customers.

And there is always the hope that last-minute shoppers will steepen the sales curve.

As of December 20, the percentage of West Coast consumers who had completed their holiday shopping was 72.1 percent.

That was significantly lower than the 2008 completion rate of 80.1 percent on the same date, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.