Retailers hopeful, but still cautious, about shoppers

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Only storefront Santas this year are likely to be leaner and their bags less full.

Retailers reeling from a recession that, like a bad cold, looks like it could get worse before it gets better, are doing everything they can amid all the economic fear to promote Yuletide cheer.

A survey of a broad cross-section of businesses throughout the Jewel revealed mixed emotions - and expectations - about the upcoming holiday shopping season.

“I don’t think there’s anybody who hasn’t felt it (the recession) in some way,” said Gina Phillips, third-generation owner of Adelaide’s Florists & Decorators at 7766 Girard Ave. “We’re doing everything we can to make things look beautiful and bring a little bit of happiness into homes.”

Phillips was moved by customers’ reaction earlier this month at a holiday open house.

“People were saying they felt depressed until they came into our store and saw all the smiling faces,” she said.

Stay local

Phillips said it is her hope, and that of all Village merchants, that people will eschew going to malls and “shop local and support their community.”

More than 50 Village area merchants have banded together to stay open until 8 p.m. on Tuesdays in December to bring in residents after work.

A handful of Bird Rock boutiques are launching their own efforts, which they’ll kick off with a holiday open house from 6 to 9 p.m. on Dec. 4 along La Jolla Boulevard.

Participating businesses are Stephanie’s Shoes, Bodywear Boutique, Armonia, Haute Couture and Capricorn.

Stephanie Whitlock, who owns the shore store, said, “The idea is simply to have a holiday party and combine it with discount shopping and include a charity component.”

Whitlock said those who purchase items at her shoe store that night can have 10 percent of the cost donated to a local school of their choice. Refreshments and appetizers will be served at participating shops. “I think it might become an annual thing,” she added.

Meanwhile, officials at Westfield UTC regional shopping mall at 4545 La Jolla Village Drive are upbeat.

“Westfield has a tradition with our customers who come here for the (holiday) experience,” said UTC marketing director Adrienne Bergeron, “and we don’t want to disappoint. The holiday atmosphere is like no other, with great choices, services and amenities.”

Amenities include the presence of the Salvation Army and its holiday toy drive, a storefront Santa and a 17-foot-high poinsettia tree.

Early bird attraction

Many mall shops will open between 5 and 7 a.m. on “Black Friday” - the day after Thanksgiving, which got the label because it is often a day that puts retailers finances into the black.

Brian Miller, owner of six Geppetto’s traditional toy stores, including the one on Girard and in the Del Mar Highlands Center, acknowledged there are some real challenges to success this shopping season.

“I’m optimistic for a good season,” he said, “but it’s going to be a little bit strange because Thanksgiving comes so late in November this year that there’s actually one week less of shopping: That doesn’t help.”

Noting November this year was a little soft in sales for his stores, Miller said he believes customers will eventually come around for Christmas, though whether they’ll be shaving their budgets to make ends meet is uncertain.