A merry Christmas downtown

HOUGHTON – According to the Associated Press, seasonal spending down nationally, but many retailers in Houghton, Hancock and Calumet say their sales are strong in comparison to recent years.

A November Gallup poll showed that Americans planned to spend an average of $66 less this year on Christmas gifts than they had at the same time last year, and the New York Times reported that major retailers predicted flat or barely increased sales totals compared to last year’s.

But locally, 11 of 17 retailers polled informally on their impressions of foot traffic and incomplete numbers said their Christmas seasons had been stronger than in recent years.

Five said this season had been about the same, and one reported that business was a bit down. Eleven of the businesses polled were in downtown Houghton, four in downtown Hancock, one in downtown Calumet and one off the Houghton M-26 strip.

Some businesses were able to cite specific reasons for strong sales, including ski and outdoor apparel shops benefiting from an early winter, and one shop that had a direct competitor shut down.

“The early snow has been great for winter business,” said Arnie Ronis, owner of Downwind Sports in Houghton.

Others were less specific on why, but still assuredly positive.

“It’s probably going to be our best Christmas season in 39 years, at least in the past two or three,” said Tony Bausano, owner of Copper World in Calumet.

At Houghton’s Swift True Value Hardware, Manager Todd Eckstrom was equally enthusiastic, citing seasonal sales 40 percent above last year’s.

“Snow shovels are popular this year, and toys,” he said. “We’re getting rich on snow shovels this year.”

In the large national retail chain sector, Houghton Shopko Customer Service Supervisor Katrina Tormala said business was good as well, with sales “at least as good as last year’s, and likely better.”

Shari Rogers, manager of Book World in Houghton, said her store’s sales were about on par with last year’s. One thing she’s noticed, this year and in the past, is that people seem more willing to spend big on gifts for others than on themselves.

Holiday shoppers, she said, “buy more hard-cover books, which are bigger ticket items.”