Business & economy

Local consumers being more thrifty this holiday season, Malheur County merchants say

VALE – Bargain hunters made their way to local businesses for Black Friday sales, but with consumers pulling back on spending and a pessimistic outlook on the economy, local retailers saw sluggish sales this year. 

Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online sales, reported a 2.5% increase in Black Friday sales from last year not adjusted for inflation, which continues to hover around 3.3%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

For Christine Hood, owner of Oregon Trail Hobbies & Gifts in downtown Ontario, that means shoppers were out in full force but were searching for cheaper alternatives. 

Hood said while she had not calculated the difference between this year’s Black Friday sales to see how they compared to 2022 sales, she said sales seemed to be down, but foot traffic remained strong, which, she said, “is just wonderful.” 

Ashton Campbell, owner of ProSoul Games in Ontario, said his store saw about double the foot traffic this year compared to 2022. 

According to Campbell, from open to close on Black Friday, there were customers on the sales floor or at the counter throughout the day. 

With inflation chugging along, Chapman said the general mood and outlook among retail insiders was that sales this Black Friday were heading downward and would continue through the season. 

However, he said it seemed customers were “rebelling” against the prediction.  

Adam Tolman, co-owner of Malheur Drug in Vale, said its annual sales event, Moonlight Madness, held a week before Black Friday, can often be a “catapult” for the business as it heads into the Christmas shopping season. This year, though, shoppers seemed to be seeking very specific items and ignoring “frivolous things.”

 “People have to eat and get to work to make money but don’t necessarily need to buy a new set of bluetooth headphones,” he said. 

Another trend the Mastercard SpendingPulse reported was that retailers started their Black Friday sales early to give consumers more time to find deals. 

Malheur County retailers were no different in their strategy in offering shoppers’ good deals with Moonlight Madness in Vale and the Frosty Fest in Ontario, an annual downtown holiday celebration designed to boost sales for local businesses.

Hood said she saw a 15% drop in sales with consumers tightening their belts. 

Mike Kurth, owner of Andrews Seed Co. in Ontario, said his business does not see the Black Friday Christmas shopping rush. However, he said, Andrews Seed kicked off the holiday season with an open house two weeks ago.

Kurth said the store has held garland and wreath-making seminars the past few weekends, boosting business. He said customers paid for the materials for the wreaths and garlands, and the store offered the workshops free. 

Meanwhile, Julie Clark, owner of the Outdoorsman in Ontario, said the combination of e-commerce, record inflation, Oregon gun laws and a dreary economic outlook has made it challenging for brick-and-mortar retail businesses the past few holiday shopping seasons. 

She said the last time people lined up at the door on a Black Friday was before the pandemic, probably around 2019. 

Another issue outdoor retail stores are contending with is the high price of ammunition. According to Clark, the price of bullets soared during the pandemic. She does not see them coming down anytime soon due to market fluctuations and supply chain issues. 

Nonetheless, Clark said she appreciates the business the store gets from the community. 

“I realize that times are tough, and it’s hard,” she said. “It’s not us inflating the price. It’s the economy.”

For her part, Sarah Rodriguez, owner of Luzetta’s Flowers in Vale, said the holidays are a good time of year for the business. The flower shop offers classes for those interested in making a wreath. 

She said the recent Moonlight Madness event brought 400 people into the store and kicked off the holiday season. Beyond that, she said, she can’t predict how the Christmas shopping season will pan out. 

“I am here,” she said. “My doors are open. I’m blessed. Our hope is that we are blessed for customers that shop local.” 

The Christmas shopping season covers the business for January, Rodriguez said.

Cathy Zacharias, a Vale Chamber of Commerce president, said holiday shopping would likely be slower than expected compared to previous years at her business, ExZacht Sewing & Alterations

According to Zacharias, the people she has spoken to are looking for other ways to enjoy the Christmas season than shopping. 

“More people are looking for joy in other ways,” Zacharias said. “It’s not about the shopping this year when I am talking to people.” 

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