OP retailers report another weak holiday season

Poor sales could mean the closing of some stores, one retailer says.

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Lisa Stern wrote a letter to the editor in December reminding Oak Parkers to support their local businesses when shopping for the holidays.

Stern, the co-owner of Kate's Garden, 730 Lake St., got a lot of positive responses from customers about the letter, she said.

But, "the season itself was not quite up to what we had hoped," Stern said.

She declined to give specific information about sales figures at Kate's Garden. The store met sales expectations, however "our expectations were really low."

"What I'm generally hearing is that people met last year's numbers, and last year was awful," Stern said.

Val Camilletti of Val's hall Records, 723 1/2 South Blvd., has stopped making projections. But she, too, had a flat year. Sales on the season were down $500, while total annual sales for 2004 were down $462.

Oak Park retailers were not alone. Crain's Chicago Business reported on Monday that downtown districts in Arlington Heights, Geneva and Wheaton all had disappointing holiday seasons.

In one example, a clothing retailer who did more than $1 million in annual sales before Sept. 11, 2001, is closing her boutique after 14 years.

Stern said she doubted sales in Oak Park were strong enough to support some struggling retailers for another year. She knew of shops that might close after having a weak shopping season, but would not say which ones.

But Camilletti doesn't paint as dire a picture, despite having recently refinanced her home in order to make a loan to the record store.

"I feel decent about this year having held because I didn't think it would," Camilletti said. A flat year is "not always a bad thing."

Music industry sales have been hurt in recent years by internet downloads and CD burners. The pressures have caused Val's to downsizeâ€"including having fewer employees, limiting inventoryâ€"and to offer sales of used CDs.

"There's not going to be a magical turn-around," Camilletti said. "You can't un-invent the internet."

That she's been able to remain profitable enough to stay in business can be seen as a turn-around, she said.

For John and Gail Eisner, owners of Pumpkin Moon and the recently opened Scratch 'n Sniff, sales met expectations, John Eisner said.

"But more importantly, people have been enjoying the new store," he said. Good responses mean interest will spread and bring in future sales, he said.

In their second holiday season, Book Table owners Jason Smith and Rachel Weaver said sales were up 12 percent over last season.

"We had a great season," Smith said. "We were really, really happy."

Smith admitted that the increase was in part due to lower numbers last year while the store was in its first year.

But he said established customers came in for a greater share of their present shopping this December, and a couple of very strong selling books also helped push up sales this year. University of Chicago Press' "The Encyclopedia of Chicago" topped the list.

The store benefited from having a good selection during the season, too. Because the store sells discounted books, it is at the mercy of what's available for lower prices.

Contact: dcarter@wjinc.com

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