The “Buy-One, Get-One-Free” sign posted in the store window of J’taime Soulier wasn’t enough to lure customers, even as the holiday shopping season draws to a close.
“People are not shopping as they used to,” said Tessa Klingler, owner of the Austin shoe store, whose French name means, “I love shoes.” Located at 5400 W. Madison, the store sells an assortment of stilettos, boots, pumps and a small variety of women’s accessories.
Before, said Klinger, customers would buy several pairs of shoes. Now, customers just buy the one pair, even with advertising for a second pair half-off.
“There is no spare-of-the-moment shopping,” Klingler said. “They are being careful of what they buy.”
Klingler is referring to shoppers like Noble Square residents Dwayne and Linette Moore-both are limiting their Christmas spending and buying only for family members.
“Usually we go all out, but we (aren’t) going all out this year,” Linette Moore said.
Retailers along Austin’s commercial strips are being hit hard by shopper’s effort to watch their spending. Stores are seeing fewer customers despite deep discounts. And, for those who are shopping, retailers say customers are spending less and looking for value more.
Austin retailers blame the nation’s sagging economy and record job losses-all triggered by the mortgage crisis-for forcing shoppers to close their wallets this holiday season. The U.S. Commerce Department released its November retail sales figures showing a 1.8-percent drop from last month, and 7.4 percent decrease from November 2007. Total sales for September through November 2008 dropped 4.5 percent from the same time last year.
An ailing economy is nothing new to black businesses, says Stacia Crawford, a member of the Austin African-American Business Networking Association, a support group for black entrepreneurs. Since blacks rarely patronize black businesses, those are dollars and customers black businesses never figure into their bottom line, explains Crawford, owner of African Accents, 5820 W. Chicago, which sells imported African arts, woodcarvings and clothing.
“Because the majority of black dollars don’t stay in black neighborhoods anyway, many [black businesses] are not really seeing a difference,” she said, as far as a good versus a bad economy, adding her business hasn’t seen a big dip in sales or customers, since they weren’t high to begin with.
Avanti Elegant Boutique, 5949 W. Chicago, however, saw its sales begin to dip this summer. But that didn’t surprised Harold Davis, assistant to the store’s owner, Harold Blake.
Davis anticipated sales might be lackluster because of the economy, but noted most customers coming into the women’s apparel store are paying on their layaways. The dip in sales has forced the 21-year-old business to forgo its Christmas sales goal. Davis said they rarely look at the store’s ledger. “You hate to look and see how much you are not getting compared to last year-even the year before that. You just hope it gets better.”
Even CD sales are taking a tumble. Mac’s Records, located at 5425 W. Madison, and one of the few remaining black-owned record stores on the West Side, has taken a hit because of the economy.
Store manager, Eddie Mister, said the music outlet has seen a 10- to 15-percent decline in customers, but the store’s saving grace comes from new CD releases. That, he added, has contributed to some steady sales despite the slow economy, which has hurt other neighborhood businesses.
“The last couple of years…business has been rough,” said Mister.
Austin Wal-Mart unfazed
Austin resident Jessie Wash spent part of her day recently shopping at the Austin Wal-Mart, 4650 W. North Ave., buying a few baby items for her grandchild. Wash, 58, is on a fixed-income, and said Wal-Mart’s prices fit into her budget. She was able to spend $140 for a high chair, baby walker and playpen. With money tight, Wash maintained she’s only buying for the children this year.
“That is all I can do,” she said.
Wal-Mart’s stores are one of the few nationally not feeling the pinch. While other national retailers have posted slumping sales, the Arkansas-based, discount chain is the only retailer that seems to be in the black, posting a 3.4 percent bump in sales nationally during November, according to Wal-Mart officials.
Kevin Kelly, manager of the Austin Wal-Mart, noted that value is driving customers to his store.
“With the economy as tight as it is, customers are leaning toward us, because we are price-driven and our everyday low prices are appealing,” said Kelly of the city’s only Wal-Mart store, which opened two years ago. “I think we are well-positioned for the holidays.”
On Black Friday, the start of the holiday shopping season right after Thanksgiving, West Side residents were lined up outside the Austin Wal-Mart in the wee hours of the morning ready to pluck a few bargains off the shelves. The store offered in-store deals to lure customers, including selling Blu-Ray disc players-normally going for well over $200-for about $128. Kelly noted that customers have been buying items for their basic everyday needs, such as food, cleaning products, and health and beauty aides.
“That is what customers are going after,” he said.
The Austin store also had an opening for more than two-dozen seasonal positions, a mix of part-time and full-time jobs. The store currently has more than 400 employees. Though Wal-Mart corporate won’t release sales data for individual stores, the national retailer has posted positive numbers, said Tara Stewart, Wal-Mart’s regional director of media relations.
“We are very grateful of the position that our company is in; we know times are tough and folks are spending their money wisely,” she said.