‘ Tis the season: Retail rush under way

Many downtown Grand Junction merchants have installed window displays to add to the holiday atmosphere. One of the most elaborate displays can be found at Unique Expressions on Main Street. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Holiday shoppers eager to bag Black Friday bargains will find an accommodating venue at the Mesa Mall in Grand Junction.

Most of the merchants at the mall are scheduled to open at the stroke of midnight on Nov. 23. But Black Friday starts on a Thursday this year when Sears opens at 8 p.m. and Target opens at 9 p.m. Nov. 22.

The early launch is just one of factors that encourage Chelsi Reimer to predict to a strong holiday shopping season. Equally encouraging is the fact all of the more than 100 spaces at the mall have been leased, says Reimer, director of marketing and business development there. “We feel real positive.”

Meanwhile, in downtown Grand Junction, merchants there expect a series of events as well as the ambiance of a business district decked out for the holidays to attract shoppers as well.

“Everybody just seems real upbeat,” says Kathy Dirks, marketing and communications director for the Downtown Partnership.

Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive director of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, expects holiday sales to increase, but economic and labor conditions to hamper a more robust shopping season. “There’ll be a little bit of an uptick, but not huge,” she predicts.

At the same time, though, Grand Junction remains a regional retail hub for Western Colorado and Eastern Utah.

And that’s a tide of holiday shoppers that continues to lift all boats, Schwenke adds. “That is a big, big deal.”

From a national perspective, the outlook for the holiday shopping season is mostly upbeat. The National Retail Federation forecasts a 4.1 percent increase in overall holiday sales, while Shop.org projects a 12 percent gain in online holiday sales.

The latest measure of consumer confidence climbed to its highest level of the year on more optimistic assessments of business and labor conditions.

The Conference Board, the same business research and membership group that tracks consumer confidence, also surveys consumers about their holiday shopping plans. According to the latest results of that annual survey, U.S. households will spend an average of $521 on gifts this holiday season. Nearly

10 percent of consumers responding to the survey said they plan to spend more on gifts this year, up from 7 percent last year.

“As the holiday approaches, consumers appear to be in better spirits than last year,” says Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators for the Conference Board. “Our survey results show a slight boost in holiday spending intentions. Retailers are cautiously optimistic that this holiday shopping season will be better than last.”

At the Mesa Mall, Reimer says shoppers and retailers alike are anxious for that season to begin in earnest. The mall has been fielding calls for weeks from shoppers wondering when stores will open for Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that marks the traditional start of the season, Reimer says. “We’re already getting a lot of buzz.”

While Sears and Target both will open late on Thanksgiving night, most of the stores in the mall will open at midnight, Reimer says.

To further accommodate shoppers, the mall also will open what’s called a rejuvenation station with a large seating area and free energy drinks and massages, Reimer says. Special giveaways of merchandise, coupons and gift cards are planned for 4 and 6 a.m. on Black Friday.

Several new stores have opened at the mall in time for the holiday shopping season, Reimer says, among them the Crazy 8 and Turbo clothing stores and Cool N Fun toy store. That’s not to mention the stores and kiosks that open just for holidays.

In downtown Grand Junction, a number of merchants are joining in Small Business Saturday, Dirks says. The national initiative kicks off the holiday shopping season for independent retailers and restaurateurs on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

A series of holiday celebrations already has begun with the lighting of a large Christmas tree near Fourth and Main streets.

The Parade of Lights is set for 5 p.m. Dec. 1. More than 100 entries are expected for one of the largest parade of the year in Western Colorado, Dirks says. Still other events include the Spirit of Christmas Walk set for 5:30 to 9 p.m. Dec. 7.

Free carriage rides, the appearance of Santa and Mrs. Claus and holiday music are scheduled for noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 24 through Dec. 23, she says.

The City of Grand Junction offers free parking downtown between Nov. 22 and Jan. 1, covering meters with red plastic bags that read “season’s greetings.”

In addition to the Christmas tree, holiday lighting has been installed along Main Street in downtown Grand Junction. And many merchants feature holiday displays in their windows.

The events and decorations are all part of an effort to create an atmosphere that brings holiday shoppers downtown and into the more than 130 stores and restaurants in the business district, Dirks says. “We want the downtown area to be a destination for the holidays.”

Schwenke says the mall, downtown and Grand Valley remain a destination for holiday shoppers from around the region. That’s important because retailers can count on a customer base not only of residents, but also visitors from a large chunk of Western Colorado and Eastern Utah.

Reimer says Mesa Mall advertises throughout the region to take build awareness and draw in shoppers from West Slope communities. “We’re doing our best to get the word out.”