With Christmas only a few days away, the nation's latest sales figures aren't creating any holiday cheer among retailers.
But some Payson retailers aren't singing the holiday blues.
"I personally do not understand some of the things we hear and see in the news," Johnny Angell, manager of Corral West Ranchwear, said. "If anything affects my sales right now, it's going to be the fact that I'm running out of product. I've got plenty of customers. Also, we just did the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas last week, and Corral West's booth was making right at $1 million per day for the 9 days we were there over a 20 percent increase over last year."
Fran Yates, owner of the Rim Country Kids toy and collectible store, is almost as upbeat.
"We're going to surprise you," she said. "November was considerably up from last November ... but we're having a really good Christmas. This month has been running comfortably ahead of last December."
Those are pretty far cries from the blues tune national retailers are humming.
Economists polled earlier this week by Reuters forecast on average that sales fell 2.8 percent in November after a record 7.1-percent spike in October that was driven largely by auto manufacturers' zero percent financing promotions.
The trend has not abated. Mall specialty store sales fell 4.6 percent last week and have been down 3.2 percent since Thanksgiving, according to results of a weekly survey released by the International Council of Shopping Centers.
And despite Angell's seasonal success story, that same report says that sales in the country's mall apparel stores have dropped 5.7 percent this season over last.
Not quite a dream year
That's not to say that 2001 has been a retail dream year in Payson.
Yates admits that the last 12 months didn't deliver quite what she had anticipated particularly since she and her husband, George, moved their 6-year-old store from the Swiss Village Shopping Center to Sawmill Crossing in January.
"Our overall sales in the new store this year have not been as great as we had hoped, and we do attribute that to the slow economy," Yates said. "October was really tough after Sept. 11, but November did go up particularly after Thanksgiving weekend. We attribute that to the fact that people who hadn't been motivated to think about Christmas suddenly realized it was right around the corner."
That experience isn't unique to Payson's toy store owner.
"In talking to other retailers around the state and the Valley, I'm hearing that they're happy with a flat Christmas compared to last year, when there wasn't a whole lot of growth," Yates said. "That seems to be the national picture, too."
One of a toy store's saving graces, Yates said, is that it is known in industry parlance as a "step down," meaning "that all the people who were going to buy computers and VCRs are now settling for toys for their kids instead."
However, customers are stepping down lightly.
"If someone normally spends $200 per year on their child for Christmas, I'd say a lot of them are now spending $100," she said.
"They're still buying toys, but how many are they buying?
"In a year where money is tight, what they're buying are things of quality that will last," Yates said. "I see less people buying plush, and more people buying learning toys and building blocks and those kinds of traditional toys."
That may be what shoppers are picking up in Payson, but nationally it's another toy story.
According to results of a weekly survey released by the International Council of Shopping Centers, the season's best-selling items are Sony's Playstation 2 and Microsoft's Xbox video games.
Back in the West
Back at Corral West, Angell agrees that December of 2001 is probably not going to end up in his sales-records books.
"Compared to last year, we are seeing a small decrease," he said. "But we are, for this quarter, definitely on the upswing by about 9 percent over last year. The first quarter of this year, we were 16 percent ahead of plan, and almost 25 percent ahead of 2000. "
One element that influences Angell's sales and not Yates' is weather and this winter has produced just the kind he likes to see.
"One of the things that's driving our sales right now is this snow and the cold snap is certainly driving our sales right now," he said. "I have gone through Carhart jackets to the point where I'm a nervous wreck. Boot sales are up, Wrangler products are up. People are buying blue jeans in groups. If anything is going to affect my sales right now, it's going to be the fact that I'm running out of product. That's the problem. Not customers. I've got plenty of customers."