Coupeville retailers report a mixed bag of holiday sales in town

Apparently, holiday retail sales have been a mixed bag for businesses in downtown Coupeville, with some merchants bemoaning a slow Christmas season and others claiming everything is merry and bright.

This year, many retail outlets have experienced a sharp decline in holiday retail sales. The poor showing is attributed primarily to consumers tightening their belts in the face of an economy that has slumped drastically after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Interest rates have similarly plummeted, and many in the region are facing the threat of lay-offs.

The reverberations of such a crisis have been felt locally by some.

Karl King, owner of the Kingfisher bookstore on Front Street, said in an interview that he’s been doing poorly in comparison to years past. From the middle of November until the first week of this month, King said sales were off by about 20 percent. And, overall, in the last month and a half, he predicts he’s off 15 percent or so.

“It hurts,” said King. “This is a pretty sharp drop from last season. The streets have been pretty empty.”

According to King, business has been dropping off for some time. He said that he noticed things slowing down after last year’s election. Then, with Boeing announcing impending lay-offs, King said “people began to tighten up all the way around.”

King said that, along with getting fewer shoppers, those who are buying books are “buying the next tier down,” in that most people are opting for nicer trade-size paperbacks rather than hardcovers or coffee-table books.

He added that he’s sold a few titles relating to recent national events, such as the Koran as well as books on the Taliban and Afghanistan.

“In general, it’s been pretty rollercoaster,” said King about the holiday season this year, though he said that he can only speak for his own business.

It’s a whole different story if you speak with Derek Brine, who owns Nautical ‘n’ Nice, a store selling “nautically-inclined” gifts, as well as European Imports on Front Street.

“The holiday season has been excellent,” Brine said, who has been running the store for the last 13 years. “It’s been very good.”

He said that he and his wife Marjorie, who manages the import shop, “did have some concerns after 911,” though now he calls such worries “unfounded.” In fact, Brine believes business might even be a little better this year than last, which he attributes to the phenomenon of people shopping near home and supporting local businesses.

Karen Ambrose, who is one of the vendors at Penn Cove Antiques, said that the antique business is not typically affected by the holidays, though she has noticed that people are choosing more “comfort-type purchases” when they do buy gifts at the store.

“It’s been slow,” said Ambrose of business in general. “Most people go to the malls, though we’re trying to encourage more people to shop locally.”

She said she’s noticed that, rather than buying new stuff, “a lot of people are finding things that create better memories,” of which antiques might prove excellent gifts.

George Lloyd, whose store Elkhorn Trading Company has been in its present location on Front Street since 1991, said that things have been getting busy lately, especially during the last week.

“I think a lot of people have not even wanted to think of Christmas until now,” Lloyd said. “It looks like things are picking up.”

He added that weekends in particular have been hopping, and that business usually gets better every day in the early morning and the late afternoon.

Lloyd said that, while his antique business isn’t as affected by holiday shopping as other retail stores, he has observed folks buying fewer but nicer gifts this year.

“I think a lot of people are buying one or two maybe larger fits and not so may odds and ends this year,” he said.

Lloyd said that he planned a skiing trip for this Thursday because business had been down, but since then it’s started to really move.

“I’ll just tell you right now, the street’s full of cars,” he said.

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