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Vermont Retailers Hope Shorter Shopping Season Won't Dampen Holidays

Nina Keck
David Topchik and his dog Gwynnie get a jump on the holiday shopping season last weekend at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester.

Thanksgiving and the official start of the holiday shopping season comes late this year - which industry insiders say is not great for retailers. But shopkeepers are crossing their fingers that consumers will feel like spending once the season gets underway.

Erik Barnum, a sales manager at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, jokes that predicting how an upcoming holiday season will be is like trying to read a crystal ball. “I wish there was a groundhog that would predict how the thing is going to be.  There are so many different factors that go into it.”

Barnum says all you can do is plan for the best. “Right now the bookstore is just chock full of books and merchandise because we’re gearing up and you caught me just as I was trying to rearrange things so we can fit everything into the store hoping it will all sell,” he says.

Barnum says the economy is slowly rebounding and the stock market has been showing some impressive gains.  But he says the recent government shut down is still in many people’s minds and with all the uncertainty, he thinks customers are feeling cautious.

Alex Betz, a shopper from South Burlington agrees. “I don’t think the economy is particularly strong right now, particularly for most middle-income people,” Betz says. “I think the price of energy even though it’s heading down right now is still quite high and is taking a big, big bite out of people’s pocket books.”

But shopper Cindy Marshall, of Dorset, is feeling more optimistic. “Yeah, I do feel much more positive about it. The government shut down - I didn’t have anybody affected by that.  One of the companies I work with is in DC and they had some issues, but I think business is popping back and I’m seeing a lot of people out and about and it’s exciting to see that,” she says.

The National Retail Federation is predicting a modest 3.9 percent uptick this year in holiday sales.

Tasha Wallis, Executive Director of the Vermont Retail Association says Vermont usually mirrors national trends.  She says more and more Canadians are coming to shop in Vermont which is helping.

But unfortunately, she says more Vermonters are shopping online. “I think the biggest challenge for Vermont merchants is we’re still seeing an incredible climb in online shopping and we’re looking at predictions of between 13 and 15 percent growth in that area.”

Wallis says how local merchants can overcome that - with better service or other incentives during the holidays- is the big question this season.

One in five Vermonters is considered elderly. But what does being elderly even mean — and what do Vermonters need to know as they age? I’m looking into how aging in Vermont impacts living essentials such as jobs, health care and housing. And also how aging impacts the stuff of life: marriage, loss, dating and sex.
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