With the global economy still shakier than a wet dog, local merchants say Chilliwack consumers remained wary about opening their wallets over the holiday season.
Natalie Flack, the manager of Graham's Gifts in downtown Chilliwack, said business was about the same as in the previous year.
But while it didn't get better, Flack said sales met expectations. "It was good," she said.
And there was a very noticeable trend in the things customers were buying.
"People were buying more practical things," she told the Times. Kitchen appliances, like toasters and coffee pots, and other necessities were particularly popular.
"They were buying more things that were necessary rather than luxuries," she said.
As for 2012, Flack said an improvement in consumers' willingness to spend would be nice, but that the business will be fine if little changes.
Minter Gardens owner Brian Minter also saw consumers practise restraint. Minter said his business sold to more customers in advance of Christmas-but those customers bought less than in the past, leaving total sales about the same as the previous year.
"The one thing we've noticed- particularly in a lot of the incoming flower orders from the United States and Canada-is that people's spending per unit was down," he said.
Minter said the trend held true no matter where his customers lived.
"That was a consistent thing pretty much right across North America."
And, like Flack, he also noticed that customers were being more practical and focusing on gifts with "more utilitarian value."
Locally, Minter said the weather likely helped retail sales around Chilliwack.
"People didn't fight snow," said Minter. "The weather was a huge plus from that perspective."
He also spoke about the importance of keeping prices low to compete with the big box stores, an observation echoed by JC Sounds owner Casey Jansen.
Jansen said he had cut prices in his downtown electronics store dramatically from the past year. But smaller margins require more customers, and Jansen said he didn't see a large enough rise in buyers to make up the difference.
"A lot of people are just going to the big stores automatically," said Jansen, who said the holiday was "mediocre" in terms of sales.
Perhaps one of the most successful enterprises was operated by a rotund bearded guy in Cottonwood Mall.
The mall's Heather Andersen said that four per cent more people visited the stores in 2011 compared to the previous Christmas.
But photographs with the mall's Santa Claus were up 25 per cent from the previous year.
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