Christmas season bust for some, boom for others

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

A few Alabaster businesses saw explosive profits during the last few days of 2010, but other retailers suffered deep economic cuts during the Christmas shopping season.

Some specialty stores, such as Campus Spirit at the Colonial Promenade shopping center, met or exceeded their projected holiday revenues while welcoming waves of new customers into their shops.

“It was really good this year,” said Campus Spirit Assistant Manager Diane Leslie, whose store specializes in Alabama and Auburn gear. “You can’t go wrong with Alabama winning the championship last year and Auburn playing for it this year.

“Our stuff does well year-round anyway,” Leslie added. “Football season and the holidays are our biggest times.”

J. Allen’s, a locally owned gift shop off Alabama 119 near the Publix shopping center, also saw heavier-than-expected holiday customer traffic and profits. The store featured a “24 Days of Christmas” sale throughout December, and offered several Christmas-themed and gift items.

“Oh my gosh, we wrapped probably close to 500 gifts in just a few weeks,” said store employee Miranda Lane. “We sold a bunch of different things through the season.

“From what they told me about last year, we were pretty steady (with 2009),” Lane added. “We weren’t as prepared as we thought we were. We kept running out of gift bags.”

A longtime Alabaster business saw nearly double-digit profit growths during what is usually one of its slowest months.

The America’s Thrift Store off First Street Southwest recorded a 9 percent profit growth in December 2010 compared to the same month in 2009.

“December went pretty well. It was a little better than last year,” said Tim Alvis, president of America’s Thrift Stores. “And December is not usually our month.”

With many Shelby County residents facing job losses and hard economic times, America’s Thrift Stores have seen steadily rising profits over the past few years.

During the 2010 Christmas shopping season, the stores also added more unused merchandise to its store inventories for those who did their holiday shopping at the stores, Alvis said.

“This economy has been good for us. 2009 was a great year, and it looks like 2010 is going to beat it,” Alvis said. “And our Alabaster store is doing very well. It has been our number-one store for many years now.”

However, some Alabaster retailers were negatively affected by the area’s economy.

Frank’s Furniture Warehouse, which shares a parking lot with the America’s Thrift Store, took a hit during the holiday season.

“It could have been a lot better,” said owner Frank Carr. “It was quite a bit less than it was last year.

“We are just waiting on tax season to see what happens,” Carr said. “People tend to come in and buy big ticket items after they get their tax returns.”

The 2010 Christmas season also brought lower-than-expected profits for the Come to the Waters Christian bookstore off Alabama 119.

“It was way down for us. We’ve just got to regroup and see what we can do to fix that,” said Warren Hamby, owner of Come to the Waters. “Our sales were 30 percent down from last year.

“We’ve just got to wait until things turn around and people get jobs again,” Hamby added. “The economy really makes it hard for the small businesses.”