Christmas already?

Local shoppers, businesses get an early start to holiday season
By: Michelle Miller-Carl, News Editor
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The pumpkins haven’t left the porch, but some people already have Santa on the brain. Holiday commercials on TV, Christmas trees on sale and — gasp — “Frosty the Snowman” playing on store speakers are priming consumers for a long holiday season. Over at SaveMart in Auburn, turkey balloons compete for space with red and green snowflakes dangling from the ceiling. That has one concerned shopper speaking out for the neglected holiday. “I don’t like to see Thanksgiving lost between Halloween and Christmas. That’s the time we think about how blessed we are,” said Donna Stutzman, 60, of Newcastle. “You just go from one frenzy to another.” Stutzman was stunned when shopping SaveMart last week to hear Christmas music was already being piped into the store. “All of a sudden I heard ‘Frosty the snowman,’” she said, singing the familiar Christmas tune. “I stopped and looked at this lady in the aisle who I didn’t know and we both silently mouthed, ‘Frosty?’” After initially launching into an all-Christmas music lineup on the store’s radio service, SaveMart has since cut back to only 20 percent Christmas music, said Pamela Dobson, store manager. But an early start to Christmas may be warranted since Thanksgiving falls on the fourth (and this year last) Thursday of November. “It’s only three weeks after Thanksgiving until Christmas, which is shorter than it would normally be,” Dobson said. “That time will go fast, as we all know.” Dobson reports that lower gas prices have customers in great spirits, and may be encouraging them to start shopping early. “They’re already buying products for holiday baking,” she said. SaveMart started stocking holiday merchandise the day after Halloween. The aisles are now stuffed with holiday items, from liquor gift sets to home décor and yuletide recipe ideas, Dobson said. The ability to do some early Christmas prep may mean a more stress-free holiday. “I think it’s going to mean less stress for the consumer because they’re planning ahead,” Dobson said. “They’re going to buy better, too, and not use credit cards as much.” Rachel Duarte, 40, of Auburn, agrees. “It makes sense because there’s more time to buy stuff and you can buy a few gifts at a time,” she said. According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, 40 percent of consumers planned to start their holiday shopping before Halloween, as bargain hunters look for ways to spread out their spending. Customers are doing early Christmas shopping over at Wildflower gift shop in Downtown Auburn, which has complimentary gift-wrapping. “We’ve got our Christmas wrap and we’re ready to roll,” said owner Adele Wise. Christmas-related merchandise, from ornaments to Santas and snowmen, has been selling well, she said. “It’s surprising, it seems early to me,” Wise said. “But we still have a fall display. I’d say Christmas is secondary at this point.” Another early sign of the holiday season? Starbucks has started serving up hot mochas and lattes in its signature red holiday cup. That doesn’t bother Sandy Shulman, 82, of Auburn, who was enjoying a coffee and crossword puzzle at the Elm Avenue Starbucks Monday. “I hadn’t thought about Christmas until yesterday, when my wife said she was going to buy me a present,” he said. Some purists believe starting Christmas too early might be turning us all into Grinches. “My theory is by the time Christmas gets here, we’re all out of the mood and angry,” said 81-year-old Claris Goulart of Newcastle. “You lose the spirit before Christmas even gets here.” Well, you can count of Marilyn Welz to wait until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to set up the Christmas window display at her clothing store Marilyn’s Fashionations — it’s how she’s being doing it for 30 years. But the reason to hold off on a holiday display is to keep her stock moving. “A fall window keeps me selling for fall,” she explained. Old Town Auburn usually doesn’t get into Christmas mode until the week of Thanksgiving, when pole wreaths go up and stores start transforming their windows into winter wonderlands. “Retailers need a lot more time these days to sell for the holiday season and you may see some decorations go up early,” said Linda Robinson, who owns Sun River Clothing Co. in Old Town. “But our customers generally resent the fact that Christmas has become so commercialized with so many large retailers decorating and putting holiday goods out before Halloween.” While hearing “Frosty the Snowman” the first week in November was a little premature for Donna Stutzman’s ears, she hopes the Christmas spirit can last as long as it can. “It is my favorite time of year,” she said. The Journal’s Michelle Miller-Carl can be reached at ---------- Holiday shopping – by the numbers 40 percent of consumers planned to start shopping before Halloween Consumers plan on spending $832.36 on holiday-related shopping this year 40 percent say sales or promotions are the largest factor in determining where to shop — National Retail Federation