Holiday shopping trending up in Naperville

With much of the nation still plagued by economic uncertainty, Naperville’s Christmas shopping season might be sending a signal that better days are ahead — at least in Naperville. No one is predicting a breakout retail season when the final numbers are in, but most are definitely seeing the retail glass as half-full.

“As I make my way around the downtown area the qualitative feeling is one of optimism,” said Katie Wood, executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance, in a recent telephone interview. “It looks much brighter than last year, although people are still being cautious.”

With the holiday season far from over, businesses have no final sales numbers to make a valid comparison to recent years. But initial indications are that the gloom-and-doom feeling of recent years is gone, at least for the time being.

“Overall, what I’m hearing is good news,” Wood said, stressing two trends that lend credence to her optimism.

First, the Naperville gift cards — good at 125 downtown retailers and available in denominations from $10 to $500 — are selling at a brisk pace.

“We sell a huge number of gift cards,” Wood said. “They are really popular holiday gifts … we’ve had our biggest month.”

Second, unlike some other DuPage County municipalities, retail space vacancies are down. “There are very few openings,” Wood noted.


In the heart of Naperville’s downtown, several small businesses on Washington Street are having good holiday seasons and many downtown retailers echo Wood’s sentiments.

“We’ve only been open two years, so it’s a little hard to make a solid comparison,” said Brianna Bartemeyer, manager of M2 Boutique, 121 S. Washington. “But we’re encouraged by the turnout so far.”

M2 specializes in women’s accessories and is a favorite with other downtown employees. “We see a lot of people on their lunch hours,” Bartemeyer said.

Just to make sure the season produces good sales numbers, M2 is running specials every week during its “Secret Santa Saturdays.”

A-1 Antiques of Naperville, 133 S. Washington, also has optimistic numbers. “We’re doing great,” said owner Marlene Weiss, noting the store took advantage of its prime location. “In this economy we’re thrilled … we sell so much from the window.”

Jewelry sales are a traditional staple of the holiday season, and first reports from Naperville’s gem retailers are positive.

“We’ve been very busy, so we’re very happy,” said Lauri Cimino, of Perle Jeweler, 8 W. Jefferson Ave. Cimino said the store didn’t run any specials just for the holiday season, and credited the good showing to Perle’s longevity.

“We’ve been here 50 years,” she said. “Many of our customers are repeats … they know we’re here.”

A similar scenario unfolds across the street at Costello Jewelry, 33 W. Jefferson. “We’re doing a little better than last year,” manager Dan Knaack said. “Watches are always a popular gift, and we get a lot of repeat sales.”

As for larger retailers, the Apple store is always crowded — one sales person who didn’t want to be named said, “We’re moving a lot of computers at this store.”

Sales tax up

Christmas shopping does exist outside the downtown business district and the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce is definitely upbeat about the rest of the city.

“It seems to be positive citywide,” chamber President John Schmitt said. “These are still hard times, but we’re hearing reports of success, especially in the latest sales tax numbers.”

Indeed, the city’s figures show that the trend is up. While no figures are available for the holiday season, the trend in fiscal year 2011 is good, if somewhat uneven. July saw a 15 percent increase over fiscal year 2010, and August came in with a more modest, but still respectable 3.5 percent.

Other city centers off th beaten path are doing well, too.

We Grow Dreams Holiday Shoppe at Freedom Commons reported a stellar weekend Dec. 10-12. The garden center in West Chicago provides people with disabilities an opportunity to train and work in a supportive, caring environment while providing quality products and services to the community. The group posted a garden market at the I-88 site during the summer. The shop will be open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. this weekend, too, according to Deb Newman, of Cygnet Midwest.

Not all’s well

But Naperville, like the rest of the country, isn’t quite out of the woods.

A peek Saturday inside Eddie Bauer, 203 S. Main St., showed few customers — possibly because of the rainy weather — and plenty of sales prices, with various items selling from 30 to 50 percent off.

And bad weather can’t account for the entire season, which Jimmy Bergeron of Jimmy’s Grill, 245 S. Washington, characterized as “real soft … slightly worse than last year.”

Bergeron indicated that he had kept in reasonably good financial shape by bending to reality and adjusting his menu and drink offerings to reflect customers being more cautious of their discretionary spending.

As for shoppers themselves, they seem to be on an even keel.

“I buy exactly the same as last year,” said Barbara Prudkova, who was browsing at Barnes & Noble. “What I buy is traditional.”

Dave Gawlik agreed, noting he had bought an Apple computer a couple of weeks ago. “My spending is about the same,” he said.

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