Strong start to holiday shopping bodes well for Utah's recovery, economist says
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah economy has been struggling for quite some time, but there may be signs that it could be improving. Local retailers reported strong sales as the holiday shopping season got under way.
Throngs of bargains hunters jammed malls and shopping centers along the Wasatch Front this past weekend and thousands more took to the Internet to take advantage of Cyber Monday holiday deals online.
While many businesses were reluctant to divulge sales information, one local retailer saw a significant uptick in holiday sales from previous years.
"Our numbers year-to-year have been up 28 percent," said Sydney Elfervig, co-owner of Volt — an upscale clothing boutique at Fashion Place Mall. She also said sales at their South Towne Center location rose about 37 percent from the same time last year.
Heather Nash, marketing director of The Gateway, said shoppers were busy downtown this past weekend.
"We're up over last year, that's great — even with the BYU-Utah game being on Saturday. Those are great numbers to see," she said.
Elfervig attributed the increase to customers being more concerned with getting the most out of their dollar than "pinching pennies."
"People are more value conscious than price conscious," she added. "They are looking at quality above quantity as well."
She said the economy has prompted retailers to concentrate more on making customer service a bigger priority in an attempt to distinguish themselves from the competition — and hopefully improve their bottom lines.
According to the Salt Lake Chamber, a strong start to the holiday shopping season could play a major role in Utah's ongoing recovery from the recession.
"Consumer confidence is key to the national economy and it's no different here in Utah," said chief economist Natalie Gochnour. "It's important for us to get out of the gate strong."
Scott Hymas, chief executive officer of R.C. Willey, one of state's largest retailers agreed.
"We're very encouraged by what we saw this weekend," he said. "Consumers seem more confident and there are still great deals out there for them to take advantage of."
Utah taxable sales broke into positive territory for the first time in two years, an indication of resurgence in consumer spending, a Chamber news release states.
In particular, the Beehive State relies heavily on small business as an economic driver with over 80 percent of the workforce employed by businesses with fewer than 50 workers.
"You never know what you'll see on the Saturday after Black Friday, but we were really busy," said Carolee Davis, owner of Castle Couture, a specialty women's boutique located in Draper. "I don't know if it was the focus on small business or an improving economy or both, but I'll take it."
Gochnour said many factors, including a fresh snowfall, help put shoppers in the holiday spirit resulting in a significant sales impact.
Sometimes it's the little things you wouldn't expect that add to the mix, she said.
"(After a big snowfall), people out of state will buy ski vacations (to Utah), passes and equipment," Gochnour said. "When they (come here) to ski, we see even more of an impact on hotels, rental cars, ski equipment and restaurants."