Purveyors of antique lace tablecloths, handknit sweaters, Rolls-Royces and other luxury items reported a good Christmas season, bucking the trend of deep discounts and early sales among mass-market retailers.
In Salt Lake City, Joel Shapiro said sales at the five Shapiro's Luggage, Gifts & Leather stores were strong as ever. But the best sales were for items under $50, "cute gadgets and gimmicks," he said.Salt Lake City is conservative, Shapiro said, and buying habits do not change much.
"We've been busy," said Henry Landau, whose Landau's store in Princeton, N.J., sells woolens from Iceland, Ireland, Norway and elsewhere. "It's different in the sense that traffic is up although the average ticket is slightly down."
Landau and other upscale retailers believe shoppers were lured into their stores by personal service, items not available in department stores and prices only slightly higher for quality goods. Most stores also offer goods with a wide range of prices, and owners say many shoppers scaled down their purchases.
But they also say that the rich, or many of them, have not yet felt the economic downturn.
"The ones who had it still have it," said Faithanne Scobbo, manager of a Westminster Lace store in Manhasset, N.Y..
Scobbo said pre-Christmas sales were better than expected and post-Christmas returns have been low at the store, which opened in October.
Westminster Lace, a 25-store chain based in Seattle, sells new and antique lace and linens, antique jewelry and furniture. Prices range in Manhasset from 95 cents for a doily to $6,000 for a linen tablecloth handmade for a 19th century European trade fair.
The average dollar sale was high, Scobbo said, fueled by "the occasional customer who will come in and buy a $3,000 antique."
In Houston, where the economy is turning up after the Oil Bust of the 1980s, luxury retailers reported a boom fueled by a rush to buy big-ticket items before the new federal luxury tax takes effect Jan. 1.
John Gooch, general manager at British Royal Motor Cars Ltd., said he sold six Rolls Royces in the past 30 days, the highest monthly sale since 1984.
Lady Walker, Houston's flashy socialite and oil and gas investor, bought two. She purchased a Corniche convertible, the most expensive Rolls at British Royal, after she had taken her 1988 model in for routine maintenance work.
The car cost Walker $215,000 then but had she waited until after Jan. 1, it would have been $233,500.
On Thursday, she returned to the dealership and bought a Silver Spur at $174,000 to save herself $14,400. She also bought a $20,000 white evening fur recently to go with her off-white Corniche.
"I think I'll probably coast along on what I have for a while," Walker said.
Audrey Prytulak, bookkeeper at Taylor Hogan, a gift shop in the trendy West End neighborhood of Richmond, Va., said sales were "good, much better than last year."
"I'm not quite sure why last year was slower at this time," she said. "I know the weather was warmer this year."
Of course, non-economic factors hurt some stores. Sales at Landau's branch in Manchester, Vt., have been way down because of a shortage of snow to lure skiers, although Landau said they were strong in the fall because of a good foliage year.
And Pat McConahay, who sells rare books with prices into four figures at Witherspoon Art & Book Store in Princeton, said his core customers are obsessed with books. Business, as a result, stays up when the economy is down and vice versa.