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Date of Issue: November 30, 2006

Island businesses ring in the season

hb lutz
Shoppers browse for gifts and goodies at Ginny's and Jane E's at the Old IGA, 9807 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria, on Nov. 24. The city's businesses and the Anna Maria Island Historical Society and Museum hosted the second annual Christmas Walk. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Madelyn Montgomery clocked in at 5 a.m. and out at 10 a.m. on Black Friday, Nov. 24, shopping at a frenzied pace in the big discount stores on the mainland.

Then she returned to the Island and went on holiday, shopping all day at a leisurely pace at the specialty stores in Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that historically has been the busiest retail shopping day of the year, sees many major retailers open early and offering significant discounts on select items to draw the crowds.

Long after the buying frenzy began at the chains on Friday, traffic was just starting to build and retailers opened on the Island.

"We move at a different pace out here," said shopper Sharon Nixon, of Anna Maria, browsing at the White Egret, 10006 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria. "Because you enjoy things more when you slow it down."

Still, Island retailers hoped for and predicted brisk business on Friday.

"We had a sale right off the bat," said Bridge Street Interiors owner Debbie Myers, predicting a good business day at the store, 114 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach.

On the sidewalk outside, Montgomery and a friend lingered in front of the window. The back of her nearby Jeep Cherokee already contained six over-sized bags loaded with wrapping paper, holiday cards, toys and electronics purchased at a Bradenton Target.

"That was the work," Montgomery said, referring to the first hours of shopping on the mainland. "We got that out of the way. Now we're here, having really just a beautiful day."

"There's some gorgeous items here," said Montgomery's shopping companion, Dianne Ager, of Kenosha, Wis. "This is where I buy all my special gifts."

Ager didn't work from a shopping list, but she had an idea of what she wanted to find.

"I'm looking for a Hawaiian shirt for my son and something surf-related for my daughter," she said. "And Florida ornaments for my friends, something you can't get anywhere else, maybe something with a manatee or a palm tree."

In Anna Maria, at Ginny's and Jane E's at the Old IGA, 9807 Gulf Drive, vacationers Herbert and Gayle Normand of St. Paul, Minn., shopped for Christmas ornaments under a festive red "Surf Shop" sign.

"I think everything in here is uniquely the Island," Gayle Normand said. "I'm looking for friends. I'm having trouble deciding what to buy, because I want them all."

Michael Tyler did his holiday shopping at Two Sides of Nature in Anna Maria's Bayview Plaza, picking up a tropical-themed shirt for his dad, a purse for his mom and a beach bag for his sister.

"They live in Cleveland so I think these will make their day," said Tyler.

The Anna Maria resident added, "Plus, check it out, in one stop, I'm done."

A renter working for hourly wages, Tyler said he was only buying Christmas presents for immediate family this Christmas.

"It's been like one of those years, you know," he said. "Things are really tight right now."

Forecasters are predicting that consumers won't spend more this holiday season than they did last year in Florida. The prediction is based on two surveys by the University of Florida showing consumers have less money to spend because of higher expenses for utilities, insurance premiums, rising interest rates and debts from last year's holiday shopping.

To conduct one survey, UF researchers contacted 504 Florida residents by phone and learned:

  • 54.6 percent of consumers said they expect their purchases will be the same as last year.
  • 32.8 percent said less than last year.
  • 12.6 percent said more than last year.

The margin of error in the data is 4 percent.

Another report conducted in September contained similar findings.

"The similarity in results suggests that the guarded shopping is not due to high gasoline prices but because of more fundamental issues concerning rising insurance and mortgage costs and consumer debt levels," said Barton Weitz, executive director of the Miller Center for Retailing Education and Research in UF's Warrington College of Business Administration.

In the most recent survey, consumers also said they had less income and fewer people on their gift lists because of children moving out of the home, divorce and other changes to family structure.

These findings led researchers to predict sales at discount stores will be better compared to other retailers, but specialty stories may struggle.

On the Island, retailers said they strive not to compete, but instead cater to needs unmet by the box chain retailers.

"We're trying not to compete with them and not carrying their merchandise. You have to set yourself apart," said Signa Bouziane, co-owner of Mister Roberts Resort Wear, 5330 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. "We're hoping for a good holiday season and hoping people will support their Island stores."

"Look around," said Myers, gesturing toward the merchandise to emphasize what's found in Bridge Street Interiors and not at Wal-Mart.

In addition to focusing on unique merchandise, Island businesses are partnering in holiday open houses. One is scheduled for Dec. 1 in Holmes Beach. Another took place Nov. 24 in Anna Maria and another is scheduled Dec. 9 in Bradenton Beach.

Businesses from Bay Boulevard to Gulf Drive in Anna Maria kept later hours on Friday to usher in the holiday season with the second annual Anna Maria Christmas Walk.

At Ginny's and Jane E's, flutist Suki Janisch played holiday songs while "Father Christmas" circulated among customers who were dining on light bites and chatting with the shopkeepers in the bakery, the antiques store and at Silvia's Flower Corner.

Walkers found refreshments - hot dogs and punch, cider and wine, candy canes and cookies - at numerous other stops along Gulf Drive, Pine Avenue and Bay Boulevard.

As the shoppers browsed, kids and a smattering of adults settled into chairs outside Bayview Plaza to watch movies, the final show being "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."