’Twas the month before Christmas and all over town,
Desperate shoppers were frantically running around.
From the stroke of Black Friday to Christmas eve night,
All the merchants were ringing up sales with delight.
With the parking lots jammed and store windows aglow,
All the signs of the season urge spending your dough
With their credit cards flashing and flirting with debt,
The shoppers demand every gift they can get.
A gizmo for Freddy, a shawl for Pauline,
DVDs for my friend who’s a video teen.
“Is that credit or debit,” says the clerk in the store,
“We’d be happy to wrap it for just a bit more.”
On feet that are aching, she smiles through the pain,
And stifles the thought that this must be insane.
Oh, the hours are long, the pace is non-stopping,
She can’t find enough time for her own Christmas shopping
And the crowds keep on coming, right up to the end,
Many last-minute shoppers still have money to spend.
But finally it’s over, and she says with a sigh,
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good buy!
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he economics are staggering. Nationwide holiday sales can reach beyond the $500 billion dollar mark, and for retailers the holiday season can provide anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of their annual sales.But—as big as those numbers are, as important as they can be to the national economy—our annual Christmas shopping ritual is much more than simply an economic event. It is an essential element in our social calendar, as much a part of our holiday season as mistletoe and Jingle Bells.
Even the scenes of the shopping season say “Christmas” as clearly as the wreath on the front door. Consider the iconic image of the exhausted shopper in a crowded mall carrying armloads of shopping bags brimming with gifts for family and friends—clothing and toys, games and gadgets—and, of course, several rolls of wrapping paper in all the brightest Christmas colors and designs. Consider the television news reports of midnight crowds surging into the stores on Black Friday announcing the start of a month-long consumer marathon that doesn’t end until the last store closes on Christmas Eve.
And our ever-expanding technology has stretched the shopping phenomenon from the mall to the computer keyboard. Not to be outdone by the Black Friday hoopla, the online merchants have created Cyber Monday to launch their own holiday sales blitz. Online holiday sales now reach comfortably beyond the $30 billion mark, and the cyber choices are mind boggling. Google the term, “Christmas Shopping,” and you will get about 500 million hits. Yes, million. With that many options, searching for the best deal on an item could be daunting. But savvy consumers are checking sales, clipping or downloading coupons, comparison shopping and employing a dazzling variety of strategies to get the best bang for their buck. With gift lists that range from special items for loved ones to the perfunctory contribution to the “Secret Santa” office pool, the gift parade marches down Main Street, through the local shopping mall and takes a sharp turn into your computer. All the options might not make shopping easier, but they certainly have made it more complicated. The shopper is now confronted with the prospect of sore feet from a day of traipsing through malls or a large helping of computer “cookies” (not the kind you leave out for Santa Claus) promoting products the server flagged from a previous search. Either exercise—the mall or the keyboard—leaves the shopper with a new appreciation for the term, “Buyer Beware.”
Cyber shopping is easier on the body, but it eliminates the human element from the equation. In a random survey, Asheville retailers recalled moments when that human element produced some interesting situations.
[quote float=”right”]We had a six-foot Cherokee hunting spear hanging from the ceiling. She took one look at it and said, ‘That’s mine. I want it.’[/quote] At Malaprop’s bookstore, online shopping ran into the person-to-person version in a very direct and unusual way. Co-Manager Laura Donohoe related a story thats become a seasonal favorite among the Malaprop’s staff. “It was one of the last shopping days before Christmas, end of the day, we were about to close up. A man came in with a long list of books on his Christmas gift list. It’s fair to say there were more than a dozen books on a bunch of different subjects. Our staffer looked at his list and realized it was from a national online retailer. She asked him about it, and he said he went online to get his ideas, but he wanted to buy local, so he brought the list to us. We were so impressed that we stayed open late while we found every book on his list, gift-wrapped them all and sent him on his way. He left with a big smile and wished us all a Merry Christmas.”
Another after-hours adventure took place at Featherheads, a specialty shop on Asheville’s Haywood Street. Austin Sherrill said the shop remains open well past midnight on the last few days before Christmas. “At one a.m. on Christmas Eve a woman walked in. Conventional woman, mid ‘50s. We had a six-foot Cherokee hunting spear hanging from the ceiling. She took one look at it and said, ‘That’s mine. I want it.’ It was a pretty expensive spear, but she said she had to have it for her nephew. I offered to wrap it—at least the long pointed end, but she wouldn’t let me. She paid for it, left the shop, and walked down the street at one in the morning, carrying a spear that was taller than she was.”
The woman with the spear is a far cry from Santa on a rooftop, but it is a genuine—if unusual—image of the holiday season. Several merchants noted that the holidays present Asheville with still another tourist season. “People have discovered that Asheville has a lot of unique shops, featuring pieces created by local artisans,” Terry Guthrie said as he sat in his shop, Vaquera. “And people who want something different, something you won’t find in the big department stores, come to Asheville for a couple of days just to do their shopping.”
(article continues on page 2)