published Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Kick off your holiday shopping season at HoHo Expo in Chattanooga Convention Center

IF YOU GO

What: HoHo Expo.

When: Saturday-Sunday, Nov. 23-24.

Where: Chattanooga Convention Center, 1100 Carter St.

Cost: Free with donation to Neediest Cases Fund.

Information: hohoexpo.com

With Christmas just weeks away, the holiday shopping season is getting underway. Over on Manufacturers Road, Learning Express Toys owner Mary Beth Conklin says sales are already higher this year than the same time last year.

“People are definitely Christmas shopping earlier in our store this year,” she says. “I think we’ll have a better holiday season than last.”

To help local businesses improve their holiday sales numbers, the Chattanooga Times Free Press is hosting the HoHo Expo, a one-stop shopping opportunity featuring more than 200 businesses and vendors.

Among the businesses and vendors are department stores including Belk and Dillard’s, several local toy stores, drug stores, Southeastern Salvage and smaller businesses such as Monogrammed Gifts in Ooltewah and The Bone Appetit Bakery in North Chattanooga.

“We hope this is the beginning of a new holiday tradition in Chattanooga,” says Jason Taylor, Times Free Press president and general manager. “Attendees will get their first peek at the holidays with all the sights and sounds they would expect to get them in the mood. The HoHo Expo is a great place to get a jumpstart on your holiday shopping, get a sneak peak at what the holidays will offer or just make some memories with family and friends.”

“We are transforming the Convention Center into a winter wonderland,” says Lyndsi Lane, Times Free Press marketing manager. There will be free apple cider, cookies, artificial snow, an ice-skating rink and guests also are invited to have a free photo made with Santa.

A gingerbread house contest will be held that includes adult, teen, youth and child categories with top prizes of $100 in each category, she says. Door prizes will be awarded every hour and one guest will win the grand prize — a trip to Gaylord Opryland Resort’s “A Country Christmas.”

The National Retail Federation’s holiday consumer spending survey recently reported that early October holiday promotions prompted millions of American to start shopping early. A reported 53.8 percent of shoppers surveyed said they had already started.

“Specifically, just 46.2 percent say they have yet to start, the smallest percent in the survey’s history,” according to a news release.

“Shopping early has become a very real trend with consumers today as they look for ways to spread out their budget, and retailers have answered their call with attractive holiday offerings as early as October,” said federation President and CEO Matthew Shay.

To get in on that trend, many stores — including Walmart, Kohl’s, Sears, Kmart and Target — are opening on Thanksgiving Day, firing up before the usual Black Friday shopping frenzy.

What are consumers shopping for this holiday season? The National Retail Federation survey shows that nearly six in 10 consumers will buy clothing and clothing accessories followed by gift cards, toys, electronics, jewelry, sporting goods and luxury items.

At Learning Express, Conklin says the No. 1 seller so far is the Rainbow Loom, is a device that makes bracelets out of rubber bands. It’s the most popular item she has carried in the store since it opened in 2008.

Rainbow Looms will be available at her HoHo Expo booth. They sell for about $17 and come with the main loom, a mini loom, a hook, 600 rubber bands and clips.

Denys Tawzer, owner of Monogrammed Gifts on Hunter Road in Ooltewah, which also has a HoHo Expo booth, says she’s not surprised that clothing and clothing accessories are the most popular items for holiday gifts.

“We are seeing a lot of that this year,” says Tawzer, whose customers bring in clothing to be monogrammed. “We’re doing better this year than I anticipated.”

At her booth, “we’ll have a lot of cash-and-carry items (namely accessories that have been monogrammed with one initial), and customers can place orders and pick them up at our store,” she says.

HoHo Expo is presented by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and sponsored by The Pool Place, BMW of Chattanooga and Dr. Keith Dressler.

Contact Karen Nazor Hill at khill@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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