Santa kicks off Christmas season today at Hamilton Place Mall

Santa kicks off Christmas season today at Hamilton Place Mall

November 3rd, 2012 by Joan Garrett McClane in Business Around the Region

Hamilton Place

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

When to start?

• 12.3 percent started shopping for Christmas before September.

• 7 percent started in September.

• 22.1 percent started in October.

• 39 percent start in November.

• 16.2 percent start in the first two weeks of December.

• 3.5 percent start in the last two weeks of December.

Source: National Retail Federation

Since the ghosts and fake spider webs were packed away this week after Halloween, there has been a brief calm before the retail holiday storm.

But the shopping season is set to begin, in earnest, today. Santa will arrive at Hamilton Place Mall with a parade. Stores across the region have unpacked their Christmas decorations. The Salvation Army bell ringers will be out in full force.

And store owners and managers are planning for spending that should be modestly up from last year. The average shopper in the U.S. is expected to spend $749.51 on gifts, decor and greeting cards this year, up from $740.57 spent last year, according to the National Retail Federation consumer spending survey.

Store sales are predicted to increase minimally as well, rising 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion. To compete, retailers will have to offer eye-catching deals early and accommodate more sales online, NRF President Matthew Shay said.

"More than half of Americans this holiday season will feel the impact of the economy and will compensate by doing what they've been doing for several years -- looking for ways to cut any corners, comparative shop online and in store more often, and even planning to travel less or not at all," Shay said in a statement.

At Bath and Body Works, which sells popular scented lotions and body washes in the Northgate Mall in Hixson, employees are getting ready for the holiday rush.

Decor will be rolled out in sequences, starting this weekend, said Rachel Turner, the store manager.

She said she expects promotions to drive purchases this year. The company is mailing coupons that will draw big crowds, she said.

Twenty-six people were hired to handle the store over the holiday, the same as last year, she said.

"[Our company] always increases sales every year," Turner said. "We are excited."

The National Retail Federation reports that holiday hiring will increase overall from 585,000 workers last year to 625,000 employees this year.

But many store owners say they are still cautious about spending this year.

Loretta Scriven's store, North Georgia Skate Shop, will only be open a week when Christmas shoppers start to descend on the Dalton mall. But she hopes her store will be a draw. She was able to install a skate ramp in the mall for customers, she said. Plus, she plans to offer wrapping.

She said people already have started putting items on layaway for Christmas.

"I'm nervous," she said.

At Hamilton Place Mall, the region's biggest shopping center, one store owner said he expects his store's outcome to hinge on the votes cast next week for president.

"We are very cautious," said Sam Edwards, who owns Sam Edwards Jewelers. "A lot of it has to do with the outcome of the election, whether [shoppers] will be more apt to spend or save."

Some people have the cash to spend, but their politics could make them want to hold onto it, he said.

Edwards just hired one full-time worker, but won't hire additional staff. His purchasing has been conservative, he said.

"We are going to shoot for what we did last year," Edwards said. "But if we do more than that [it] is just icing on the cake."