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Merchants see holiday increase
OXFORD HILLS – Even though it's too early for most merchants to evaluate, with any precision, exactly how the Christmas of 2010 went, we asked some of our local business friends what their initial reactions are. How did they think the season went?
"It was unbelievable," said Paul Brooks, of Woodman's Sporting Goods. "We ran a post-Christmas sale and did more business on New Year's Eve than the day before deer season opened. Christmas Eve was good, too. I've noticed that often, people go to the strip malls early in the season, then, as the big day gets closer, they shop locally."
Agren Appliance and Television's recently-opened Norway store did better than expected and far better than in its old location, said Store Manager Gary Marston.
"I haven't seen any numbers yet from our other stores, but I believe we are right up there as busiest," Marston said.
At Books 'n Things, Joy Johnson said the perception is that sales were somewhat better than last year.
“It seems like people were willing to spend money again,” Johnson said.
The owner of The Secret Garden Flowers and Gifts, Louisa Westleigh, said her business was slow early in the season, but picked up toward the end. Although the store opened December 1, 2009, this was the first complete Christmas shopping season Westleigh's shop has seen, so comparisons are difficult.
Manager Cathy Noll, at Aubuchon Hardware, in Norway, said sales didn't seem quite as good as last year.
On the other hand, Bert Morin at the Undercover Flea Market thinks it was the “best year ever.” Furniture, books and movies were especially hot items.
Thomas Rizzo, spokesman for of the U.S. Postal Service Northern New England District said the period between Thanksgiving is the busiest of the year. Local figures aren't available yet, but there the system as a whole took in 800 million pieces of mail on the busiest day, Monday, December 20 and delivered all of them by Wednesday, December 22. Between the two holidays, the system handled 150 million packages.
“We won't have the breakdown for some time yet, but it looks as if we were busier than last year,” Rizzo said. The sorting centers in Southern Maine handled 1.4 million items on December 20 alone, a figure up more than 40 percent over last year.
There were also a few surprises reported, not from retailers, but from law enforcement agents.
Oxford Police Chief Jon Tibbetts noted, “Shoplifting calls have been surprisingly low this year. If anything, I think we'll see they've dropped from other years, just the opposite of what you'd expect in hard times.”
Norway Police Chief Robert Federico noted the same phenomenon. Taking a quick look at his department's records, he admitted surprise that the numbers of shoplifting complaints his officers responded to were down by more than half of last year.
“It looks like we had 11 calls in '09 and just six so far this year, including one that was in Oxford we handled for them.”
Federico commented that the most common targets for shoplifters are convenience stores, where the tactic is “grab and run” The item stolen is almost always liquor, said the chief.
Unfortunately, the uniform crime reporting system doesn't break down the category of thefts in such a way as to make shoplifting cases stand out.
A side note, however, came indirectly from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), by way of Brooks, who is a licensed gun dealer. Brooks says a federal agent told him that, since firearms buyers must submit to FBI background checks, the the bureau adds additional staff in November and December to keep up with the volume.