Consumers ‘Take A Breath’ Prior To Back-To-School, Holiday Shopping
By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer
July 03, 2012 - Retailers locally and nationally are poised for continued sales growth in the latter part of 2012 due to the necessary back-to-school shopping and holiday season, but consumers are holding tight to what would be discretionary dollars as unemployment and economic volatility remain.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) projection for overall retail growth in 2012 remains at 3.4 percent. If summer sales are higher than expected, this outlook will be revised upward, according to a report authored by NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. The report contends that since consumer confidence has been on a rally since mid-2011, that positive outlook on spending will continue if jobs numbers start to come back.
According to the NRF, retail sales for May – excluding automobile, gas stations and restaurants – decreased 0.3 percent from April, but grew 4.8 percent year-over-year.
“As the first industry to feel any backlash from consumers’ attitudes about the revival of the economy, retailers are far from discouraged by May’s sales report, it’s evident that consumers are simply taking a breath,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. “Going forward, retailers will make sure to keep a steady eye on key economic indicators, being cautious with inventory and promotions as back to school – the second biggest time of the year – approaches.”
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, total retail and food services sales – which includes categories such as automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants – decreased 0.2 percent from April to May, but also increased 7.1 percent year-over-year. “This economy thus far is working like an old machine with many fits, starts and even some sputtering,” Kleinhenz said in a statement. “Overall though, consumers are benefiting from the slow but steady decline in gasoline prices and we expect growth will resume, and should pick up through the fall.”
According to Kimberly Ritter-Martinez, associate economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, softer consumer spending may be attributed to slow growth in incomes and employment numbers, in addition to concerns over Europe. With consumer confidence weaker than expected in May – reaching its lowest point since December – buyers are avoiding borrowing for general spending. Bright spots are in online shopping and auto sales, which are areas where consumers seem to be willing to borrow. In addition, lower interest rates and lower gas prices may provide more comfort for consumer spending.
Belmont Shore Businesses Healthier Than Last Year
“By what we are seeing with about 98 percent of the stores occupied, and three in the process of being remodeled to open this summer, our numbers should be much healthier than last year,” according to Belmont Shore Business Association (BSBA) President Frank Colonna. “The Shore is really alive. The consensus appears that we have a really robust economy growing.”
The goal now is to maintain current momentum at the beginning of what Colonna called Belmont Shore’s “peak season,” as well as to get more retail on 2nd Street. “A lot of people love going to the restaurants, but after they go to dinner it’s great if they could go do some shopping,” he said. “That has always been really strong but hard cards to hold when you’ve got a balance of retail and restaurant. I know we’ve got a lot of restaurants, and retail is always a plus for us. Hopefully we’ll continue to get more.”
While there has been some turnover with food establishments along 2nd Street, new restaurants that have opened seem to be thriving, Colonna said. “Roe [Restaurant and Fish Market] and Simmzy’s customer base is way over what was happening under the old ownerships. Of course, restaurants generate sales tax revenue, so that’s a good sign for the city.” At recent BSBA meetings, Colonna said the majority of business owners are talking about numbers being better than in 2011, with only a small group saying business has remained the same.
Eric Johnson, co-owner of Legend’s Sports Bar, said business has been going well since he and business partner John Morris took over in January. “The good weather seems to always bring out a good crowd going to the beach. There’s a lot of foot traffic,” Johnson said. “We also have the Summer Olympics, which, for a sports bar, is fantastic. We’re looking forward to that. . . . I’ve only been here since January, so we’re still getting our legs under us. But so far everything has been fantastic.”
‘Taste, Wellness And Convenience’ At The Marketplace Long Beach
A rebranding campaign is underway at The Marketplace Long Beach, according to the Marketplace Merchants Association President Mike Beauchamp. Beauchamp, owner and general manager of John Garey Pilates, said the center has been in transition from having mostly retail and boutique shops to having three personalities. “Now we brand it as ‘Taste,’ ‘Wellness’ and ‘Convenience.’ Most of the retailers in the center fall into those three categories.”
Retailers that fall into the “Taste” category are stores like Trader Joe’s, Beverages & More, Omaha Steaks, Creative Cakery and Corner Bakery. Approximately 25 to 30 percent are “Wellness” related, such as John Garey Pilates, Purple Yoga, Advanced Wellness Center, Marketplace Chiropractic and Miracle Ear. John Garey Pilates recently expanded from 2,400 square feet to 5,800 square feet. “Business is booming,” he said.
Nekter Juice Bar, Roots Gourmet and Veggie Grill straddle the “Wellness” and “Taste” categories, Beauchamp said. Veggie Grill opened June 26 next door to Trader Joe’s. “We have had a lot of interest from Long Beach residents and are excited to finally be able to open our doors there,” CEO Greg Dollarhyde said in a statement. “The crave-able Veggie Grill food and concept have really been embraced by Southern Californians and we are incredibly thankful for the popularity.”
The third category, “Convenience,” includes businesses and retailers like Just Alterations, The Mail Box, Bungalo Bay, Child’s Play, Chaussure. “What we found is it went from an experience to wander around the center and explore, to being a place where people can go to get multiple things done,” Beauchamp said. In another change, the merchant association is exploring opening the interior of The Marketplace – an outdoor space with palm trees and lakes –for functions or events.
Downtown Leasing, Sales Looking Strong South Of 3rd Street
Expectations for retail sales growth are in the 5 to 7 percent range, and leasing is going strong, Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA) Vice President Kris Larson said. “In talking to property owners, we’re seeing multiple LOIs (letters of intent) on properties within the downtown, usually by function of location,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of interest, and property owners are able to review some competing bids for space.”
Larson shared knowledge of at least 12 leases in development that could amount to new stores south of 3rd Street before the end of 2012, many of which are established retailers in the food and beverage industry. Some “large format deals” are coming to CityPlace, which will round out uses of the downtown shopping center, Larson said. A new buffet on Pine Avenue is coming in, he said, which will help the area of North Pine Avenue.
One of the founders of the Historic Old Pine Avenue business group, local architect Pedro Costa, said retail business is very weak on Pine Avenue north of 4th Street going up to Anaheim Street. “There has not been any new retail coming into the area in 2012,” he said. The group started up its North Pine Avenue Twilight Walk events just a couple of months ago, which is attracting some new attention to the businesses, but everything north of 4th Street “has totally died,” Costa said.
“Here in the summer, more people are walking in the streets,” he said. “[But] the people tend to walk from North Pine Avenue to the waterfront, which makes it seem like the streets are more activated [south of 4th Street]. With retail, because the current economic situation is slowly moving, I don’t think there is going to be a substantial change before the end of the year.”
North Long Beach Business Alliance Focused On Uniting Retailers
The North Long Beach Business Alliance (NLBBA) has seen increased attendance and interest among retailers and restaurants in the 8th and 9th Council Districts since the group first met in December 2011, according co-chairs Sam Hall and Tina Carter. Carter, who manages Liberty Tax Service at 6159 Atlantic Ave., said the business and property owners who come to the NLBBA meetings are excited to have a voice and are working to “figure out a way to unite.”
“Some business owners are voicing their concerns and saying what they would like to see in the area,” Carter said. “I’m hearing that business is pretty good. . . . They are coming from all over North Long Beach. We’ve got some business owners on Long Beach Boulevard, the Atlantic Avenue Corridor and along Artesia Boulevard further down. We are basically focused on the Atlantic Corridor, just until we get it up and running.”
Bali Kaler, owner of two 7-Eleven stores in North Long Beach, is a member of NLBBA. He said retail business is improving at his businesses, located at 6598 Atlantic Ave. and 6151 Atlantic Ave. “It’s kind of slow right now, but it is getting better from last month,” Kaler said. “We expect things to keep going in a positive direction. We opened the second store [in North Long Beach] on April 26, and it has been getting better. May was slow, but it’s better from May now because we’re getting more customers,” as more people realize that the business is open.
Right now the NLBBA is planning an event for July 7 – a community cleanup. Hall, municipal services manager for trash and recycling company Republic Services, said his employer has partnered with a vendor to provide trash receptacles with advertising panels on the sides that will be permanently affixed in front of various businesses along the Atlantic Avenue business corridor. “We’re going to be able to promote the business alliance and other things throughout the year,” he said. “It’s the start of the branding you’re going to start seeing in North Long Beach.”
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