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For beachside merchants, a December to remember

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN, (Week of January 3, 2013)

Despite national worries over tumbling off the fiscal cliff and a decline in the stock market, the retail sales picture on the barrier island this holiday season was quite rosy.

“The best in 25 years,” said Mark Leigh, owner of Leigh Jewelers on Ocean Drive.

“A super December. The best in three or four years,” said Susie Wilber, owner of The Laughing Dog Gallery on Cardinal Drive.

“So far, so good,” said Melinda Cooper of Cooper & Co.

Shop managers and owners along the ocean in Central Beach are quick to say how pleasantly surprised they are over an unexpected boom in business in the past month. 

Several offered opinions on why they thought they were doing better than they had in years.

Laughing Dog’s Wilber thought it was probably “smart pricing” that made the difference.

“We were more conscious than before of pricing at $100, $150 and $200 because those are numbers people are comfortable with for gifts,” she said.

Also, she thinks a reputation for “an overall fun experience” has taken hold at her gallery, which brings people in for entertainment and refreshments.

“Coming here is more than buying something,” she said.

Suzanne Leigh, of Leigh Jewelers, agreed with Wilber’s “smart pricing” theory. “We had Pandora crystal beads that were priced from $25 to $100 that were very popular,” she said.

But they also had breathtaking success with diamond stud earrings and diamond rings that were from  three to seven carats per diamond.

“We had a number of sales that were in the mid six figures,” she said. “It was wonderful.”

Veranda manager Allison Livingston thought their jewelry sales were on the rise because of their knowledge of their clients.

“We knew enough to be able to pair our regular customers with pieces of jewelry that were perfect matches for them and make wish lists that made shopping easier for their loved ones,” she said.  

The result was impressive sales in several designer lines of jewelry: Elizabeth Locke 19-carat gold and Venetian glass pieces, Ippolita onyx and topaz in sterling and colorful Roberto Coin cocktail rings and bracelets all did very well.

“And the business is continuing because things are now fifty percent off,” said Livingston.

Dede’s Shoe Salon manager Angie Gamand  agreed with Livingston that knowledge of what longtime clients like played a big role in sales this year.

Thanks to Dede (Ashby), who sold the shoe salon to Wendy Fisher last summer, the shop has a long list of loyal clients whose preferences are known. 

“Also,” said Gamand,  “we’ve broadened the inventory to include more whimsical designer lines with lots of color.”

So, she said, a combination of knowing what clients want and reaching out to new clients with new lines served the shop well this year.

Color was definitely a draw this season, said Meg Offult, co-owner of Kemp’s Boutique and Shoe Salon, as she reached for a kaleidoscope of brightly colored handbags.

“These Kate Spade and Crossbody bags were very popular,” she said. 

Sassy boutique manager Stephanie Knapp also agreed that color was a big draw.

“But color in cashmere,” she said, pointing to a luxurious muted yellow cashmere sweater draped with a parrot-green pendant.  

Knapp said she was pleasantly surprised that “traffic was steady” after Christmas, with a number of new and old customers coming in to look for sparkly dresses.

“We are so optimistic about 2013,” said Sassy owner Deana Marchant, repeating what thankful shop owners up and down Central Beach are saying.