Shoppers out in force despite snow

It wasn't tough to find Wichita retailers who were watching weather forecasts this week and hoping that a predicted blizzard wouldn't dampen the last day of a surprisingly strong holiday sales season.

As it turned out, customers were undaunted Thursday by a less-fierce combination of light rain and snow.

"It's snowing like crazy, and they just keep coming in," said Tad Snarenberger, who runs Sports Time Fan Shop East at 21st and Webb Road. "I don't think anything's going to stop them."

Sales have been flat or up slightly, several Wichita retailers reported, a pleasant surprise after local aviation layoffs.

"Actually, compared to last year and if you go back to our first year, I've seen an upturn in sales," Snarenberger said.

"It's our best December in our four years, and the best six months in the history of this store. I cannot complain at all."

Candy shoppers have been out in force this season, said Marni Eickelman, general manager of Cero's Candies, 1108 E. Douglas.

"Our season has been wonderful. It's been about the same. No complaints, I'm very pleased," she said.

J.V. Johnston, owner of Johnston's Clothiers, 12111 E. 21st St., said the holiday shopping season started slowly. The store will end the season with 2 percent sales growth, driven by a 20 percent sales spike over the past couple of weeks.

"I was pretty worried at first," he said. "But to tell you the truth, the last two and a half weeks have been absolutely phenomenal. Now we're back to 1999 levels, which was our peak."

Traditionally, Christmas Eve is an important sales day but doesn't determine the season's success, a national analyst said.

"While Christmas Eve does have its share of procrastinators, it's never enough traffic to make or break any retailer," said Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Foundation in Washington, D.C.

"It's a very important day during the holiday season, and retailers will still have last-minute sales, but most retailers close early on Christmas Eve anyway."

That was the Cero's plan.

"We're typically not real busy on Christmas Eve," Eickelman said. "Some folks will come in on the last minute, buying from the case, but the majority of stuff already put together has been picked up, so we're closing a little bit early."