Area retailers ring up healthy holiday sales

Posted: Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Area retailers reported healthy sales this holiday shopping season, with slow returns over the weekend.

Popular items this year ranged from Alaska-themed books and fiber optic Christmas decorations to talking bottle openers and clear acrylic toilet seats embedded with fishing lures.

Customer traffic has been heavy at Home Depot since the store opened in Kenai in mid-December. The store's first holiday sales season "exceeded expectations," said store manager Terry Rahlfs. "It went well very well."

Even the return lines were short. "The lines weren't too bad," said returns clerk Kelly Hamilton. "Most of it was men who bought the wrong thing for their wives, so they exchanged it and got what they wanted you know how men shopping are."

Men aren't the only ones who sometimes fall short in the gift giving department. Moms can get it wrong, too.

Juanita Storms of Seward exchanged a water cooler Friday given to her by her mother. Her mother had the right idea, but the wrong model. Storms wanted the model with a built-in refrigerator, instead she got the one with a dry storage compartment.

"I want to be able to put my butter and bagels in there," she said.

At Fred Meyer in Soldotna, the return lines also were short Friday. Linda Miller had to wait behind a handful of people to return a ham that was too salty and a peg hockey game that was defective. The game was a present to her son, who decided he'd rather spend the money on a game of his own choosing.

"You know how it is with teenagers, he's going to use it to buy a video game."

Miller's son bought "The Hobbit," the video game version of J.R.R. Tolkien's prequel to "The Lord of The Rings" trilogy. "He's got all the others," Miller said, referring to the video game versions of the trilogy.

At River City Books in Soldotna, Tolkien's trilogy, which chronicles the salvation and decline of fictional Middle Earth, competed with the latest weight loss method for holiday book buyers' dollars.

"We're selling a lot of 'Lord of the Rings' and 'The South Beach Diet,'" said cashier Jesse Schaefer.

Books with Alaska themes also have been popular.

"'Alaska's No. 1 Guide' has been flying, literally flying, off the counter," said salesperson Robin Veluce.

At Sweeney's Clothing, also in Soldotna, salespersons Laurissa Cox, Jeremy Brantley and Greg Vane couldn't believe the number of calls they've been getting lately from all over the country, all wanting the same thing: New Zealand-made Ugg sheepskin boots.

"We must have been getting 20 calls a day," Vane said.

The demand for Uggs has skyrocketed across the nation since Nov. 24, when Oprah Winfrey named the boots, first made popular by surfers Down Under in the 1960s, to her list of top picks for Christmas gifts. The boots also have appeared on hit television shows such as "Sex and the City" and "Friends," and been featured on the feet of stars such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Cameron Diaz and Gwenyth Paltrow.

However, like every other Ugg retailer in the United States, Sweeney's stock of the most popular "classic tall" style ran out quickly.

"We didn't have the kind on Oprah, but it's helped sell the others," said Brantley.

One caller illustrated how desperate Ugg buyers have become.

"A lady from New York called looking for size 8, all we had was a pair of 6 1/2. She bought them anyway," said Cox. "I guess she figures she can stuff her feet into them."

Uggs may be popular in the rest of the United States, but Baffin snow boots were the big sellers this year at Sweeney's, Cox said.

The surprise sellers of the year were Simpson talking bottle openers (when used, Homer Simpson croons, "Hhhhhmmmm beeeeer") and clear acrylic toilet seats embedded with colored fishing lures, Brantley said.

At Beemun's Variety, on the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna, the trend of the season wasn't celebrity endorsed sheepskin footwear, it was fiber optic snowmen, angels and Christmas trees. The trees were particularly popular.

"We even sold the one in the window," said salesperson Pat Hill.

Chris Heintz, Dawn Horstman and Cathy Sullivan shopped Beemun's Friday for Christmas ornaments of a more traditional nature.

"We have a compulsive disorder when it comes to cute-gotta-haves and can't-do-withouts, "Heintz said.

Heintz and Horstman were stocking up on marked-down ceramic ornaments, but not to store away until next season. Their husbands work on the North Slope through the holidays, so they've delayed celebrations until they're off in early January.

"I haven't even done half my Christmas shopping might as well wait until after Christmas for the sales," Horstman said.

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