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Sales are up for some Red Deer retailers a few days before Christmas — but will it be enough?

The rising cost of living is impacting many families
Bentley resident Brent Moore and his daughter Henley, age six, were waiting to see Santa Claus at Bower Place Mall on Friday when many customers were seeking last-minute gifts. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Last-minute shoppers are flocking to Red Deer retailers in the countdown to Christmas.

But whether their holiday spending this year markedly exceeds last year’s modest returns remains to be seen.

“We’ve been busy. I think people are still spending, but there are some people you can tell are being more cautious,” said Yvonne Pack, manager of the Hickory Farms outlet.

With inflation and the rising cost of living, “some people are cutting back or waiting for the sales,” she added on Friday.

But Pack believes those who can afford it are making up for hard times over the last year or two of the pandemic. “They are ready to have a regular Christmas back.”

There were no conspicuous crowds at Bower Mall mid-day Friday, but most stores were seeing a steady influx of customers.

Retail sales are up 20 per cent so far this month over last December at Pretty Made Things, which offers locally sourced merchandise from 60 vendors. “Sales have been wonderful,” said store owner Cheryl Connors, who believes more people are becoming aware of the need to keep money in their own community.

Brittany Fraser, manager of Bolli Imports, said her outlet is benefitting from a busier mall location this year; “for us, it’s going really well.” An expanded selection of merchandise and training staff on customer relations has also helped, she added.

With two days left before Christmas, Crystal McKeith, was steadily occupied with requests for personalized Christmas ornaments.

This year, shoppers seem to have spread out throughout the days and evenings, instead of everyone flocking in after work, McKeith said. Perhaps some people are still wary of catching COVID and are purposely picking off-peak hours to shop, she surmised. “It seems to go in waves.”

Rachel Contenti noted the mall was busy enough that she had to wait 25 minutes lined up at a lingerie counter on Friday to return one item. The Chilliwack, B.C. resident and her father Chris Contenti, of Lacombe, were still looking for a gift for Rachel’s nephew.

“It’s good to see people here shopping, considering all the online buying,” said Chris — although he believes higher grocery bills, gas and utility prices, are leaving a lot of people budgeting and looking for deals.

Crystal, a mall worker who declined to give her last name, admitted that inflation is hitting her family hard. “A lot of people are telling me they can’t do Christmas… My kids are just getting one present each because everything is very difficult — just taking care of basic needs.”

Bret Gjefle and Jayden Dyrland, of Eckville, were rounding up last-minute supplies with their two kids, and noticing items are more pricey. Gjefle said he’s been taking on extra shifts at work to help cover the Christmas bills.

Buying gift certificates is one way to beat inflationary pressures: Ilene McKee said that’s what her older children and grandchildren want, anyway. “They don’t want grandma buying things for them anymore.”

But not everyone was having to watch their spending too closely.

Another Red Deer woman was among those who felt less affected by rising prices. She explained her husband has a good, steady job, so while inflation is causing some hardship in the community, she feels fortunate that “it hasn’t really affected us.”

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Brittany Fraser, manager of Bolli Imports, says business is up this Christmas at her store in Bower Place Mall. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).