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Elkhart retailers: ‘Spirit is really there’

Retailers around Elkhart, Ind., see signs of a rebound during this Christmas shopping season.
Danae Hochstedler, owner of the Nut Shoppe in downtown Goshen, makes almond clusters for boxes of assorted chocolates. Despite the tough economy, her store is hanging in there, Hochstedler says.Tim Vandenack / The Elkhart Truth
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With Christmas just around the corner, local retailers seem OK with how the shopping season is unfolding — all things considered.

“We have had absolutely amazing business,” said Julie Freshour, owner of Jules Boutique, a Goshen women’s clothing store.

It hasn’t come without sweat, though, and sales at some shops still haven’t reached pre-recession levels. Nonetheless, people seem to be buying, even if their budgets are smaller than in previous years.

“It’s not been high-end purchases like we’ve seen in the past, but it’s been OK,” said Carl Higley, owner of Higley TV and Appliance in Elkhart. Though flat-screen televisions continue to be hot, for instance, shoppers seem to be going for smaller sizes, in the 40- to 46-inch range.

Freshour said in light of a tough year in the lead-up to Christmas 2008 — some days back then she’d head home in tears, sales were so slow — she’s modified her merchandise offerings. Instead of pricier, higher-end clothing and accessories, she now offers more moderately priced stuff in the $35 range.

“We had a totally different feel in the store,” she said, noting that the change helped push October sales alone past results for the entire fourth quarter last year. “Now anyone can walk in and get a good price.”

‘Pinching pennies’
Danae Hochstedler, owner of the Nut Shoppe in Goshen, said Christmas is the peak season for her store. Moreover, sweets seem to stay in demand even when the economy sputters.

“So far we’ve been really good,” she said while making almond cluster chocolates.

But things aren’t humming for everybody.

Gary Pletcher, manager of Maple City Hobbies in Goshen, said that 2008 wasn’t great and that things this Christmas season are slower, even though the shop brought in some smaller, more inexpensive items in response.

“A lot of shoppers and lookers and not a lot of people buying,” he said amid the jumble of remote-control airplanes, model cars and other hobby fare. “Money’s tight. Everyone’s pinching pennies. Everyone is unemployed.”

‘Spirit is really there’
Adam Harrison, co-owner of Adam’s Cake Shop in Elkhart, said that though he’s keeping busy, demand doesn’t seem to be as strong as in 2008. Last year, he’d stay at work until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. to keep up with the cake and cookie orders, while these days it seems he’s out of the store by 11 p.m.

Whatever the case, some retailers sense the public is in a good mood, even if the economy is jittery.

“The spirit is really there,” said Harrison.

Tim Vandenack, a reporter for the Elkhart Truth, can be reached at .