Saratoga County residents cut back at Christmas

For many, Christmas is embodied in the acts of gift-giving, present-getting and all around thing-exchanging, and that circumstance is pleasing for a retail sector that often relies on our propensity to spend a lot at year's end at least, in most years.

The recent holiday season saw a retreat from spend-happy 2007. According to Spendingpulse, an economic report tracking group, holiday retail sales nationwide dropped between 5.5 and 8 percent from last year's levels. A bleak economy and widespread bouts of poor weather were largely attributed as reasons for the dropoff.

The story was about the same locally. Many retailers reported that holiday sales from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 fell short of expectations.

The stars were all lined up for a perfect storm," said Harvey Fox, owner of n. Fox Jewelers in Saratoga Springs, referring to two snowy weekends leading into Christmas, combined with a poor economy.

Though all retail sectors were hit, the more high-end markets took the brunt of the damage. For example, the sale of luxury items took the biggest hit from last year's levels, with shoppers spending 34 percent less. Easily the biggest element in that category was jewelry sales, as many shoppers tried to be more cost-conscious.

"We were definitely impacted in a negative or downward way," said Fox. "Transaction counts were down and the average purchase price was down. A lot of our regular customers came in and stated that this would not be a jewelry Christmas for them."

Fox said that the holidays normally account for about 20 percent of his yearly business.

This year's lackluster holiday came on the heels of his store's most profitable 12 months in its 30 years. The two weeks after Christmas are typically big in the jewelry market, however, as customers return to exchange and upgrade gifts. So far, that has held true for this year, as well.

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