PORTLAND — While most retailers expect 2010 holiday sales to top last year’s dismal numbers, the majority of Maine residents, like the majority of Americans, say they will not increase their holiday spending this season, a new poll suggests.

In a survey of 600 Maine residents this month by Critical Insights, 48 percent of respondents said they expect to spend less on holiday gifts this year and 49 percent said expect to spend the same amount. Only 3 percent said they expect to spend more.

“Holiday spending is one area where we can cut back,” said Christina Baker, 71, a retired University of Maine professor from Bass Harbor. “We have 11 grandchildren, but we have to be careful in our choices.”

Baker said she and her husband, William, receive income from a retirement portfolio that declined by half in recent years. Lately, the couple began exploring budget cuts.

This Christmas, Baker will give more homemade gifts, which she said are more valuable anyway.

“We will try to make up (in meaning) what we lose in price,” she said.

Melissa Ocampo, a mother of four from Scarborough, agreed. “Money is really tight,” she said while shopping Monday in the Old Port.

This year, Ocampo said, she will avoid buying “disposable” toys – the plastic, battery-operated kind that she said hold kids’ attention only briefly. Instead, she will buy “heirloom” gifts – those that can be reused – like books.

“It’s got to last to the next kid down the line,” she said.

Mike Keefe, an attorney from Gorham, said he might spend a “little more” this holiday season, even though his business has suffered during the recession.

Keefe has eight nieces and nephews and nine great-nieces and great-nephews. His family is worth the cost of presents, he said.

“If you are broke but you still have family, you are doing all right,” he said.

Nationally, 27 percent of Americans plan to spend less on Christmas gifts this year, according to a poll done Oct. 7-10 by Gallup Inc. Eleven percent of Americans expect to spend more.

The Gallup survey shows that, on average, Americans expect to spend $715 on gifts this season, down from $740 last year.

Still, nationwide holiday sales are expected to grow 2.3 percent this year, less than the 10-year average but more than last year’s 0.4 percent growth, according to the National Retail Federation. Holiday sales declined 3.9 percent in 2008.

Curtis Picard, executive director of the 400-member Maine Merchants Association, expects Maine’s holiday sales to mirror national projections. For the last two years, he said, holiday sales in the state have been down or flat.

Picard is encouraged because the number of shipping containers entering the United States rose significantly in August and September, the months when retailers start building holiday inventories.

Still, he said, retailers’ expectations are mixed. “Some are doing OK and feeling more positive than last year. Some folks are saying, ‘It is tough out there,’” he said.

Attos Santana, co-owner of Stonehome Estate Jewelers on Exchange Street in Portland, said he expects this holiday season – and all of 2010 – to be better than 2009. But Santana said 2010 sales are less than they were five years ago, before the housing collapse and recession. A customer who would spend $10,000 then might spend $5,000 today, he said.

Santana has had to cut his advertising budget and reduce his staff from six to four employees.

Rod Joslyn, owner of Pandemonium, also on Exchange Street, agreed that this holiday season is shaping up to be better than 2009.

Joslyn said it’s too early for accurate predictions because holiday shopping in the Old Port doesn’t start in earnest until a few weeks before Christmas.

L.L. Bean, the Freeport-based national retailer, expects sales this holiday season to rise 2.3 percent to 2.5 percent.

“There is still high unemployment all over the country, and that affects consumer confidence, but we are anticipating sales growth,” said spokeswoman Carolyn Beem.

Retailers that sell lower-priced items expressed more optimism.

Topher Mallory, CEO of the five-store Mexicali Blues retail chain, said he expects holiday sales to beat 2009. He said 2009 sales beat those of 2008.

Mexicali Blues, which opened a second store in the Old Port this year, sells clothing, jewelry, textiles and household goods.

Mallory attributes the company’s performance to its trained sales staff and “affordable” prices. And he said the company has efficient inventory planning, driven with “point-of-sale” inventory software.

“We spend time crunching the numbers,” he said.

Brett Wickard, owner of the 10-store Bull Moose chain, said he expects this holiday season to be Bull Moose’s best ever, with sales growth in the “high single digits” over 2009.

In this economy, Wickard said, consumers postpone pricey purchases in favor of less expensive items like the CDs, DVDs, video games and books that Bull Moose sells.

Some Mainers, like Christina Baker, the retired professor from Bass Harbor, said many Americans have more than they need.

“Times like these help us focus on what’s really important,” said Baker, who remembers the excitement of finding an orange in her Christmas stocking when she was a girl. “We will tighten our belts and try to get through this period gracefully.”

 

Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at: [email protected]

 


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