The first snow of the season turned out to be a holiday blessing of sorts, at least to local retailers whose cash registers were ringing away leading into the last holiday shopping weekend before Christmas.
Katie Rodriguez of Leavittsburg was among the crowds lined up at cash registers in the Eastwood Mall Target store Friday afternoon as the snow was squalling outside.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Brenda J. Linert
Six-year Target employee Michelle Cook said she was well prepared for the holiday rush Friday as she worked in the busy checkout lanes at the store’s Eastwood Mall location in Niles.
''The weather doesn't matter to me,'' she said. What is more of a challenge, she said, is finding time to finish her Christmas shopping now that her kids are out of school for the holidays.
On the mall concourse, Roberta Johnson of Warren said the weather puts her more in the holiday shopping mood.
''I told my daughter this morning I haven't been in the Christmas spirit as far as getting out shopping because it hasn't snowed,'' Johnson said. ''That (snow) is fine with me!"
She wasn't the only one.
Kristen Monroe, Target store manager, said the retailer was remaining optimistic that the season would turn out to be at least as good as last year. She noted that cold weather at Christmastime always brings the shoppers in.
''Definitely with the cold weather we do get an increase in the items that you don't purchase until it gets colder,'' she said. That means the hats, mittens and other winter gear. ''We expect it to be very crazy this weekend and then even after Christmas we always have our guests that come in.''
While retailers and midwesterners had braced for the first storm of the season, Mahoning Valley residents got by unscathed.
That meant good news for many of the nation's retailers who are depending on the final shopping days to boost business in what has been a mediocre holiday season.
The first big snowstorm of the season, which began in the Midwest on Thursday, is just the latest challenge facing stores during this holiday shopping season. The period, which runs roughly from November through December, can account for 40 percent of a store's annual revenue. And the Midwest accounts for about 18 percent of the nation's retail sales, according to MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse, which tracks spending.
So far this season, sales have been lackluster as shoppers have held back their spending because of worries about the weak U.S. job market and the possibility that a stalemate between Congress and the White House over the U.S. budget could trigger tax increases and spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff" next year. That would mean less money in shoppers' pockets.
ShopperTrak, which counts foot traffic and its own proprietary sales numbers from 40,000 retail outlets across the country, slashed its retail sales forecast for the season on Wednesday to an estimated 2.5 percent increase to $257.7 billion. The company had previously predicted a rise of 3.3 percent for the season.
"This comes at a crucial weekend," said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics, a research firm. "This is the end game. These days are huge as sales have been soft in November and December. They need a strong finish to carry through."
Nationwide, the final retail push on Friday and Saturday is expected to yield $34 billion in total sales, accounting for roughly 8 percent of the $400 billion in December sales, according to Michael McNamara, vice president for research and analysis at MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse.
So as the shopping hours wind down till closing time on Christmas eve Monday evening, Macy's was trying a new approach by utilizing every spare minute of shopping time.
The retailer, including the store in Eastwood Mall, was remaining open for 65 straight hours beginning Friday and lasting through midnight tonight. The store reopens 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. for Christmas eve on Monday.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.