Although Christmas sales last year had been the leanest on record, this year was even worse, according to some retailers on Mission and 24th streets. For Valencia Street merchants, however, things improved a little from last year.
Faring the worst were clothing, variety and jewelry stores with mostly Latino clientele. Bookstores, vintage shops and outlet stores improved their sales from last year.
Most retailers in the Mission District, however, are following the national trend of keeping smaller inventories and finding shoppers are buying necessities rather than luxury items.
Ram Patel, who has owned Fashion Emporium on Mission Street for 22 years, said sales have decreased as much as 40 percent from last year.
“There is nothing left,” he said, referring to business. He added that if things don’t pick up next year he would retire and close his store.
Rohit Anand, who has owned Mike’s Fashion since 2004, said his sales were down 60 percent and is also considering closing shop.
Both said that even though it’s difficult to make rent, their landlords are lenient and Anand’s rent has even decreased. He was ready to close in July before his landlord agreed to decrease his rent from $3,600 to $3,300.
Deep discounts, some as much as 75 percent off, still fail to attract customers.
These apparel shop owners said sales are down because of high unemployment among Latinos, their customer base, a lack of parking on Mission Street and because people go to department stores for Christmas shopping.
For housekeepers Ana Valdivia, 24,and Sulema Ortega, 29, that’s exactly the case. Their work has decreased by half and they are spending their money in shopping malls and outlet stores.
“We’re spending just on what’s necessary,” Valdivia said. This year she spent around $150 for her family compared to $500 from the previous year.
She added that the only shopping she did on Mission Street was in the dollar stores.
But they too are reporting their worst year in sales.
Francisco H. said that in the 18 years he has been working at Big House, Inc. Wholesale Center on Mission Street, this year was the worst, with sales dropping as much as 60 percent.
The highest-selling items are necessities and holiday staples like t-shirts, socks and Christmas lights, he said.
A 20 percent decrease in sales is a sign of relief for Tomas Pena, the owner of Latin Jewelers.
He contained the losses because he monitored sales closely, offered his customers store credit and relied on a 47-year-old system that is making a comeback; layaway.
Others, like La Guadalupana Joyeria, said their sales are down by 60 percent and they’ve also struggled since they were robbed of $40,000 in cash and jewelry in June.
“People don’t want to come here,” Ana Garcia said behind their newly installed security bars.
But not all is bad on Mission Street. At least not for Sandra Billorin, the owner of Mil Colores outlet store which opened in May.
She made a profit during the holiday shopping season by investing in designer perfumes, instead of clothing. Perfume sales were so strong, she made four orders in December.
“It went well for me,” she said enthusiastically.
Cut Loose on Valencia Street did better than last year, said Kathleen Maley, an employee of the outlet for the past eight years. Maley attributes this year’s success to custom orders and monthly “factory seconds” sales, which involve items that have trivial flaws like a missing button or a rip.
“Big discounts and new merchandise is what keep the interest going,” she said.
Steven LeMay, owner of vintage store Retrofit, said sales improved by some 15 percent this year, compared to last year which was the worst in his six years as owner.
He credits this to his use of social media, expansion of custom made T-shirt sales, and offering gift cards for the first time.
Alan Beatts, the owner of Borderlands Bookstore, which specializes in science fiction and horror books, said book sales seem to be good, while employees at Modern Times and Dog-Eared Books also saw an increase.
Although Beatts hasn’t yet reviewed sales records due to the opening of his new Borderlands Café next door, he estimates they may be a little down from last year, the best in 12 years.
He speculated that books are doing well because they’re cheap and people are not going to stop reading because of the bad economy.
But not everyone who is looking is buying.
Looking though discounted books outside of Dog Eared Books, was Alicenne Passavanti, 33, of Oakland.
Passavanti, who was laid off in June as a union representative for health workers, said she could not buy any gifts this year and instead made lotions for her friends and family.
“I only spent $5 on the oils” she said.
The story on 24th Street is similar to that on Mission.
Ricardo Pena of Mixcoatl Arts and Crafts said customers were buying less expensive items.
“They came in with the idea of not spending more than $100 on an item,” he said.
Others like Jose Raxon, the owner of Mexico Lindo (a clothing store) for the past 7 years, did not even try to compete with shopping malls.
Instead he dedicated his retail space to electronics repair. Inside, dozens of big screen televisions awaited repair.
“This season is for those monster stores,” he said.