Downtown retailers pleased

By Tricia Pemberton
The Oklahoman

Traffic from entertainment venues and an increasing number of area residents are giving downtown retailers one of the best Christmas shopping seasons in years.
“We have had excellent sales this year - ahead of other years,” said Marie Young, who along with her husband owns Oklahoma City Florist at 119 N Robinson.

“We seem to have a lot more businesses that are sending out fruit baskets, poinsettias, pine trees and other items to their entire client lists. We are seeing more parties this year. We’re also seeing more individual orders from the increased number of people living down here,” she said.

Coleman Clark, executive vice president of B.C. Clark Jewelers, said sales are up this year in each of the company’s three city stores, but most noticeably downtown.

“The day after Thanksgiving, we were busy, and that’s a day we’re not normally so busy downtown. That wasn’t people working down here; that was people just coming to shop,” he said.

His only guess for the increased traffic is that people are looking for an alternative to overpacked shopping malls.

He also said people are getting more comfortable coming downtown.

“They come to the Ford Center, they visit local restaurants, so now they’re familiar with the streets,” Clark said. “It’s no longer scary. They know where to find parking.”

Teena Hicks, owner of men’s clothier the Teena Hicks Co., a longtime downtown resident, said she too has noticed the uptick in business for the season.

“We’re seeing our normal customers, but we’re also selling a lot for Christmas and a lot for special occasions,” she said.

The increased seasonal business also is evident in Bricktown.

Avis Scaramucci, owner of the Painted Door gift shop at 124 E Sheridan, said she was surprised by the increase in business since the holiday season began.

“When I was on Western, we did some business the day after Thanksgiving, but down here it was all day and all night that weekend,” she said. “We were so busy at one point, we couldn’t get any more people in the door.”

And the things people are buying leads Scaramucci to believe patrons aren’t just the passers-by who are making an unscheduled stop.

“People are buying plates and glasses. They are buying clothing. If these are travelers, then they’re driving, but I’m thinking these are locals,” she said.

Jill Devereax, promotions manager for Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Bricktown, said she couldn’t have asked for a better December so far.

“This has been better than when we opened two years ago,” Devereax said. “There are new places to shop, the parking situation has been fixed, the trolleys and the canal are running smoothly. When it’s snowy and cold, people leave downtown, but then they come right back.”

And the business isn’t coming during the normal 9 to 5 workday. Businesses in Bricktown say they’re busiest on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights - understandably, because it’s an entertainment district - but businesses in downtown proper say they’re seeing busier Saturdays than they’ve been used to for a long time.

Dave Lopez, president of Downtown Oklahoma City Inc., attributes the business to more area residents - 3,000, according to the group’s recent housing study.

There also are 40,000 employees downtown on any given week day.

Add to that the buzz the NBA Hornets have created, additional retail shops cropping up in the area and more entertainment downtown during the month of December - all add to why retailers are seeing shopping traffic swell.

“There’s a confluence of good factors working to our advantage,” Lopez said. “Now that we’ve had more entertainment downtown the past few years, people are more comfortable coming here. But we’re not relaxing, that’s why we’ve added attractions like the snow tubing.”

Not every downtown retailer is seeing record crowds, particularly some that are new to the area.

“We’ve been busy, but we need more consistent traffic. We would love to see more shopping down here,” said Angie Nichols, manager of Firefly, a fashion-forward clothing store that opened six months ago along Reno in lower Bricktown.

Lee Boone, owner of Boone General Store at 115 E Reno, has been open 2½ months.

“We’re not seeing an increase in shoppers, but it’s the first part of December,” she said. “I think people are doing what they know to do - they’re going to indoor malls, where they can visit many shops at once and they can do it all inside.”

But Boone remains hopeful. As colleges and schools let out for Christmas break, she’s hoping to see more families venture by her spot, which is just across from the Harkins movie theater.

“I have had people come in over the past few months, saying they will come back to get something for Christmas. Those people have come back,” she said.