Arkansas Retailers Report Mixed Holiday Outlooks

For some businesses, holiday sales aren’t looking promising.

Doug Burbank, president of Burbank Furniture Inc. of El Dorado, said he hoped he would have enough business this holiday season to hire another employee to add to his staff of seven. But that probably won’t be the case, he said. Sales are “pretty close to being flat” for the store, Burbank said.

Burbank projected sales would be fair this holiday season. The lackluster sales can be tied to a decline in El Dorado’s population over the years to about 18,000 now, he said.

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Sandra Vaughan, the owner of Jefferson Street Books in El Dorado, also said the city’s declining population had hurt sales in her 1,500-SF store, which has two employees. She doesn’t plan to hire more workers for the holidays.

Sales were off 15 percent compared with this time last year, she said. “My main competitor is Amazon, which is going to be the bane of our existence,” she said. Vaughan said she didn’t know what sales would be like this holiday season. “This is not a good economy for small businesses,” she said.

Between July 1 and Sept. 30, sales and use tax collections in Arkansas were down 0.9 percent to $533.7 million compared with the same period last year, according to a report released last week by the Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration.

John Shelnutt, an economist at DF&A, said sales tax collections were down because of a decline in sales to businesses as well as consumers.

But he said he’d noticed some more jobs in the state in recent months, which should mean more sales tax revenue toward the end of the year. Arkansas’ unemployment rate in August was 7.3 percent, down from 8.1 percent in August 2011.

Melissa Burnett, the owner of the Sassy Zebra Vintage Boutique & Consignment Shop in Jonesboro, said she was planning to hire another part-time employee for the holiday season. She said the 2,000-SF store, which features new and used clothes, has been open only two years and has three employees.

Others also were bracing for an improved holiday season.

“If it’s going the way that our year has gone, it’s really going to be a good season for us,” said Trish Roberson, owner of Roberson’s Fine Jewelry in Little Rock. Sales at Roberson’s were up 3 to 5 percent year-to-date, Roberson said.

For the holiday season, Roberson plans on having special events at the store such as bringing jewelry designers into the store.

Still, “retail is always just so hard,” Roberson said. “You never know.”