Desire to shop local remains strong

Ladner and Tsawwassen businesses feel support from customers over holiday season

The first Christmas shopping season with the new mall in the mix is now in the books in South Delta, with several business owners reporting a solid bottom line.

Despite the changing retail climate with the October opening of Tsawwassen Mills, businesses in Ladner and Tsawwassen contacted by the Optimist said they were encouraged with the holiday season.

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Marleen Flumerfelt, who owns both Toys & Tech and Unforgettable Gifts in Tsawwassen, said the toy store did a brisk business, while she was still looking at the books for the gift shop.

"Customers commented that they enjoyed our space, the knowledge that we have and the desire to shop local," she said. "You would be silly to not believe that the mall impacted local shopping. They have sheltered space, so the weather certainly played a factor in some people choosing to shop at the new mall versus shopping here in Tsawwassen. A lot of the folks did make the conscious decision, however, to stay and shop in the local community."

Ruth Scowcroft of Albany Books said customer loyalty played a big factor in a very busy shopping season.

"I feel like our loyal customers really supported us," Scowcroft said. "I think customers come to us because of our customer service. I make sure we have lots of staff at Christmas. People like to have a personal shopper. They come in with a list and want to have someone to hand sell them everything."

And she also benefited from the mall with some spin-off business.

"I know I personally served someone who was coming out to shop at the mall, but because the mall doesn't have a bookstore, found us on the web and came and shopped here before going to the mall, so I feel like the mall brought in a little bit of business for me as well." For Home Hardware's Bob Matheson, it wasn't so much the Christmas season, but the unusual winter weather that translated into brisk business.

"The Christmas season was pretty reasonable, but the best part of the whole Christmas season probably wasn't the Christmas shopping, it was the snow," he said. "We were able to keep the salt, the ice melt and the shovels in stock, so that really helped us as a store. It [the weather] also deters people from going outside of the community to shop because the weather is not very good."

He said there's no question the retail climate is changing now the mall is open, but there are ways local businesses can remain viable.

"As long as we are doing our job from the business side of it and we are not upsetting the customers by doing things they are not happy with, they will be here because they want to be here," Matheson said. "Our customers are loyal and they tell us all the time they want to shop local to support local."

In Ladner Village, South Delta Heels owner Carol Miles said weather did play a factor in their sales, but so did the previous eight months of construction throughout the village.

"You have to look at the whole picture for the whole year and not just the Christmas season," said Miles. "The retailers in Ladner Village have had a tough year with the road construction. I had heavy duty equipment literally on my doorstep for a good chunk of the year, so it was a miracle that anyone would go through that construction to shop at my store, but they did and I managed to survive."

She said overall the mall had minimal effect on business.

"The Christmas season was good, but it can always be better," she said. "My customers come to my business because I'm offering something that is not available at the mall. As retailers, we all have to provide something unique. We have to provide quality products, and excellent customer service. The Corporation of Delta has spent a lot of money in this area, so now it's up to the community to realize what a gem they have and come down here."

Urban Rack owner Kristine Irving said while other businesses might fear the mall, she's not one of them.

"The Christmas season was good. I think we had a bit of a less volume, but those that were shopping were motivated to shop local and buy local," Irving said. "Shoppers told us that they checked out the mall, but came back in December because they wanted service, the time and care that we put in with our customers, the free gift-wrapping and the special touches.

"What we noticed in December is that shoppers said we want you here and they continued to support, so I don't have fears moving forward. We are here to stay - we are not going anywhere."

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