words | Richard Cartwright
Businesses too, just like you and me, look forward to Christmas in order to boost their income to compensate for the, ‘less than brilliant’ sales experienced over certain periods during the rest of the year… “You have to be on your toes and get going soon,” one toyshop owner told me, “Once Christmas is over, come February or March, we’re already ordering goods for the next yuletide event and many long evenings are spent watching the commercial breaks on cartoon and children’s TV channels to see what’s new. We need to make the most of the Christmas season and having the right toys and gadgets is a must.” Talking to managers and store owners around town, the general impression is a good one when it comes to sales at this time of the year. Gone are the days when there was very little or no competition from the hinterland, catalogue, or the very popular and user- friendly internet to compete with – the latter increasingly being the preferred choice for many of us. Wine and liquor stores do well at this time dare I say, with expensive bottles of wine or whisky gifted to your favourite business colleague or professional, not to mention cafes, bars and restaurants, they do extremely well, of course. Competition is rife in this sector with Christmas menus appearing in the press once summer’s over with restaurants and eateries competing with each other for reservations to fill in all those December weekends when work place and other parties are planned.
It’s a busy time of the year with residents and visitors darting around town from shop to shop with a coffee break in between, trying not to forget anything. One of Gibraltar’s top watch and jewellery stores explained, “We almost totally rely on local customers, and visitors to the Rock are a plus. There are no cons on offer here and experience is of the essence. This period is great for us.” Card shops – of which there are two or three in town – for obvious reasons do well… “There are other events like, birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Day, Divali with the Hindu community, Jewish feasts and other celebrations but, during Christmas, sales double I’m happy to say,” a happy business lady informs, “We do well with expats from up the coast too who don’t seem to find the variety and price range of English Christmas cards they find here. Wrapping paper and other gifts sell well also.” Travel agents have a bite of the cherry also (or should it be the mince pie). They tell me some couples and families spend Christmas in a hotel close by on the coast or elsewhere and some elderly loners may choose to go off on a cruise or for a short stay somewhere during Christmas time.
By and large I’m told things start to roll by mid-November and during December, it gets much busier with some stores staying open till late. There is a trend in many of us to leave things till late and that’s when some businesses beef up their Christmas sales during the last week or so before the ‘Big Day.’ Anecdotally, a shop manager recalls when one year, a dad realised he’d left it really late; Gibraltar, being what it is, where we practically know everyone else, he rang her on Christmas morning pleading she open up for him and she did! But hey…It’s Christmas and that was an extraordinary, kind hearted, goodwill gesture towards an absent-minded individual who would have otherwise been in his children’s bad books at such a special time of the year!
Toys and gadgets must surely be the biggest sellers judging by the amount of gifts children receive these days – I can vouch for that having experienced my grandchildren hastily going through their individual piles of presents. An elderly lady I met recalled being given a doll at Christmas but was happy. So these days no complaints from toy shops selling quantities of expensive toys and other electronic ‘thingamajigs’ but then, Christmas comes only once a year and nowadays, ‘affluence is in the air!’ However, traders do say competition is a reality with punters buying on the internet, from catalogues and purchasing goods from nearby in Spain… “Some don’t seem to have an issue buying for Christmas in the shopping malls and department stores in Spain and still purchasing goods here too. There’s extra spending power so they spend on both sides of the frontier,” a clothes retailer declared, but added, “Many items in Spain these days cost pretty much the same as in Gib although with the drop in sterling’s value and consequently less purchasing power, fewer shoppers may be going over to ‘Christmas shop’ there. We’ll have to wait and see how things have panned out when the season’s over.”
Another businessman suggested displaying Christmas goods so early in the autumn, it affected sales for other retailers in some ways and jokingly remarked, “Supermarkets especially begin selling Spanish Christmas confectionery and even Christmas puddings whilst we’re still on the beach!” That gentleman also made the valid point about kicking off the Christmas season so early, it diminishes the expectation and excitement we would get in previous times with the season’s ambience starting later as the date drew nearer during December, slowly building towards a more condensed Christmas time atmosphere.
Should signposts be required to remind us Christmas 2016 is drawing ever so close, a stroll down town serves as a good reminder and hint to have your ‘plastic money’ easily accessible to get ready to spend. Christmas lights are shining up above, shop window and interior displays are in full splendour, diners in restaurants and revellers in wine bars and pubs are making merry and customers in stores, shops, outlets and street markets busily on the go seeking out what to buy a family member, partner, boyfriend or sweetheart, a colleague, close friend or special person and for the kids… more toys or the latest electronic or digital thing… whilst not forgetting also, the yuletide season is the icing on the (Christmas) cake for our Main Street and back street traders to see them through the year’s leaner, less profitable quieter moments!