News & Events

Retail Economy Affecting Some Consumers More Than Others

As Patrick McElwey browsed footwear at Iowa City’s Active Endeavors, the 30-year-old said he hasn’t been largely affected by the nation’s economic woes that started in 2008.

However, the Wapello County attorney said he has been more aware of his spending habits.

“Fortunately, I’ve been pretty much unscathed so far,” McElwey said Saturday. “I have been more conscious of my purchases than I was three years ago, though.”

Although some consumers still are feeling the effects of the 2008 market plunge more than others, national experts are anticipating a slight boost in the retail economy this week with a little luck and help from an Irish holiday.

The National Retail Federation reported Thursday — in the 2011 St. Patrick’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions survey — that 52.4 percent of Americans plan to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, up from 45.2 percent last year.

While the survey shows that more people plan to celebrate the March 17 holiday, the average amount of money that partygoers plan to spend was only about $1 more than the $33 spent per person in 2010.

Jodie Coblentz, with Aero Rental and Party Shoppe on the corner of Gilbert and Kirkwood streets, said the holiday may mean a slight uptick in sales, but she is not anticipating a surge of shoppers.

“It just depends on the people and if they’re in the mood to go out,” Coblentz said Friday, noting that graduation season in May often is a much busier time of year.

Although the impending holiday is anticipated to boost national sales, retail market trends are somewhat tricky to evaluate on the local level, said Gary Russell, University of Iowa professor of marketing and head of the Henry Tippie College of Business’ marketing department.

“Usually the retail market follows general trends in the economy, but it really depends on the kind of business you are in,” Russell said. “For the typical retailer, things are starting to get better. Things are looking up, but I think they have a long way to go.”

Russell did add that when the national economy dropped in 2008, lower-income consumers were hit hardest, affecting their overall spending power.

“For the high-end stores, these people are doing just fine,” Russell said, adding that along with economic woes, the increasing popularity of online shopping also has affected retail businesses nationwide.

For smaller communities such as those in Johnson County, that translates into a growing worry among brick and mortar small business owners, who often depend on in-person sales, Russell said.

Johnson County’s largest retail center, Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville, has about 100 storefronts and has had an occupancy of anywhere from 97 percent to 100 percent since the facility opened in 1998, said Monica Nadeau, Coral Ridge Mall general manager.

“That’s on the high end of the average,” Nadeau said, in relation to mall occupancy. “It all depends on the supply and demand.”

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