Spending survey: Holiday shoppers more upbeat

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December 6, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
// Downtown one of the areas expected to gain from a more confident consumer //

DOWNTOWN CORE — A University of St. Thomas survey aimed at gauging the mood of the holiday shopper suggests the retail scene this year could be poised for a rebound.

The results of the ninth annual “Holiday Spending Sentiment Survey,” conducted by researchers at St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business, were released on Nov. 17.  Researchers David Brennan, Lorman Lundsten and John Sailors polled 306 metro-area households over the Internet, asking how much shoppers plan on spending this year, where they plan on spending it and what they plan to spend it on.

The big take away? Hints of recovery glimmering through the economic gloom.

“We see regional malls and downtowns [both Minneapolis and St. Paul] perking up this year after being down for several years,” Brennan said during a teleconference.

Overall, the survey suggests that household spending this year will increase by 6.8 percent over last year, with each household spending about $680 on holiday gifts. This is a slight bump-up from last year’s dismal figure of $637 per household, which was the lowest since St. Thomas first instituted the survey in 2002. But it’s still a far cry from the pre-recession days, when average spending per household hovered consistently in the $750 to $800 range.

Only 30 percent of respondents said they were planning to spend less this year over last. This is a strikingly low percentage — the lowest in survey history. But Brennan warned that the figure could be deceiving, as the paltry spending of 2009 sets a very low bar.

“Does this mean happy days are here again? Well, yes and no. It is better than last year, but not back to what it was before the recession,” said Brennan.

Still, the predicted 6.8 percent increase for the metro area is good news, as even the most optimistic of national forecasts are anticipating an increase of only 2 to 4 percent across the country. Even with the boost from a 1.2 percent increase in number of households, the increase is still a strong one.

That is, if it actually occurs. Brennan stressed that the survey only records how consumers think they will spend.

Downtown Minneapolis in particular inched ahead in its popularity as a shopping destination. Given a list of 11 regional malls and downtown areas and asked where they were planning to shop, survey respondents listed Downtown Minneapolis as their fourth highest preference. This was the same ranking as last year, but the percentage that chose Downtown was much higher — 12.4 percent of shoppers this year compared to  9.2 last year.

In a slightly different question, shoppers were asked where they planned to do most of their gift buying. Here, Downtown fell to eighth of the 11 options. Still, Brennan said that this was “higher than in recent history,” and he pointed out that Downtown is still outranking some suburban areas like the Eden Prairie Center.

Forty-six percent of total holiday dollars are expected to be spent at regional malls or downtowns.

“Overall, we can say that consumers are returning to the malls and downtowns after a two-year hiatus, and this reflects a shift away from big-box stores, many of whom are discounters, to more upscale stores in the malls and downtown areas,” said Brennan.

Asked if he was surprised by the slight optimism of the results, Brennan pointed out that Minneapolis is generally faring better than the rest of the county during the recession, with unemployment a good two points below the 9.6 national average and foreclosure statistics that are less bleak than those in other areas.

“People who have jobs and are getting some increase in pay are feeling much better about themselves. As a result, they’re becoming less conservative and more willing to go to the malls and do a little more upscale shopping than they had previously.”


The Inn opens in former Subo space

The Inn, the upscale-rustic restaurant replacing Subo, at 89 S. 10th St., opened on Nov. 16.

It’s the latest project from culinary duo Tim Niver and Aaron Johnson, the guys who originally opened the Town Talk Diner in South Minneapolis and who currently operate the Strip Club, a popular steak-and-fish restaurant in St. Paul. In fact, current Strip Club chef J. D. Fratzke has been brought on to help launch the kitchen — though he’ll retain his cooking duties in St. Paul.

Niver had previously described the menu as a gourmand twist on tavern fare: stick-to-your-ribs comfort food gussied up with artful execution, big-handled mugs of small-brewery beers. Early reports, however, suggest that the menu shows a little more class, with appetizers like oxtail and steamed mussels.

The beer selection spans a vast 33 offerings, and that’s just what comes in bottles.

Niver and Johnson have suggested that they may be interested in opening yet another restaurant in the former Picosa space, in St. Anthony Main, which closed last spring. No further details are yet available.


Walsh Design Group moving to Colonial Warehouse

After 16 years in the same studio, the Warehouse District’s Walsh Design Group is about to settle into roomier digs.

Greg Walsh’s full-service interior design firm has signed a lease for a space in the Colonial Warehouse Building, 212 3rd Ave. N. Suite 106, which will accommodate all three arms of the Group’s business: the design studio; Inside Design, the Group’s furniture store; and men’s accessories boutique Martin Patrick 3.

Previously, Martin Patrick 3 had been located in a separate location from the Group’s headquarters at 211 North 1st St.  

In addition, Inside Design will now carry contemporary furniture from Ligne Roset, whose Minneapolis store closed last January.


Local D’Lish kicks off third annual Winter Markets

The winter markets are back at Local D’Lish, the North Loop’s old-fashioned neighborhood grocer, at 208 North 1st St.

For the third year in a row, the store will welcome 20 to 25 vendors, many whom you may recognize from the Mill City Farmers Market, to hawk their wares throughout the winter. The idea is to continue the friendly farmers market vibe through the cold doldrums of the off-season.

The first of the monthly markets happened on Nov. 20, and they will continue on the third Saturday of every month, with the next event scheduled for Dec. 18. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Since each takes a different theme, we asked Winter Market coordinator Stefan Meyer about the December event.

“Our main focus is food, but we try to make a little bit of room for arts and crafts vendors, as well,” he said.  “We’ll have a local artist that does a lot of hand knit stockings and hats. We’ll have some people with home body care products, as well. And we definitely have a little bit more of a focus in December on people with sweets, chocolates — all those lovely things that make people heavier.”


Matthew Sanford to appear at Twice the Gift

Noted adaptive yoga teacher Matthew Sanford, the founder of Mind Body Solutions, will make an appearance at Twice the Gift at the IDS Center on Dec. 8.

As noted in the Journal’s gift guide, Twice the Gift benefits nonprofits in the community. All told, 55 local nonprofits collaborate on the holiday store.

Sanford is a paraplegic yoga teacher and award-winning author and speaker. Mind Body Solutions is a nonprofit based in Minnetonka that works to help people overcome traumatic injuries by learning more about the mind-body connection.

Earlier this year he was named the 2010 “Pioneer in Integrative Medicine” — a prestigious honor from the Institute for Health & Healing at California Pacific Medical Center.

Previous “Pioneer in Integrative Medicine” award winners have included doctors Mehmet Oz, Dean Ornish and Deepak Chopra.

Sanford was in a car accident at the age of 13 that killed his sister and father. He was left paralyzed from the chest down. At the age of 25 he discovered yoga and later taught an adaptive yoga class at the Courage Center before founding his nonprofit Mind Body Solutions.

Sanford will be working with an adaptive yoga student and another yoga teacher at the Dec. 8 event.

Those who visit the store during Sanford’s appearance will get a chance to learn about Mind Body Solutions’ unique approach to adaptive yoga for people with disabilities. There will be a chance to buy T-shirts, DVDs, Sanford’s memoir, “Waking,” and yoga class cards, among other items.

Besides promoting his work, Sanford wants to draw attention to the nonprofit community showcased at Twice the Gift.

“This is a time, when especially because the economy has been so difficult, that we have to acknowledge the work that is being done by the nonprofit field,” Sanford said. “It’s a really important time to be generous.”

For more information about Mind Body Solutions, visit mindbodysolutions.org.

Sarah McKenzie contributed to this report.