Middle Tennessee shoppers ready to spend big this holiday season

Great Recession blues fade away as retailers gear up for big numbers

Friday, November 7, 2014, Vol. 38, No. 45
By Jeannie Naujeck


Buoyed by rising home prices and stock portfolios, Middle Tennesseans are ready to spend big again on the holidays and will be shopping earlier than ever.

In fact, they already have.

Forget Black Friday or even Thanksgiving Day as the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

At The Mall at Green Hills, a reindeer already stands watch near the Apple store, which was full and had shoppers lined up outside the door at 3 p.m. on a recent Saturday afternoon. Poinsettia plants and strings of white lights hang from the rafters.

And on the day after Halloween, Wal-Mart began offering deep discounts on the season’s hot-ticket gifts, and the kind of 24-hour online “flash” deals typically offered at the end of November.

“Customers are already buying Christmas gifts,” confirms Ann Stanford, owner of two Lizard Thicket women’s apparel boutiques in Cool Springs and Green Hills.

“I’ve been a little surprised by how soon they do it, but it’s great that people are prepared.”

‘A little looser’ with purse strings


Two-thirds of consumers plan to shop on Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving – compared to 55 percent in 2013. And 25 percent of consumers plan to spend more on presents than they did last year, citing greater job security and more disposable income, according to the Accenture Holiday Shopping Survey.

“People aren’t quite as tight as they have been in the last few years,” says Nashville-based wardrobe consultant Tina Adams.

“They’re feeling like the value of their home is going up, and that always makes people a little looser with their purse strings when they’re shopping.”

According to the poll, the top items on consumers’ holiday shopping lists are gift cards, apparel and toys. With new product releases this fall from Apple, including the iPhone 6 and 6+ and new versions of the iPad, electronics will gobble up a big percentage of holiday shopping budgets.

The National Retail Federation’s annual spending survey predicts the average shopper will spend $804.42 on holiday gifts this year, up almost 5 percent from 2013.

The survey also found a record 56 percent of consumers plan to shop online, up from 51.5 percent last year.

But while more shoppers are comfortable with shopping online, purchases from online retail giant Amazon.com are now subject to Tennessee sales tax, negating some of the savings from buying online.

The season’s most-wanted

Some analysts believe the release of pricy new Apple products, including the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, new iPad models and the forthcoming Apple Watch, expected early next year, will take a disproportionate amount of shoppers’ holiday budgets and hurt other retailers.

The most popular new iPhone models have been backordered for over a month.

But the most-requested items, according to the National Retail Federation, are, in order:

  • Gift cards
  • Apparel
  • Video games
  • Books
  • Music
  • DVDs
  • Electronics devices
  • Jewelry

This year, anything tied into the Disney movie “Frozen” will be a hot seller for kids. New PlayStation and Xbox models also are on Santa’s most-requested list.

For clothing and accessories, Adams says a modern, fitted leather jacket or handbag in cognac or burgundy are coveted gifts this season.

Cognac, a dark caramel or honey color, is versatile because it goes with everything and can be worn year-round.

“I’m really big on leather jackets because they can elevate an outfit from boring to really elegant if it’s the right one,” Adams says. “You don’t want it to have a lot of doo-dads.

“My clients that are making luxury item purchases, what we’re looking for are items that don’t have a lot of bells and whistles that are going to date it.”

Adams also advises against overpaying for trendy jewelry that doesn’t have a long shelf life.

Items like gold bangles and classic diamond stud earrings – even fake ones – never go out of style.

And classic watches are about to come back as a major fashion accessory, she advises.

The Apple Watch, which will be released early next year, will appeal to the younger demographic, while luxury watches are back among older buyers.

Shoppers pack the Apple store in The Mall at Green Hills, with a line out the door on a recent Saturday afternoon. Apple’s new iPhone line is high on many shoppers’ gift lists this year.

“I do think beautiful classic watches, like Cartier and Tiffany and Rolex and those, they’re going to have a resurgence in popularity,” Adams says. “They’re on their way back. I just started wearing one last week again.”

Cowboy boots are another timeless wardrobe staple (Adams likes the Lucchese store in The Gulch). For the enthusiast, Adams suggests:

n A sophisticated coffee table book from Assouline. Titles include “Vintage Cars” ($95), “Food & Life” ($50); “Be My Guest: Theme Party Savoir Faire” ($45); “Conde Nast Traveler Photographs” ($95); and “Bauhaus” ($25).

  • A year’s worth of movie tickets or membership to the Belcourt Theatre for the film buff
  • A selection of jams from the Loveless Café for the hostess
  • A gift certificate to one of Nashville’s many fine restaurants.

“One of the best gift certificates you can give somebody is to a fine restaurant like Kayne Prime or Sinema, and include in it enough for two people to buy dinner, a bottle of wine and dessert, and enough to cover the tip. And then they’ve got a date idea,” Adams says.

Retailers rise to the occasion

Just like Nashville’s restaurant scene is now one of the hottest in the country, the retail landscape also offers abundant choice.

In addition to the expansion of national upscale brands into Middle Tennessee, such as Nordstrom Rack in Brentwood and Orvis in Green Hills, the development of urban neighborhoods has led to an explosion of clothing and home accessory boutiques such as Emerson Grace and White’s Mercantile in 12th South, Two Old Hippies, Blush and e. Allen in The Gulch, and even downtown, where the Music City Center and new hotels are bringing in an influx of savvy business travelers.

“We try to make sure we incorporate all price points and a little bit for everyone,” says Debra Hollenbeck, retail manager for Five & Tenn, the gift shop at the new Omni Hotel where foot traffic comes from locals attending shows downtown or on “staycation,” conventioneers and tourists from the adjacent Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum.

When buying for her shop, Hollenbeck seeks out unique local products, such as:

  • Spices blended in East Nashville
  • Customizable leather products from Lynnville-based Col. Littleton
  • Men’s apparel from local designer Eric Adler, who studied tailoring with Manuel
  • A large selection of Loveless Café gift items.

“Nashvillians are so savvy and proud of where they live and where they come from that they just enjoy buying local,” Hollenbeck says.

“And with all our downtown residents, there seems to be a culture developing of supporting local.

“We put some of that in the downtown oasis that we are.”

‘Keep your money in Nashville’

Down the hall from Five & Tenn, there’s the Hatch Show Print Design Shop, with many gifts under $50, including coasters, mugs, aprons, T-shirts and posters, that bear its iconic letterpress style.

And there’s Circa, a “country lifestyle” shop that is part of the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum. It sells a wide selection of Resistol and Rockmount Ranch Wear Western-style shirts, Stetson hats for women and men, and plenty of music-themed gift items like a guitar-shaped cutting board and miniature musical instrument ornaments for the Christmas tree.

Purchases have the added benefit of supporting Hall of Fame programming. And shopping locally and supporting the community has the spillover effect benefit of encouraging more and better retail, Adams says.

“It’s become more mainstream to shop locally,” Adams says. “I was shopping with a woman for a gown for the Symphony Ball and she said, ‘Maybe I should just go to Atlanta.’ “I said, ‘No, no, no, please keep your money in Nashville!’

“The more money you spend in Nashville, the better the shopping will get.”