Gift shop owners rely on personal service, unique items

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Big name retailers enjoyed a "respectable weekend" of holiday shopping. National sales numbers show large retailers like Walmart and Target stayed busy with plenty of bargain hunters.

But what about the much smaller, "mom and pop" stores? WLOX News visited a trio of local gift shops.

"We're all about unique, odd, different," said Pat Lesher, at Gift Gallery on Pass Road in Gulfport.

That special mix of merchandise is what helps set Gift Gallery apart from other stores.  Customers can't help easing into the Christmas mood there.

"We have our lights, our decorations, our Christmas music. So, we put everybody into the spirit," Lesher said.

But will that holiday spirit put folks in a buying mood this year, given the skittish economy?

"A little cautious. The economy is kind of easing along. But we hope we're going to see a lot better things between now and Christmas Day," Lesher said.

The owner of Hillyer House in Ocean Springs is confident customers will be spending plenty this season.  The downtown shop enjoyed a very busy weekend.

Everything is American-made and the artisans who create the gifts are doing their part to help out in this uncertain economy.

"And those craftsmen have all decided to make things this year that were very affordable and have made things in the 20 to 30 dollar price range," Owner Paige Riley said. "And we definitely found that those are the items we're selling the most of."

Heritage House Gifts in Gulfport is set for a busy holiday season. Unique gifts and personal service help provide a hedge against any economy-related reluctance to spend.

The mood there is upbeat.

"Optimistic and definitely positive," Ann Elize Waller said. "I think there's for sure a scare, just 'cause you get on the news every day and hear about the economy. And it can be very disheartening, but sales are great. We really try to keep a nice range of gift items."

The uniqueness of the gifts also works in the small shop's favor.

"Our Peter's Pottery is very popular. And even if we think the economy is getting to us and we can't sell a thing, we sell the Peter's," Waller said.

Gift shop owners say the personal service they offer also creates plenty of repeat customers.  All three of the shops we visited carry an assortment of gifts that are made in Mississippi. The merchants said that is also something customers appreciate.

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