By Clayton Park
www.news-journalonline.com

DAYTONA BEACH — Ted Teschner, owner of the Mr. Dunderbak’s restaurant at Volusia Mall, was expecting a busy day feeding hungry shoppers on Black Friday, but was surprised at just how busy it got.

“Our Black Friday may have been the best we’ve ever had,” said the longtime mall tenant, who celebrated 42 years in business this past week. “It was a 25 percent increase (in sales) over last year and last year was pretty good. We weren’t adequately staffed. It was like a steamroller.”

Teschner added that business for his eatery since then has remained up “closer to 5 to 10 percent” over the same time last year.

With the holiday shopping season approaching the midway mark, local retailers and restaurateurs said sales are on pace to exceed last year’s numbers.

“Black Friday was very crazy,” said Kelvin Oats, assistant store leader at the GameStop store at Volusia Mall. Oats added that the store on the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season, sold out of its entire inventory of Playstation 4 Slim game consoles in just two hours. “It’s going pretty good,” he added of sales at the store since then.

Corrine Conforto, manager of the FYE entertainment/toy store at Volusia Mall, also reported a strong start to the holiday season.

“We had a constant line at the (cash) registers for most of the day (on Black Friday),” she said, adding that the store was the second-best performing FYE location that day in the district, which covers several counties.

“It’s been a great holiday season so far,” Conforto said, adding that some of the top selling items at her store have been Fingerlings toys, which she described as “animatronic monkeys that sit on your hand and make noise,” Hatchimals and drones.

At the Tanger Outlets, General Manager Scott Sadove said in an email, “We’ve seen a lot of traffic at our center and expect to see it through the holiday.”

And it’s not just stores at the area’s major shopping centers that say they are doing well.

On East Granada Boulevard in Ormond Beach, Angela Heaster, owner of the beachside Gaslamp Gift Gallery, said, “Both Black Friday and Small Business Saturday (also on Thanksgiving weekend) were very successful. We were definitely busier than we anticipated. It was wonderful.”

Heaster, who with her husband, own the Gaslamp Shoppes on Granada that includes her shop as well as several other independent shops and restaurants, said she has heard similar reports from her tenants.

“I think people are feeling more comfortable spending money,” she said, crediting the increased sales in part to the improving economy and rising consumer confidence.

Jeff Sidwell, owner of the Bon Gourmet wine-and-cheese shop at the Gaslamp Shoppes, said, “The holiday season seems like its gotten off to a rapid start better than last year and last year was strong.”

“A lot of people have been moving to town so we’re always meeting new people,” he added.

The Florida Retail Federation prior to the start of the holiday shopping season predicted that retail spending statewide would be up 3 to 3.5 percent over last year’s holiday season.

“So far, everything we’ve heard from our members, both big and small, is that everyone seems to be pleased,” said James Miller, a spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation.

And because Christmas this year falls on a Monday, that means the holiday shopping season will span five weekends, as opposed to just four most years.

“Having that extra weekend before Christmas is going to be huge,” Miller said. “The final weekend (before Christmas) is traditional the biggest (for retail sales).”

This year, shoppers in the Daytona Beach area have more options than ever, thanks to the new stores and restaurants opening at the new One Daytona retail/dining/entertainment complex across the street from Daytona International Speedway, and the Tanger Outlets mall on the east side of Interstate 95, which opened in November of last year.

In an effort to compete, not just with each other but also online retailers, local shopping centers, including Volusia Mall, Tanger and One Daytona are also offering entertainment and other special events during the holidays.

This Saturday, Tanger will hold a holiday tree-lighting event and will be offering “Selfies with Santa” events each Saturday afternoon through the rest of the month where children can have their photos taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Volusia Mall has a Santa’s village display in its Center Court where kids can have their photos taken with Old Saint Nick. Mall spokeswoman Kristina Circelli said a free afternoon concert is also planned at Center Court on Dec. 23 (and possibly also on Dec. 16). The mall also offers daily kids train rides.

One Daytona on Thursday kicked off its year-round offerings of daily live music and special events every Thursday through Sunday. The center will also hold a “Family Night On The Front Lawn” event on Dec. 16 that includes a s’mores bar, holiday carolers, face-painting and balloon animals, and a children’s story time.

All are line with what national retail consultant Howard Davidowitz described as necessary efforts by malls to “Amazon-proof themselves.”

Davidowitz, earlier this fall, said entertainment and special events can be a key to success for malls and brick-and-mortar retailers in seeking to compete with online retail giants such as Amazon.com.

“Malls need to focus on experiential offerings,” he said.

At Volusia Mall, Teschner of Mr. Dunderbak’s, said the Saturday before Christmas for his restaurant is typically 50 percent to twice as busy as it is on Black Friday. Gift baskets of gourmet food and deli items are especially good sellers at his eatery that day, he said, adding that many of those last-minute shoppers are typically men.

“It’s nice that we’re kind of like a tradition for some folks,” he said. read more

by John Lucas
thecapitolist.com

Florida retailers seem pleased with the start of the holiday shopping season.

It started with Black Friday, which actually started before Friday. Then came Cyber Monday.

“Via anecdotal conversations with large and small retailers and research we’ve seen, everyone seems happy with the turnout, whether it be via in-store or online,” said James Miller with the Florida Retail Federation (FRF).

FRF has predicted a 3-3.5 percent increase in sales this holiday season in Florida.

“There may have been slightly smaller crowds, but that was more than made up for via online sales,” Miller added. “Lots of our small retailers were very happy with the turnout in their stores. Cyber Monday is slated to be the biggest one ever, so all of these signs point to a very strong start to the retail season.”

The holiday shopping season accounts for 20-40 percent of a retailer’s annual sales. The National Retail Federation estimates consumers will spend an average of $967 on gifts this year. That’s an increase of $32 per person over last year’s holiday shopping numbers, and $15 more than the record-setting sales year of 2015.

“This season should be another strong one for our retail members, thanks to a 10 year low unemployment rate, a strong housing market, high consumer confidence and 100 million tourists leaving with more than what they came with,” said FRF President/CEO Scott Shalley.

Shalley says Hurricane Irma played a “significant factor” on the holiday shopping forecast for Florida this year. Irma caused damage in major population areas across most of the state and many residents are still recovering. But FRF says the overall strength of the state’s economy and the resilience of the state’s retail industry will help offset the potential loss of sales.

“Hurricane Irma hit our state extremely hard, particularly in these areas, and we factored in this impact in our forecast, but we feel the overall strength of our economy and the incredible recovery efforts that have taken place will help lessen the impact on retail sales this holiday season,” said Shalley.

Being a popular tourist destination gives an added boost to Florida’s holiday shopping figures. Surveys consistently list shopping as one of the top activities on the agendas of people who come to Florida for a vacation.

“Tourism continues to be a powerful influence on the success of Florida’s economy and specifically the retail industry, and 2017 is expected to set a new record on number of tourists which is great news for our members,” said Shalley.

The popular items on people’s shopping lists for this holiday season are gift cards for the 11th year in a row, followed by clothing and accessories, books, movies or music, electronics, home décor and furnishings and jewelry. read more

By Kate Rogers | @katerogersnews
www.CNBC.com

At Panther Coffee in Miami, no worker is paid under $10 an hour. In fact, including tips, entry-level employees take home about $15 an hour on average, well above the state's minimum of $8.10 an hour. Husband-wife owners Joel and Leticia Pollock say lower wages just aren't an option if they want to be successful.

"To me minimum wage is offensive," Leticia said. "For our business, it's important that people take home a living wage, because we want the team to feel respected, we want people to stay long-term, and we want to build a culture where they're coming to work and they know that we understand that you can't live with less than that."

But the Pollocks' outlook isn't shared by all on Main Street, where wages are a key concern as the pendulum swings in favor of a higher minimum nationwide. In fact, conservative lobbying group the National Federation of Independent Business finds wages are a top-10 issue for its small-business membership.

Despite the federal minimum remaining stagnant at $7.25 an hour, more than half the states across the country now have wage floors above the federal minimum, and big cities from Seattle to Los Angeles and New York City also have taken matters into their own hands to raise pay for low-wage workers, much like the Pollocks have at their own small businesses in Miami and Miami Beach.

Miami Beach is at the center of an ongoing battle of its own over raising the minimum wage. Earlier this year, a judge struck down a local ordinance that was set to hike the city's minimum to $10.31 in January 2018, eventually hitting $13.31 by 2021. Oral arguments begin in appeals court in October. Democratic Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine believes the case could reach the Florida Supreme Court but that ultimately the higher wage will prevail.

"I believe its necessary, and our entire commission as well as our business community felt it was necessary, because we felt that we need to make sure that our workers in our city get properly paid," Levine said. "We all know that no one can live on $8.10 an hour. So the question is, How do you live? The government is going to help you — they are funding you with subsidized programs, welfare programs and social programs. So, basically, the taxpayers are subsidizing the cost of businesses."

The Florida Retail Federation, which was one of the business groups that took on the minimum-wage ordinance in Miami Beach, said the hike stands to negatively impact small companies and future business in the city.

"If the minimum-wage proposal was approved, you'd see a number of other cities and municipalities follow along with that — then you're looking at an impact on local businesses in Florida that would be devastating," said James Miller, spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation. "You're looking at lost jobs, higher prices, millions of Florida families impacted by this one decision."

For some entrepreneurs, raising the minimum wage isn't so clear-cut, and it means making tough business decisions. At Daily Creative Food in Miami Beach, entry-level positions begin at $10 an hour in order to attract and retain talent, according to owner Adam Meltzer. But the business has 85 employees, and Meltzer believes mandated higher wages should be reserved for more skilled workers.

"If we were to increase the minimum wage to above $13, $14 or $15 an hour, we might run into some problems where we would actually have to decrease the amount of hours our minimum-wage employees work," Meltzer said. "We might also have to raise menu prices, which would affect customers and possibly affect the overall business."

If the state or local minimum were to go above $13, Meltzer said he may try to have a manager perform some of the duties that a minimum-wage worker would typically perform to decrease the number of minimum-wage workers on staff. But he also sees the potential positive in higher pay.

"We might notice an increase in productivity, in employee morale," he said. "But it might also affect us in a negative way. ... We'd have to be a bit more creative with our staffing needs."

Panther Coffee's Leticia also recognizes the challenges small-business owners face when it comes to raising pay but said ultimately for her business, it's necessary.

"Business owners have a lot of debt, a lot of risk, and in the end we are the ones that have to pay the bills, the bank or investors," she said. "But we also need to share what comes in so that everyone benefits from the work we are doing together." read more

Three days of tax-free, back-to-school shopping starts Friday, Aug. 4, and stores are expected to be packed despite the internet’s growing encroachment on brick-and-mortar retailers.

“Back to school shopping is a great example of the social experience that shopping is,” said Steven Kirn, a retail professor at the University of Florida. “Especially when you have parents and children shopping together, it shows one of the continuing strengths of stores.”

Nearly three times as many shoppers plan to visit stores compared with shopping online for back-to-school sales, according to a survey from New York City-based research and auditing firm Deloitte. Mostly, consumers will go online to purchase items such as computers and computer hardware such as printers and hard drives.

Parents, store managers and researchers said brick-and-mortar has the advantage on back-to-school shopping, for now, because prices are lower in stores for school supplies and picking the correct sizes for kids can be difficult.

That means aisles will be crammed with parents and students next weekend when the back-to-school shopping season culminates Aug. 4-6. Shoppers won’t pay the 6 percent to 7 percent state and local sales tax on clothing, shoes, backpacks, school supplies and computers under $750 starting at 12:01 a.m. that Friday until 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

The sales tax discount is also good on many online purchases for Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Target.com.

Adding to the crowds, retailers also tend to pile their own discounts on top of the sales tax relief, pulling more shoppers into stores.

Many will be heading to mass merchants such as Wal-Mart and Target, according to Deloitte’s survey.

School supply lists in hand, Christina Doolittle and her two elementary age sons grabbed a cart at SuperTarget on Millenia Plaza Way in Orlando Wednesday. Jack, 10, and Grey, 8, crossed off items as they picked through erasers and highlighters and decided which folders to buy among a rainbow of options.

“I haven’t bought anything online for back to school, even though I order a lot of stuff on Amazon at Christmas,” said Doolittle, who lives in Orlando.

Wednesday’s Target trip was her last back-to-school-shopping stop, as she hoped to buy supplies and clothes before the crowds of the tax-free weekend.

Buying school supplies is tough online, she said, because items aren’t available in small quantities. Schools and teachers also have specific requirements for items such as folders. It’s safer to head to the store, she said.

Physical stores have some distinct advantages, Kirn said.

“The existing model of shipping items to stores, to be distributed to the masses is very efficient for things like school supplies,” Kirn said. “There just isn't the margin to sell things like one or two pencils or erasers on Amazon in the quantity that people want to buy them in.”

Kirn said online sellers could have an advantage on items such as computers and hardware, where size and processing power is more important than touch and feel.

“A computer is a computer no matter where you are in the country,” Kirn said.

The Florida Legislature sets the tax-free period every year. This year’s holiday is three days and gives an exemption on shoes and clothing items up to $60 each, school supplies less than $15 each, and computers less than $750. Backpacks also must cost less than $60 to qualify. Shoppers can also skip the sales tax on dozens of related items from tuxedos and diaper bags to coats and cleats.

The program is expected to save Florida consumers about $33.2 million in state and local sales taxes, according to estimates from the Florida Office of Economic & Demographic Research. As recently as 2015, Florida shoppers were given a 10-day sales-tax holiday, but that cost state and local governments about twice as much in sales tax revenue.

Most shopping still happens in stores and back-to-school season is a good example of where brick-and-mortar has an advantage, Florida Retail Federation spokesman James Miller said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 8 percent of all retail sales happen online, including grocery sales.

Another reason, Miller said, is that children can grow quickly and make it difficult to buy accurate clothing sizes online.

“When it comes to clothes, there is a large segment of the population that still wants to try on items in person,” Miller said. “That may change over time, but we’re a long way from that point.” read more

Kyle Arnold This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Orlando Sentinel
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/consumer/os-bz-tax-free-weekend-20170725-story.html

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