Retail rings, and merchants feeling merry

The national economy may be skating towards thin ice this winter, but local retailers don't seem too nervous.

If anything, they appear more likely to skate home to a mug of hot cocoa than plunge into the frigid waters of economic trouble.

"I'm pleasantly surprised -- business has been very good," said Ann Zuehlke, owner of Heights business E.T.C.

"It's going better than we anticipated," agreed Paul Doty, manager of Hi-School Pharmacy, "but I wouldn't say we're above the national level."

Both hinted at some degree of consumer trepidation.

"I really think layoffs and the fact that people are anticipating cutbacks after the first of the year are scaring people a little," said Doty.

This doesn't necessarily hinder spending, according to Zuehlke. It just makes consumers more careful.

"People aren't buying things right off," she said. "They're more apprehensive -- they come in and look around, come back later, or send someone in, but the money is still flowing."

It might even be flowing better than in recent holiday seasons.

"Last year was one of our best," said Mark Mason, co-owner of Doug's Sports, "and last time I checked, we're pretty much on schedule to match that, maybe a little ahead."

Most retailers stand to benefit from a "stay-at-home" sentiment this holiday season, prompted by reaction to Sept. 11 and the recent clouds of billowing snow.

"When it snows and the weather gets bad we do really well," said Mason, whose business prospered last year in spite of a lack of snow. "This has been a great winter, and we might have surpassed last year's totals by now if not for the economy. I just hope the snow keeps up."

The events of Sept. 11 are also keeping people close to home, and caused some consumers to reprioritize their lives, said Zuehlke.

"People want to spend their money on comforting things now," she explained. "Handcrafts like quilts are becoming more important, and because of that I guess I'm in a good business at the present."

Ken Apland of Apland Jewelers suggested that the Christmas season caught people somewhat off guard.

"It shook people up -- they weren't ready for it until the first week of December," he said. "But we've been having a really great holiday season. Things have picked up tremendously."

He shared Zuehlke's outlook on consumer priorities: "If anything, people are putting more thought into the gifts they're buying for the most important people in their lives. They're looking for things of lasting value, and that's helping my business."

Waucoma Bookstore manager Rose Kelly was thankful for the continued local support.

"We feel very fortunate to have a strong customer base who shop locally and support us," Kelly said. "Hood River definitely has people who are hurt by the economy right now and we're all concerned. But our economy here is fairly stable because it's so balanced."

She credited the Downtown Association's "First Fridays" program for enticing locals to the area with extended hours and in-store artists.

Overall, merchants were optimistic about the coming weeks.

"People are at a kind of stopping point," said Catherine Kelter, owner of The Wine Sellers. "They're looking at their lifestyles and at what is important and what's not. They're trying to keep things on a more moderate scale, and business is brisk."

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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