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Merchants optimistic as Christmas shopping season heads into final days
Nationally, sales expected to be one of best in years
Debi Almand browses through sportswear Friday morning at JC Penny at Lakeshore Mall as she joins other shoppers looking to fill Christmas wish lists.

Frigid temperatures last week slowed down what was expected to be a strong holiday shopping season. But local business owners said Friday that they were optimistic about holiday sales going into the final days before Christmas.

“Until the weather went bad, we had a pretty good season started,” said Don Griffin, owner of Frames You-Nique in Gainesville. “Now what we’re hoping, with the weather supposed to be nice now through the end of the year, is that we should have a pretty good season.”

Nationally, this holiday shopping season is projected to be one of the best in years, with the National Retail Federation expecting November and December sales to be up 3.3 percent from last year. The NRF recently raised that forecast from 2.2 percent, as more shoppers headed out following an already strong $45 billion Black Friday weekend.

At Lakeshore Malll, general manager Debbie Overholt said most of the tenants have seen the national trends hit home.

“All of the tenants I’ve talked to are above planned, which indicates sales are better then what they expected,” Overholt said. “And it’s definitely better than comparable sales last year.”

But Griffin is remaining “cautiously optimistic” and said national trends don’t always align with small business sales.

Linda Orenstein, owner of Gem Jewelry in Gainesville, said business has been steady, but that shoppers are still being cautious.

“They’re buying gifts but they’re not buying extravagant gifts,” she said. “This has not been a diamond Christmas.”

But Orenstein said a few big ticket sales can often be the difference for a small business. She expects sales to be strong this week.

“For us, historically, the last week and especially the last two or three days are our busiest,” she said. “Because we sell mostly to men and they always wait until the last minute.”