As her children’s eyes widened upon seeing a 5-pound Hershey’s bar and 1.5-pound boxes of Nerds and SweeTarts in the new It’Sugar shop at Washingtonian Center, Joetta Asher assessed her holiday shopping strategy.
“I have started,” said Asher, a Potomac resident who visited the 2,351-square-foot confectionery in Gaithersburg for the first time on Nov. 6. “Most of it so far has been online.”
Getting people off their computers and into the shops these last two months — the most lucrative time of the year for retailers — is one of the biggest challenges, said Patrick Donoho, president of the Maryland Retailers Association. Maryland retailers expect a 2 percent to 2.5 percent increase in sales from last year, slightly lower than what is expected nationally.
Holiday sales are expected to rise by almost 4 percent nationally, to $602.1 billion, from last year, while online sales should increase as much as 15 percent, to $82 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
“It’s continued to be up and down for local retailers,” Donoho said. “There is a lot of price competition from online retailers.”
Maryland retailers also are hurt by the cuts to federal budgets, he said.
It’Sugar, a chain developed by Jeff Rubin, founder of Dylan’s Candy Bar and FAO Schweetz, draws customers into its colorful sites with its well-stocked selection of more than 1,000 types of sweets and accessories, said Ryan Seeley, general manager of the Gaithersburg store.
The site opened on Nov. 4. It’s the first one in Montgomery County; others are in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
“There is something for everyone,” Seeley said. “It’s not just candy but a lot of unique items.” Those include pillows, stuffed animals and Hello Kitty accessories.
Lakeforest mall in Gaithersburg hopes to draw more shoppers this year with a recently completed $1.2 million project that included renovating Center Court, installing a new children’s play area at the JCPenney Court and putting in new furniture in the food court.
The renovations will allow for expanding community events like Santa visits and providing a better experience for customers, said Susan Davis, marketing director for Lakeforest.
The mall has also launched a new youth club called Adventure Kids and welcomed fresh tenants such as national retailer rue21 and local chocolatier SPAGnVOLA this year.
“We are very excited and optimistic about the upcoming holiday shopping season,” Davis said.
Westfield Wheaton mall welcomed a Costco in April, while Milestone Center in Germantown added Big Lots in July at the former Borders bookstore space.
Many retailers are doing sales promotions, such as bookseller Barnes & Noble giving a free $10 gift card when customers spend at least $75 for cards.