Metro-East News

Are you ready to start your Christmas shopping?

How early do stores begin prepping for holiday shopping?

Beth Wamble, store manager at Ben's in downtown Belleville, talks about preparing for the Christmas season.
Up Next
Beth Wamble, store manager at Ben's in downtown Belleville, talks about preparing for the Christmas season.

It’s still unofficial, but Christmas might be a November holiday now.

The city of Belleville started hanging Santa decorations on Nov. 1, scarcely after Halloween was in the books, and it’s only a matter of time before the radio stations flip over to Bing Crosby and the other Christmas hit-makers.

For local businesses, the transition, and all the difficulties of planning for consumers’ tastes and expectations, comes even earlier.

Next Friday, for example, Eckert’s will begin harvesting Christmas trees, each one taking seven years to reach maturity, according to Amanda Morgan, the marketing director.

At Ben’s in downtown Belleville, the inventory reads like a tortuously long “12 Days of Christmas.” In addition to the reams of wreaths and garland hanging on the walls, the store plans to sell 10,000 Christmas floral bushes, primarily poinsettias, and 5,000 Christmas-themed gift bags.

For parents looking to buy toys for their kids this holiday season, Once Upon A Child in Fairview Heights has been selling new and gently used toys the last 19 years, according to owner Joe Del Carmen.

The store currently has a “Make Room For Santa” campaign where parents can bring in toys their children no longer play with and get cash for them or trade them in for other toys.

“It’s basically our push to get gently used toys,” Del Carmen said. “It’s a way to create your own discount.”

Popular toys this year are Star Wars and remote control cars, he said.

Once Upon A Child also sells holiday clothes.

“A lot of the holiday wear we get is very gently used,” Del Carmen said, since most kids will wear it only once or twice.

For small business-owner Christian Powell, who runs Happy Hop Home Brew & Gourmet, also in Belleville, it can seem like he’s never done changing up the shelves.

When Powell took over the Happy Hop five years ago, there were no hops at all, in fact. Back then, it was a natural-product store and sold aroma therapies. After introducing beer- and wine-making supplies, however, sales took off, and now home-brew equipment occupies half of his store.

“Really, the meat and potatoes of our sales is beer- and wine-making ingredients,” he said.

Product changes quickly at the Happy Hop, and Powell said he’s had to throw out a lot of product over the years, from expired yeast to bad grains, but the holidays can present an even greater challenge when serving two types of clientele: experienced beer-makers and new beer-makers.

“Brewing is done in advance of the season,” he pointed out. Oktoberfest beer, for example, is brewed in the spring because it takes months to ferment, but someone who’s new to the process is more likely to buy a kit when the leaves start changing colors.

Stout is the flavor of winter, and the store also stocks a pumpkin spice porter, a holiday ale and a toasted caramel wheat. But now that holiday shopping has begun in earnest, Powell has made sure to stock a variety of things to have a broader appeal.

Powell estimated that those items, which are put prominently at the front of the store, make up about 30 percent of his profits year-round.

Back when he opened the shop, he said, Happy Hop was one of the only places around that sold those types of products. Nowadays, however, many people are buying them online.

Belleville’s Buy Local day is Nov. 26, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Amazon’s influences

Christmas shopping is an important time for many businesses’ bottom lines, especially small ones, but many owners rankle at the unstoppable popularity of online shopping, including Amazon, whose size allows it to source and set prices lower than brick-and-mortar shops. For the city of Edwardsville, however, the recent opening of a “wish-fulfillment center,” or shipping warehouse, was the Christmas gift.

“We won every way around with this,” said Walter Williams, the economic and community development director for the city of Edwardsville.

According to an analysis by, “Over 9 in 10 shoppers are shopping online, while mobile holiday shopping is up over 43 percent from 2014.”

“Consumers are choosing Amazon over other retailers because they have the convenience of buying everything they need in one spot,” Kerry Sherin, a savings expert at, said in a news release. “However, it is important to know that shoppers should still be looking at other retailers if they are looking to save the most this year.”

Williams said he gets a call about every week from someone who wants to apply for a job at the facility. The starting pay is $12 an hour.

The last time he toured the plant was in September, before the company geared up for the Christmas rush. Several people in his church work there, he added.

Williams was happy with Edwardsville’s good luck that a large company opened in his community, but he wanted to reassure other large employers that there’s still enough labor to go around.

The city is bolstering its claim with an academic analysis from a professor teaching at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.

“Could the good news of Amazon’s arrival be offset by disruption in the local labor market as existing businesses find themselves unable to hire workers?” wrote Dr. Timothy Sullivan, who teaches economics and finance at SIUE.

Sullivan outlined that Amazon could be taking away jobs from other employers, but not enough that there would be a labor shortage. Still, the “elasticity” of Edwardsville’s labor market is difficult to measure, he concluded.

A thousand jobs isn’t actually that big as one would think, considering there are 135,000 jobs in Madison County, he wrote. In fact, Amazon’s job openings would make up for some unemployment, and that the company “will have little difficulty filling these 1,000 new positions.”

The facility will have a grand opening in early 2017, according to Nina Lindsey, an Amazon spokeswoman.

Casey Bischel: 618-239-2655, @CaseyBischel Reporter Jamie Forsythe contributed to this report.