Energy prices may be a Grinch - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Energy prices may be a Grinch

October 26, 2005

Albany- Trick or treaters haven't even made their rounds, but already Santa Claus is at work in south Georgia stores. Retailers are looking to get a jump on the holiday shopping season this year, worried about profits.

In Albany, retail sales have a tendency to follow oil and gas prices. This year, the first six months of sales were down compared to last year. Sales picked up in July and August, but the threat of a cold winter coupled with higher gas prices seem to be bringing Christmas to shoppers a little earlier this year.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, from the sidewalk to the stores. Some shoppers are already buying.

"I've gotten a jewelry box and some clothes," said shopper Kenna Verret of Albany.

Managers at JC Penney say their push for holiday shopping is not any earlier than usual, but economists say stores may be trying to get shoppers in the mood before higher bills start to hit.

"People are paying more not just for gasoline but other things too and that has an affect on their spending," said Dr. Amit Singh, Darton College Associate Professor of Business, Economics, and Finance.

"Gas is definitely put a bite in my budget, so I think it will probably hit people the same way," said Debra Hathorn of Arlington.

"I asked 100 households, "Are you going to spend more, less, or same this year from last year during the holidays?" Fourty eight percent said they're going to spend less," said Dr. Singh.

Shoppers could be buying less, if they're paying out more for essentials, including heat. Water, Gas, and Light sent out a flier warning customers of a 70% increase.

"The point of doing the flier was to let people know that we may have this problem and we want to forewarn them as soon as we can," said Lorie Farkas, Public Relations for Water, Gas, and Light.

"My utility bill, it's okay. I haven't seen any price increase and I hope it can stay that way," said Natasha Jackson of Pelham.

The possibility that it won't, has some wary shoppers focusing their attention away from gifts and on the true meaning of Christmas.

"I think that just a combination of things and getting back to the real reason of Christmas too, that it's not about the merchandise," said Hathorn.

With Water, Gas, and Light bills, you pay for the service a month after you've used it. If November is an unusually cold month, customers could find a higher bill in their mailbox just in time for Christmas.

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