Inflation having mixed impact on retailers, shoppers

Pam Michel has an eclectic mix of items tagged for sale at Mercantile on Main.

Inflation having mixed impact on retailers, shoppers

Pam Michel has an eclectic mix of items tagged for sale at Mercantile on Main.The retail business she operates - in a home with lime-green siding and curb appeal - specializes in vintage clothing and antique lighting.Michel is no novice. Though her sales approach and venue have varied, this has been her calling for 30 years. Yet, there's this reality:'Our sales are definitely off from where they usually are for this time of the year,' Michel said, just two weeks before Christmas.

'But I'm not sure what the cause is. 'Moments later, though, she points out there's probably more than one factor. Inflation, she said, could certainly be on the list. And that might be causing some people to limit discretionary spending in the year-end holiday shopping season that is typically critical for retailers.Inflation was No.

1 on Lincoln Financial Group's Dec. 1 list of top consumer concerns and has been in that first-place spot the entire year. Nearly three quarters of Americans, or 71%, are concerned about it.

That's up from 64% who responded that way in the first quarter.Some businesses, including specialty retailer Tillys in Fort Wayne and Carbaugh Jewlers in Auburn, say the inflation concerns aren't affecting their holiday season sales.Lincoln Financial said its Consumer Sentiment Tracker, with data collected nearly each month since March, is based on 1,000-plus responses each time and with quotas representative of the total U.S. adult population.Last week, a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed the consumer price index rose just 0.1%, when seasonally adjusted, from October to November.

But prices on consumer goods, the basis for the index, were up 7.1% - notably higher than in November last year. In the Midwest, inflation year over year was up 6.8%.Marquetta Brabson-William has adjusted her holiday spending because of such inflation. 'It definitely has impacted my shopping. 'With those being high-ticket items, I'm definitely not going to be doing that this year,' she said.As a business owner, Michel at the Mercantile on Main has felt inflation, too.

Items that she purchases to repair lighting cost more than a year ago, but she hasn't had to pass all those higher costs onto customers.Growing competition on the retail scene may be another reason Michel estimated her sales were running about 10% behind.She started with a small shop on Broadway and then traveled the U.S. selling goods. Michel has been open at 1753 W.

Main St. for nine years. That predates some other retailers selling similar products, Michel said.She knows The Landing in downtown Fort Wayne includes not just restaurants but also retail options.

And then there's Electric Works, a mixed-use development that transformed an old General Electric campus and includes a marketplace with food and some retail.Both are within a few miles of Mercantile on Main, and Michel considers them positive developments overall.But, she said, 'It's just made my slice of the pie that much smaller. 'Tillys, a Glenbrook Square retailer, hasn't been affected much by consumers' inflationary concerns. 'We're actually doing really well with our sales this year,' said Taylor Horton, manager of the nearly 10-year-old store that sells skate and surf clothing, shoes and accessories. 'We have noticed that we're slower, but we're hitting our sales goals every day,' Horton said during the second week of December.Mike Littlejohn, owner of Carbaugh Jewelers in Auburn, said his store continues to see business increase. 'As far as inflation goes, that has impacted people, no doubt,' Littlejohn said. 'But the last six years, I've just been crazy busy at Carbaugh Jewelers. ... We're right on track with last year and I know going we're going to exceed last year. 'The jewelry store has been in business more than 120 years, Littlejohn said, and he's been with it for 42. 'We're one of those last family-owned jewelry stores that you just don't find anymore,' said Littlejohn, who makes custom items.

'We've been building Christmas pieces since September. 'At Mercantile on Main, the vintage clothing items are sold under the Spry Fashion, owned by Michel's daughter.Along with older, often-restored lighting fixtures, visitors to the residential building in the 1700 block of West Main will find dishes, pottery and other goods.And those visitors come from diverse demographics. 'A lot of people are into the vintage clothing,' Michel said, 'so I have kids, high school and college-age, come in her and on up (in age) from there. I have repeat customers I've been working with for 20 to 30 years. 'In that time, Michel has seen other periods - including the Great Recession - when the economy hit rough spots.She's learned to take such seasons in stride.She knows some things are temporary. 'You try,' Michel said, 'not to panic.'