Tahoe retailers: Some sunny, some blue
Soft retail sales during the peak tourist season led to the closure of two venerable North Lake Tahoe stores, but other business owners in Incline Village and Tahoe City say sales are still going strong.
This summer Porters Sports Lake Tahoe closed its Incline Village location, which it had opened in the 1990s. Porters still operates two locations in Tahoe City and another in Truckee. And Grog & Grist Market and Deli in Incline Village, a locals’ favorite for beefy sandwiches for decades, folded in September.
But business is on the rise at other north shore shops especially those with a specialty focus. Blake Goldenberg, owner of Village Toys at 869 Tahoe Blvd. in Incline Village, says summer sales have trended up at the three-year old store. And Ana Kelly, manager, of Itsy Bitsy Beachwear and Lace in Tahoe City, says sales have been modest at her shop despite the fact that Itsy Bitsy opened less than one month ago and hasn’t spent any money on advertising. The store sells risque bikinis and women’s intimates hard to find items on the north shore, Kelly says.
Goldenberg says lack of competition has helped boost his store’s revenues. Village Toys does brisk business in sales of Pillow Pets, Hello Kitty, kites, Legos and toys and books. And of course, items for the beach are hot sellers in the summer.
“For us the summer was good,” Goldenberg says. “I don’t know if it is because we are unique and don’t have the same competition. When it comes to toys or activities, games, outdoor fun or anything for the beach, we have it. People in the north shore or Incline Village have to come to us, and we also get a lot of people from south shore because there is not a full-line well-rounded toy store anywhere around the lake.”
Village Toys also carries a lot of nostalgic and retro toys, which helps increase its draw. Goldenberg says many customers say they’ve been referred to the store by employees of local hotels, and Village Toys also gets a boost from having an ice cream parlor, a big draw in summer months.
“It makes a great stop for families and kids,” Goldenberg says.
Lack of big-box retailers such as Target or Walmart also helps spur business for north shore retailers. Kelly, who opened Itsy Bitsy Beachwear in a modest-sized location at Cobblestone Center, says the timing was right to open her shop because there isn’t a location anywhere close that sells lingerie and women’s intimates. So far, customers have mostly been Lake Tahoe locals.
“You have to drive to Reno to get things like this, so we thought it was a good idea,” she says.
Stores with much more competition, such as Grog & Grist and Village Market, haven’t fared as well. Village Market Owner Ron Stanger says summer sales were flat at a time when business should be on the rise. July, August and December are typically the best months for Lake Tahoe retailers, he says.
Village Market opened its doors in 1979, and Stanger purchased the business from his parents in 2002. He says sales were slow in April, May and June because the weather had yet to turn, and the other summer months failed to show any year-over-year increase. Though it’s a full-service grocery, Village Market specializes in gourmet food items, expensive wines and top-quality meats. The market also contains a full-service butcher, an operation Stanger subleases.
“It’s been a funny year,” he says. “Obviously it has been a challenge for us, and when the recession hit sales went down. Now they have kind of leveled off. I think where we are the recovery will take longer than we would like.”
Stanger says one telling way that retail sales have softened is in sales of high-end wines. Bottles in the $70 to $200 range sit on shelves much longer than less-costly wines due to changing perceptions of a value purchase.
“People still are looking for value and don’t mind spending money, but everybody’s different,” Stanger says. “For some people a good California wine may be for $40 or even $30. I think people are definitely trading down but still want to buy nice things. It really depends on their comfort level.”
A longtime north shore resident, Stanger says retailers in the area also have been hurt by a steep rise in vacation homes in Incline Village and Tahoe City. Sixty percent of the homes on the north shore are vacation properties he says, up 20 percent from a decade ago.
“Slow times are slower there are less people here,” he says.
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