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It's beginning to look a lot like ... Christmas?

CHARLESTON, W.VA. -- While Christmas is trickling into major retailers across the nation three months before the actual holiday, local retailers are divided on when to make their own stores winter wonderlands.

Bridget White opened her store a little more than a month ago in the Shops at Kanawha. Shabby Chic Children's Boutique had a holiday-themed window display this week -- but it wasn't Christmas.

Instead, White's display featured pumpkins and spiders, for fall and Halloween.

"We have some holiday things in already, but I haven't put them out," White said. "It's a bit too early for me."

Just a few stores down at Southern Candles Company & Gifts, the holiday season is in full swing. Snowmen, Christmas trees and ornaments greet customers upon entry.

"We hate to rush it because it pushes fall out of the way and we like fall to have its time but we decided we just need to keep up with everybody else on it," said Jennifer Hall, store manager and buyer.

Retail businesses large and small have struggled with so-called "Christmas creep" for years. Start advertising holiday shopping too late, and miss out on potential holiday sales. Start too early, and risk customers' wrath.

Earlier this month, Kmart kicked off its Christmas campaign with commercials urging customers to shop early. In the commercial, a gingerbread man approaches a worker's cubicle and a voiceover urges her to, "Shop early with Kmart. Get In. Get more Christmas." The ad prompted a backlash against Kmart on the company's Facebook page, although some people said they welcomed the commercial.

Southern Candles' display has been out for three weeks.

"Some people love it, want it out early. Some people hate it, complain about it. But in order to survive we have to do what we have to do," said Hall.

But she said the holiday seasons always means good business. To her delight, customers purchased Christmas tree ornaments the first day their display was out.

"We've sold quite a bit off of it," Hall said. "There are people who like to buy earlier."

Jerry Strick said that for him and his staff at Kid Country Toys, it's always Christmas.

As a toy store, Kid Country tries to keep the same stock year round, Strick said. That also changes how the stores sell around the holidays.

"In December, when everyone is selling down, they want to sell out of everything. We keep our stores full because there's just as many birthdays in January as there are in any other month," Strick said. "We don't want to sell down in the busiest month of the year."

The store does promote its more holiday-themed items like Halloween costumes, Santa hats and snowmen toys when the time is right. Strick said.

"We don't like to put it out way in advance like the big guys," he said. "We got it in now but we said we're not going to take up shelf space up now because it's going to sit."

After 30 years of business, Strick said, he's learned that customers mostly buy two to three weeks before the holiday. The store will put its holiday items out about four weeks before Christmas.

"Our stores are small and we don't have a lot of room, so we have to watch when we put things out," Strick added.

The CVS store in Kanawha City is still in Halloween mode, but will bring out its Christmas items in two to three weeks, said Kristy Kinder, a supervisor at the store.

This year's prime holiday shopping between Thanksgiving and Christmas will be one of the shortest in recent years. Thanksgiving is set for Nov 28, leaving just 25 shopping days until Christmas Eve.

Barbara Ellis, owner of the Mole Hole in the Shops at Trace Fork, looks to her customers to help her determine when to bring holiday items out. She waits to hear about holiday items her customers are interested in and cannot find anywhere else or if customers ask when holiday items will be out.

"At the same time I'm kind of torn because I like for there to be a fall, Halloween and Thanksgiving -- but unfortunately, now it is meshing together," Ellis said. "So you go from August pretty much into Christmas."

Ellis said there is a lot that goes into a window display. The Mole Hole's larger window creates a challenge when choosing with size items to display. Ellis said with large items displayed no one can see inside the store but if you have tiny items they become dwarfed. The sun fading items is also a concern.

"We try to set ourselves apart, just like, 'hey, look at us' because we're on our own little island here just the two of us -- Oasis Spa and the Mole Hole," she said.

When purchasing holiday items or working on displays, Ellis is mindful not to duplicate what national retailers Target, Pier One and Home Goods are doing just across the street.

But overall, Ellis tries not to rush the holidays. From her experience, early holiday themes and items are a customer turnoff.

"It's one more indication that the year is flying by," she said. "[People think] oh dear, I've got to start Christmas shopping, I've got to think about who I've got to purchase for and how much I have to spend." Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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