Storefront windows lining downtown New Haven’s retail district are a reminder that shopping period is here once again — not for classes, but for holiday gifts.

Organized efforts by local business owners to propel sales during the holiday season kicked off last week with a window display contest. Cooperative attempts to draw customers are set to continue over the coming weeks during what is recognized as the busiest time of the year for retailers.

University Properties analyst Andrea Pizziconi ’01 said the organized activities are an effort to get retailers spirited for a consumer base that is returning downtown for its shopping needs.

“It’s a unique trend; more shoppers are coming downtown and New Haven is capitalizing on this,” Pizziconi said.

Other events such as Tuesday’s “Chanukah Mania” and extended late-night shopping hours are enticing shoppers and encouraging businesses.

“We realize people are coming late at night and we want to accommodate that,” Pizziconi said.

As retailers step up efforts to draw holiday crowds, shoppers have begun to fill the stores. One shopper praised the district’s wide merchandise variety as an attractive element.

“Shopping on Broadway is really exciting during this time of year, because you can literally find gifts for the whole family,” Brian Valencia ’05 said.

Valencia said he was planning to do most of his gift shopping downtown — with one exception.

“I’m really glad to see some of the recent developments on Broadway, but I really wish we had an Abercrombie [and Fitch],” Valencia said.

Pizziconi said there was a 15 to 20 percent increase in sales among downtown New Haven retailers last year, while retailers nationwide experienced sales decreases compared to previous years. National chain retailers such as Broadway’s Alexia Crawford, J.Crew and Urban Outfitters are all doing very well, Pizziconi said.

While most store owners said it is too early to measure this year’s success, they all acknowledged that business is healthy. A concern they all noted was the fact that Thanksgiving fell one week later this year, making the shopping season that much shorter.

Ashley Sheriden, owner of Celtica Gift Shop and Tea Room, said there are fewer prime shopping days before Christmas because the Thanksgiving weekend was a week later than last year. Despite this, his two-year-old shop is experiencing a significant increase in business over last year.

“November sales are up 14 percent from last year,” Sheriden said. “And so far we have 14 Christmas parties scheduled — last year we had two.”

To counter possible effects of a shortened shopping season, Sheriden said his shop had a 10 day “pre-Thanksgiving” sale to jumpstart what would have otherwise been a late start.

Phil Cutler, owner of Cutler’s Compact Discs, said while business is strong, he cannot make a conclusive comparison to sales figures from last November. Because there was an extra week of holiday shopping last year, sales figures between 2001 and 2002 would not accurately match up.

“We’ve been very healthy, and sales are usually more strong closer to Christmas, so our busiest days have really yet to come,” Cutler said.

With four prime shopping weeks left, consumers have a wider variety of retailers to choose from now more than ever in downtown New Haven. This will be J.Crew’s first holiday season in New Haven since its grand opening last spring. And shoppers cannot seem to ignore the retailers’ call.

“With the snowflakes on the lamppost and everything, shopping on Broadway just makes it feel like Christmas,” Valencia said.

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