Saturday marks the official opening of Christmas in Great Bend as Santa makes his triumphant entrance during the Home for the Holidays Parade and festival. Local retailers are hoping that, among the goodies in St. Nick’s pack, is a successful Yule Tide season.
So far, things are looking pretty merry, said Christina Hayes, Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau director and community coordinator. She based this cheery assessment on sales tax and transient guest tax trends.
“It looks like a pretty good outlook for the next couple of months,” she said. “The trends are going up.”
Small businesses everywhere have been pivoting to serve a post-COVID-19 shopping landscape, she said. Now, consumers are poised to return to brick-and-mortar stores in force this holiday selling season.
“I think our businesses really deserve a lot of kudos,” Hayes said of how local owners have adapted. Local shops have offered curb-side service and online sales to complement their in-store operations.
According to the National Retail Federation, consumers plan to spend on average $997.73 on gifts, holiday items and other non-gift purchases for themselves and their families this year. And, nearly 2 million more people than last year are expected to shop from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday as they have continued the trend of starting their holiday shopping earlier in the year.
Among those shopping on Thanksgiving Day, 65% are likely to do so in stores, up from 50% last year, when worries about COVID-19 were still keeping many people at home, the NRF reported. On Black Friday, 64% are likely to shop in stores, up from 51% last year.
Sure, some will shop out of town, she said. “But, people are thinking local first.”
She sees this continuing. With the possibility of more spikes in COVID cases this winter, more folks could opt to stay close to home.
And this is a big deal.
For every dollar spent at a small business, American Express estimates an average of 67 cents stays in that business’s local community. This has the potential to boost sales during the 2021 holiday season, with many small businesses still working to make up the revenue they’ve lost throughout the pandemic.
Now, Hayes said it is up to the businesses to entice customers.
That is why Hayes and the City of Great Bend promote the annual Explore Great Bend campaign that wraps up this weekend. With different promotions each Saturday, the goal is to bring shoppers into stores.
Appropriately enough, this Saturday is also Small Business Saturday, a national effort that encourages consumers to support local businesses by shopping small.
American Express launched this shopping holiday in 2010, at the height of the Great Recession, as a way of redirecting holiday shopping to local stores. A decade later, it’s observed in all 50 states, and in 2011, the Senate passed a resolution recognizing Small Business Saturday.
“Small Business Saturday is a fun addition to end our Explore Great Bend month,” Hayes said. “It’s the day the nation celebrates and recommends shopping “small” and without our wonderful little small businesses our retail wouldn’t be as great as it is. I encourage you to go explore small businesses and support our community.”
Looking at the numbers
One way to gauge the holiday economic vitality of the community is by looking at the sales tax collections, Hayes said.
Until next April when the three new city sales taxes go into effect, the city now has two: a quarter-cent tax (which goes for street needs) and a half-cent tax (which is divided among the general fund, economic development and infrastructure). It also receives a portion of the countywide sales tax.
The taxes are collected through the Kansas Department of Revenue. The KDOR then distributes the tax collections to the city with a two-month lag time (the August distribution was received in October).
Although the holiday shopping season runs mostly from October through December, included are the numbers for August through December 2019 and 2020, and August 2021.
Great Bend sales tax collections
• August – $442,484.35
• September – $442,576.81
• October – $437,055.28
• November – $352,479.96
• December – $481,447.17
• August – $451,661.94
• September – $429,653.21
• October – $429,653.54
• November – $421,842.34
• December – $454,826.62
• August – $503,591
Heads in beds
When the Kansas Department of Labor last Friday reported the state’s unemployment numbers for September, KDOL economists noted a rebounding in the hospitality and leisure sectors.
In Great Bend, Hayes is seeing an increase in the local transient guest tax collected by the city.
The total for the 2021 fiscal year was $305,660.13. This compares to the 2020 total of $281,121.51 and a 2019 total of $347,861.21.
The tax paid by hotel guests is used to fund the city’s marketing efforts.
Great Bend charges 6% for its guest tax, which is the money collected from those staying in local hotels. Of this, 10% goes to the Great Bend Events Center and the balance toward marketing the city through the CVB.
Speaking of the Events Center, Hayes said COVID hollowed out bookings for the city-owned facility. But, “so far for 2022, we only have six weekends open.”
She said that’s an indication that things are improving locally as well.