Stores not about to let Wall Street storm clouds put damper on selling season

Santa Claus drives a hard bargain. He can’t help it. He and his talking-toy pals are wired for business.

From their perch on a top shelf overlooking the checkout line at the Dollar General store in north Macon, the Speak Santas, as they are called, yap it up all day. The stuffed, 10-inch-tall, St. Nicks are voice-recognition toys that belt out “ho-ho-hos” about as frequently as a Salvation Army bell ringer jingles.

“I know he says ‘hello’ ... a lot,” clerk Tomika Lewis said the other day.

A store manager added, “One of my cashiers turned him on and we can’t figure out how to turn him off.”

Persistent as he is, the talk-a-lot Santa has some tough sledding to do before he matches the holiday hype that stores brew up this time of year. By the look of in-store posters and banners, it seems some retailers are so into spreading on-cue cheer that, well ... what recession?

Even if all you do is window shop, you’d never know there was a potential economic avalanche looming. But, hey, stores from Dollar General to Dillard’s aren’t about to let storm clouds from Wall Street put a damper on their prime selling season. Not that you won’t find a slogan or two with cost-cutting in mind.

At Dollar General, they’re offering “More Spirit for Less. ... Selection, Style, Scents, Sparkle ... Savings.”

The Build-A-Bear Workshop up the road promises “More $10 Animals Than Ever Before. ... More Cuddle, Less Cash.”

But what else are businesses to do? Cashing in is the American way. Even in — and perhaps especially in — the leanest of times.

Seventy-nine Christmases ago, the old Daniel-Johnstone Motor Co., which used to be on Third Street in downtown, ran the following newspaper ad: “If you think you’ve experienced all the pleasure Christmas has to offer, give your family a 1930 Nash ‘400.’”

Never mind that it was two months after the stock-market crash of 1929.

Some businesses then, however, did seem to be aware of the likelihood of troubled days ahead.

Dannenberg’s department store in downtown, at that point “your Christmas store for 62 years,” placed an ad aimed at making “Gift Buying An Economy. ... Dainty Underwear $1.” And the Kaybee Federal Store on Second Street hoped customers would flock to its “Easy Payment Plan” and “Take the ‘IF’ out of ‘GIFT.’”

These days, a lot of the commercial come-ons tend toward refined puffery, overwrought phrases that appear to be trying to tap into the Gap generation’s mocha-buzzed brains.

A stroll through north Bibb County’s Shoppes at River Crossing affords even the most casual observer a flurry of seasonal fluff.

Take the cardboard banner complete with twirling ornaments hanging in one storefront: “Cheer ... Joy ... Hope ... Peace ... Lady Foot Locker.”

“Give the gift of ...” is a common ad theme this year.

At a nutrition-and-vitamin shop, a placard implores folks to “give the gift of health ... fish oil.”

A sneaker-shop poster urges people to “give the gift of sport.”

A high-end mattress place wants you to “give the gift of comfort.” Not to be confused with the shoe-department ad at Dillard’s, where a sign with a picture of a puppy on it declares: “Slippers. The gift of comfort!”

Some stores’ Christmas greetings read like Hallmark cards.

Green and purple letters on the front glass at the women’s store Christopher & Banks spell out the phrase “imagine peace, bring hope, inspire love.”

In the Children’s Place, a kiddie-clothes shop at Macon Mall, a pun on a poster informs customers that there is “snow place like home.”

Another sign there notes that “no two snowflakes are alike,” and appears to be a deep-thought comment on the uniqueness of little ones. That or the copywriters who dreamed up the stuff.

William Berry, a Children’s Place sales clerk, figures the yuletide trappings at the mall go a long way toward putting shoppers in the mood to spend.

“That’s what makes Christmas,” he said. “It’s a time to give and to receive. ... And you’d be amazed at what you can see in the mall.”

Yeah, where, at a women’s boutique, “giving is always in style.” Where a jewelry dealer’s diamond necklace gets “straight to the heart of the holidays.” Where, according to an imperfectly rhymed banner at Sears, you shouldn’t “just give a gift — grant a wish. ... 50 percent off dress shirts for him.”

Macon Mall merchants are also into having patrons “give the gift of” whatever they’re peddling.

A knickknack shop there wants you to “give the gift of ear piercing.”

Which, when you think about it, can have more than one meaning. Like when the volume on all the Christmas come-ons grows too loud. Talk about ear-piercing.

Speaking of which, those chattering, talk-talk-talk Santa Clauses at Dollar General?

They go for 10 bucks.

Just don’t give the gift of batteries.

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.