They say that Christmas, like death, brings its own money - and - as hard as folks say things are - this year, we also saw them shopping hard in the days leading up to Christmas.
Now, looks can be deceiving‚Ä¶maybe they were just window shopping, so today, I went to downtown Belize City and major business houses to ask a few businesses how sales were.
Here's what they said:
Jim McFadzean Reporting
The bad news came from the majority of retail outlets in the Indian community who say, and most would only talk off camera, that sales were significantly down over last year. One merchant went in so far as to say that this has been the worst year since he opened business in 1982.
But not so at the San Cas Group of stores; it's Chief Executive Officer, Santino Castillo was boasting that sales were up by 8.5 percent this year.
Santino Castillo - Chief Executive Officer, San Cas Group of Companies Limited
"We were up this year from last year. We're up exactly 8 and a half percent, and I did the figures before you came over, and as you know, we're in food. So I believe that this was one of the reasons that accounted for it. People did not hesitate to buy food to put on the table."
But while the San Cas Group enjoyed a prosperous 2011, over at Hofius Hardware Limited, downtown Belize city, sales remained sluggish for much of the year.
Jackie Crump - Managing Director, Hofius Hardware Limited
"They year was sluggish, and it was sluggish all the way up to early December. And then, the momentum started, the christmas shopping took over. It had its energy and it's own momentum. And it certainly didn't disappoint us, but it took a little bit longer to get going. It was much of the last three weeks before Christmas, as opposed to years before when we saw that the momentum started earlier."
"Was your Christmas sales better this year than last year?"
"No, I wouldn't say that they were better. Like I said, December was strong, but when we look at the months before December, the overall figures didn't over-exceed last year."
"So were you slightly up, or slightly down in sales, overall?"
"For the year, it was more sluggish than last year, slightly."
Crump says the Belizean shopper has become much more savvy in the way they shop. And It's that change in behavior that was most noticeable this year, not necessarily any change in their disposable income.
"Did you do anything different this year in terms of generating sales?"
"Absolutely, I think that the Belizean consumer has changed. I think that the Belizean consumer is looking for more of a discount market. They are now used to seeing discounts, and they wait for the discounts. That is something that has only really started happening in the last 2 or 3 years. So yes, we did discount days, customer appreciation days."
That new marketing strategy appears to have taken on wings of its own among many merchants, including the owners of Mirage, a popular clothing outlet on Albert Street.
Milan Hotchandani - Manager, Mirage
"Basically, we had all our customers coming out last year and shopping, so we did well. In the last day we did really good, but we had to offer them some sales, because, I guess, no parking in downtown, so we have to give them an incentive, and I think that help. So we had customers coming out and shopping last minute."
"So you're saying that Christmas sales this year was better than last year? Or are you just speaking specifically of that last day just before Christmas where it had picked up to really make a difference?"
"It picked up just day. I think the last few days after the 20th, we saw people coming out, but they were actually buying on the 23rd and 24th. So we saw a lot of people buying their gifts on the 23rd and the 24th."
The main downtown shopping thoroughfares were indeed flooded with thousands of shoppers the last several days leading up to Christmas, creating plenty of traffic snarls in the old capital, causing many to wonder where was that last minute infusion of cash coming from?
One possibility is the usual cash flow coming from Uncle Sam.
Silvano Guerrero, Manager of Zitro International told Seven News, his Western Union business has seen an increase in activity over last year. At the San Cas Group, much of that cash was being spent on a whole lot of food and liquor.
"I personally believe -it's my belief that the economy is a little better than last year. We've been noticing that trend throughout, and maybe they're just prioritizing differently, and maybe not spending in areas that they don't need to spend. But I do know that on food, they've been spending. So for us, we're glad for the food, and liquor business has been good as well."
"We saw more shoppers out in the evening and at night time this year, compared to last year. Last year, people weren't out at night. That changes; there is more confidence on the streets, and more excitement on the streets after hours."
At Wellworth Store on Regent Street, its Manager, Dinesh Bhojwani, told us sales for his store were down by as much as 10 to 15 percent.
A majority of the predominantly Indian owned retail outlets we spoke to, attributed poor sales to increasing cross-border shopping in Chetumal and Melchor.