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Christmas shopping doesn't disappoint area retailers

The week after Christmas is time for retailers to reflect on the financial aspect of the recent holiday shopping season.

While it is estimated that 46 percent of Christmas shopping is done online, a slight majority of Americans still head to the malls, department stores, and other retailers to purchase gifts for loved ones.

According to Mastercard Inc., shoppers spent more than $800 billion during the holiday season in 2017 — which is more than ever before. The reason for the record-breaking numbers is believed to be growing consumer confidence, rising employment and early discounts.

Mastercard’s “SpendingPulse” retail report, which tracks spending by combining sales within their network with estimates of cash and other payment forms, said sales in stores and online between Nov 1 and Dec. 24 rose nearly 5 percent from last year.

Across the region, the results of the holidays shopping season varied from store to store.

Amber Kear, part owner of the Video Game X-Change in DuBois, said her store saw more holiday shoppers than last year at this time. The store ran a buy-one-get-two-free sale on games that she said went particularly well.

Kear pointed out that the business isn’t new – she said it’s been around for nearly 10 years – but that it’s still new to her.

“My husband and I have only owned it for two (years),” she said. “We love it. We’re hoping to retire from here.”

Christmas shopping surges were not the “huge thing” they once were for Marsha Smith-Gasbarre. She said that her store, Ms. Cat’s Cache, has not seen a big Christmas turnout for the past several years, something she attributed to online competition.

“I think that there is a whole generation of kids, a whole generation of our society, who does not shop in stores. I think Christmas shopping has become not something that people experience, it’s just a task that people put on a to-do list,” she said.

She said she thinks it sad that some people don’t take the time to choose a gift, or are otherwise unable. Even older shoppers, she said, might be too busy running errands for their children to shop in-store.

Online shopping did not have much of an impact on Hockman Candy in DuBois. Part owner Joan Hockman said that when it comes to sweets, people tend to prefer those that are made locally.

She said that this Christmas was busy as usual and that shoppers were more evenly dispersed. In other years, she said, shoppers have come in bursts between bouts of heavy snow.

“What sold particularly well this holiday was the different popcorns. We have a lot of different flavors of popcorn that we normally don’t make,” she said.

Holiday business at Dave’s Pro Shop in St. Marys was said to be comparable to last year’s. Part owner Kim Hoffman said personalized gifts – like monogrammed items or screen prints – were the most popular sellers.

The store, she said, was once much busier around the holidays.

“I wish more people would buy local than go away for Black Friday and such,” she said.

The Quail Hill Soap Company, which opened in June, had a “very successful” first holiday. Owner Barbara Schattz said her handmade soaps were her hottest seller, and said she was busy enough that she might need to bring on seasonal help come Christmas next year.

Schattz said that while she was busier than expected, she was not overwhelmed.

“I’ve been in retail for many, many years, so even though it’s my first year as a small business owner, I knew what to expect for the holiday season,” she said.

Rick Byerly, a manager at Grice Gun Shop in Clearfield, said the last few weeks were consistently busy in the store and, overall, the Christmas shopping season went “pretty well.”

Hot items this year at Grice’s came from firearms manufacturers such as Thompson/Center and Savage, who offered $75 and $100 rebates respectively on purchases.

“That’s pretty significant and people have been taking advantage of those deals,” Byerly said.

Byerly said the store was busy once again the day after Christmas with gift card holders and those looking to spend their Christmas cash coming out in droves.

At Bob’s Army and Navy in Clearfield, owner Bob Grimminger reported the Christmas sales season has continued to slow down in recent years. At his store, guns are the major selling item. He believes with the current President in office, people feel safer and do not buy as many firearms.

“They don’t have the sense of urgency that (guns) are going to be illegal like in years past,” Grimminger remarked.

Grimminger also attributed the decline to the fact that people no longer go into stores to simply browse. He said that shoppers nowadays educate themselves on an item before even walking through the doors.

“I don’t think people shop like they used to,” Grimminger said. “They pretty much know what they want.”

Gift cards were a popular item at Bob’s Army and Navy this year and Grimminger said many were out on Tuesday using them. “Today, we have been (busy),” Grimminger added. “I am pleased with today’s business.”

According to the National Retail Federation, consumers return on average only 4 percent of their gifts. The percentage was slightly higher among millennials, ages 18-34, who return 7 percent of their gifts.

Guns stolen from Brookville store, three men sought

BROOKVILLE — The Brookville Borough Police Department is investigating a burglary that occurred just after midnight Saturday at DSD Sporting Goods, 328 W. Main St., Brookville. Numerous firearms were taken.

According to police, the three people involved are all believed to be light-skinned black men with slender builds. Two of the men are believed to be between 6- and 6-foot, 3 inches tall. The other is believed to be between 5-foot-9 and 6 feet tall.

The first man was wearing black pants with white stripes down the legs, a dark-colored long sleeve shirt with reflective strips on both arms, an orange/red head and face covering and gray gloves. The second man was wearing black pants, an orange zip-up sweatshirt, an orange face cover and white gloves. The third was wearing red or orange shoes, a light gray hoodie, slightly darker gray pants (possibly sweatpants), a blue face cover and orange gloves.

Police believe the men left in a smaller front-wheel-drive vehicle heading west on Route 322.

Police request that anyone with information on the individuals contact the police department at (814) 849-5323. Any property owners who may have surveillance video that covers 322 westbound are also asked to contact the police station.

Cutting Edge: Curwensville School District acquires equipment grant

CURWENSVILLE — Curwensville Area School District recently utilized a grant from a Clearfield County organization to purchase equipment to help prepare students for future careers.

The school district submitted an application earlier this year for grant dollars from the Clearfield County Industrial Development Authority’s Infrastructure Grant Fund Program and recently received a check for $20,000.

Superintendent Ron Matchok said in the district’s application, “We propose to train students in the use of a three dimensional printer, a computer numerical control router and laser engraver. We believe the acquisition of this equipment can provide students with the training and workforce skills needed to be competitive in the employment market.”

Matchock said in a recent interview the school district recognized the importance of utilizing the equipment both for initial student training in the technology and to help fulfill the district’s requirements for science, technology, engineering and mathematics training.

Matchock said the district’s funds are limited and the grant allowed these types of costly tools to be acquired.

“We believe our local businesses will need workers who are skilled using these tools,” Matchock stated. The school district has partnered with a Curwensville-based business, Lezzer Lumber Co., to not only to give support to its application but to give students real-world examples of the equipment’s use, he added.

“With 3D printing, laser cutting and CNC technology available to our students they are able to develop designs and programs and make prototypes that have real-life applications. Students are learning authentic problem solving skills by using these tools to create a successful design or valuable collaboration skills essential in today’s job market. When coupled with technology skills of these tools, we are creating a cohort of job-ready students who will enter the local job market ready to bring a business forward,” Matchock explained.

Clearly Ahead Development’s Vice President of Energy and Business Paul McCloskey said the grant was developed to respond to the need for a supplemental source of financing to support municipalities, local government units, non-profit corporations, hospitals, school districts and public agencies within the Clearfield County.

Applicants can request up to $25,000 for the acquisition of land and buildings, new construction, rehabilitation of existing buildings including leasehold improvements, machinery and equipment, construction of access roads or public systems, community Improvements including those that eliminate blight, street lighting and curbing or airport improvements.

McCloskey said, “We’re excited that the Curwensville Area School District has introduced these cutting-edge technologies to their students at the high school level. Not only will the skills the students learn utilizing the 3D printer and laser engraver be beneficial to them as they enter the workforce, but introducing them to these technologies at an early age will hopefully assist them in making the right decision about the career paths they want to take following graduation.”

Curwensville Area High School physics Instructor Duane Wriglesworth said, “This new technology has created excitement in the classroom. Students are very intrigued. The latest electronic device compliments our STEM curriculum that is currently so widely emphasized in education. Students have new access to materials and methods of creating that were not available to them before. This has opened up new possibilities for learning and cross-curriculum and problem-solving skills have been enhanced. Students have additional capabilities to explore especially for creating prototypes of their fresh ideas.”

Student Samantha Birchem said she is utilizing the new router and wood laser in her 11th grade woodshop class. She said, “I personally enjoy using the new wood laser, it has interesting features that our previous one did not and we are now able to use it to engrave glass. This new addition to the Curwensville wood shop can and will improve personal designing skills needed by students on a day-to-day basis.

“The new router can cut anything from the edge of a panel to a three dimensional picture on any kind of wood species a student prefers. This wood shop tool also gives the advantage of using creativity and the motivation while using this machine safely. These two new tools will help students in the near future for in our careers and provide the knowledge and skills needed for us to succeed.”

Rich Rhoades / Photo by Rich Rhoades 

Brookville's Marcy Schindler drives around DuBois' Ashley Hallowell during Wednesday's Brookville Christmas Tournament final. Schindler scored 17 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and earned the tournament MVP award after the Lady Raiders won, 48-41.

No tax increase in Reynoldsville; council to appoint new member

REYNOLDSVILLE — Holding its last meeting of 2017, four members of the Reynoldsville Borough Council wrapped up some year-end business. Of the seven-member council only council president T.J. Sliwinski, Mary Jane Clark, Suellen Wells and Ralph “Tucker” August were present for the meeting. Since those four did constitute a quorum, council was able to conduct business.

As a result of the already advertised budget, residents can look forward to another year of no tax increases. Council voted on some seven resolutions that will keep all taxes in the borough at their 2017 levels and there will be no millage increase.

Borough secretary Jackie Dixon also reported that income and expenditures for 2017 were virtually the same leaving approximately a $20,000 balance to start off 2018. Having a balance means that, in Dixon’s report, the borough will not have to take out a Tax Anticipation Note (TAN) to cover its expenses until tax money and other income comes in. She said she and council want to thank all employees and departments for holding their expenditures to the planned budget.

Open council seat

Sliwinski announced that after consulting an agency of borough advisors, council will declare an open seat at its reorganization meeting. There had been some confusion as to whether the seat occupied by Wells was open or not since she had been appointed to fill an open seat earlier in the year, and only three seats were on the November ballot.

The reorganization meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 2, at the borough office. At that time the newly organized council will vote to appoint someone to fill the open seventh seat. Returning members Sliwinski, along with newly elected council members, Robin McMillan and Bill Cebulskie, along with returning members August, Clark, and Bob Crosby will make up the council until that seventh member is appointed.

Water/Sewage Authority

Council also voted to appoint Gary Drayer to a five-year term on the borough Water/Sewage Authority.

Clearfield Borough passes budget with 2-mill tax increase

CLEARFIELD — The Clearfield Borough Council approved its 2018 final budget just before Christmas with a 2-mill tax increase.

Real estate taxes are currently set at 25 mills. A 2-mill increase means a homeowner with a home worth $100,000 would see real estate taxes increase by $50.

The tax increase will raise revenues by about $73,000.

It is a balanced budget with $2,497,950 in revenues and expenses.

The police department accounts for approximately 37 percent of the borough’s expenditures in 2018. Police costs are expected to increase from $921,431 to $932,749 — about $11,318. Almost half of the increase is due to higher Workmen’s Compensation costs, which are increasing by $5,430 in 2018.

The street department is expected to see costs increase by about $19,000, going from $413,789 to $432,923. The borough is also increasing spending in the category of highway maintenance and repairs from $54,521 to $64,830, an increase of $10,309.

During the public comment period, Fred Weaver said he is concerned about the budget moving forward especially with the escalating drug problem in the area and said he hopes the borough has a financial plan moving forward.

He also said the borough should put its budget on the borough’s website.

In other business Chief Vincent McGinnis asked residents to stay off the river. He said the ice on the river still isn’t safe to be on.

“Kids — stay off the river,” McGinnis said.

McGinnis also issued a scam warning and said Clearfield Municipal Authority Employees carry ID badges and drive in marked vehicles. If anyone has any doubts over someone’s identity, McGinnis said they should call the police department to make sure.

He said it is better to have a false alarm than to have someone become a victim of a crime.

Council accepted the resignation of Chris Stott from the CMA board and voted to advertise all vacancies and openings.

Additionally, the borough is reminding residents that there will be no Christmas tree pickup this year. Trees are to be taken to the compost site on 21st Street for disposal.