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It was beginning to look – at least a little – like Christmas at the Boulevard Mall in Amherst on Tuesday.
Sure, spooky ghosts and the rich hues of fall leaves dominated the decor and merchandise, but several stores were already getting into the holiday spirit.
The china and crystal department at Macy’s had a whole section devoted to Christmas giftware. A line of candy cane-trimmed china by Spode decorated with Christmas trees was on sale.
Halloween is not yet here, but retailers are gearing up for what is a decisive time of year for them: The last two months of the year can account for up to 40 percent of their sales.
The National Retail Federation says it expects sales during the holiday shopping period in November and December to increase 4.1 percent from last year. While the projected gain is good news, it is also more than a percentage point lower than the growth recorded in each of the previous two years and would be the smallest increase since 2009.
Still, some local retailers interviewed said they are upbeat about their prospects for the upcoming holiday season, based on their customers’ spending habits over the past few months.
“It’s been a pretty good summer, so I’m anticipating a good fourth quarter,” said Kellie Klos, manager at Clayton’s Gifts and Toys in Amherst.
The store will soon hire seasonal workers to cope with larger crowds of shoppers. “I think Buffalo in general has more of a ‘buy local’ mentality than some other places,” Klos said.
David Schueckler, who co-owns The Treehouse toy store in the Elmwood Village with his wife, Gaetana, also has a favorable outlook on the holiday season. “Right now, year to date, we’re ahead of last year,” he said.
Schueckler over the years has observed a pattern tied to the election cycle. “What we’ve noticed is, every year there’s [a presidential] election, there’s a wait-and-see attitude, and there’s a collective sigh of relief, either way,” once the results are in, he said.
Dave’s in Cheektowaga, which carries a large assortment of crafts and Christmas-themed items, already has had customers coming in to buy items such as light sets and decorations, said manager Elaine Schmitt.
As far as customers’ buying habits, she said, “I think people are being confident. I see people buying more [holiday merchandise] early.”
A few factors contribute to expectations about holiday retail spending this year, including higher food and gas prices, a presidential election around the corner and concerns about the pace of the nation’s economic recovery.
The question for retailers is how those external forces might affect the amount of money consumers spend on gifts.
“In all the years, this is the most challenging year doing a forecast,” said Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer of the National Retail Federation, based in Washington, D.C. “There are so many uncertainties.”
The federation’s forecast of 4.1 percent growth in sales is still higher than the average growth of 3.5 percent for November and December over the past 10 years, and it continues a growth trend that began after holiday sales fell 4.4 percent in 2008 during the middle of the recession.
For retailers, the holidays are also about hiring. Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement firm, says national retailers could add about 700,000 seasonal employees for the holiday period. That would be higher than the 660,000 hired last year but still short of the nearly 747,000 additional workers hired at the end of the year in 2006.
John A. Challenger, the firm’s chief executive officer, said there is “still too much uncertainty” to expect seasonal hiring to return to that prerecession level.
Kohl’s plans to hire more than 52,000 seasonal workers this year, up 10 percent from last year. Target plans to hire 80,000 to 90,000 seasonal workers, down from 92,000 last year.
Back at the Boulevard Mall, Macy’s wasn’t the only store getting a jump-start on Christmas.
Children’s clothing stores including Gymboree, The Children’s Place and Crazy 8 featured holiday picture-worthy dress-up clothes.
The American Greeting store had large displays of traditional to goofy Christmas ornaments, an array of snow globes and buy one, get one half off Christmas cards.
But there were a couple of clear signs that it’s not quite the holiday season yet. No. 1 - no Christmas music. And No. 2 - in the middle of the food court, where Santa sets up shop for holiday portraits, there was a shiny black Jeep courtesy of Northtown Automotive.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. email: mglynn@buffnews.com and mbecker@buffnews.com