Now that all the wrapping has been thrown away and the bells have stopped ringing, this year's Christmas season turns out not to have been all it was cracked up to be. Coming in for a large part of the blame is the cruise ship industry, according to several downtown retailers.
Abe Tarapani, manager of Diamonds International, says he is hoping for an improvement after the first of the year, when the millennium jitters have worn off.
"Our season wasn't what we had expected, and it's largely because of the cruise ships," he said.
He explained that the ships are now featuring 10-day millennium cruises as opposed to the regular seven-day trips when the ships would make one stop per week.
"The 10-day cruises take stops away from St. Thomas," he said.
Echoing disappointment with the cruise ship visitors, Mike Pepper, director of stores for Cardow Jewelers, said their season was "less than expected."
"I think passengers aren't booking until after the first of the year, when the Y2K worries are over," he said, adding that many of the ships are only about half-full.
Priya Sukhani of Star Jewelers on Main Street said the season has been "pretty slow." Again she commented on the Y2K problem as influencing passenger travel, with fewer people traveling.
One store that expressed satisfaction with the Christmas sales was Little Switzerland's Main Street location inside A. H. Riise. "We started off slow, but it picked up nicely it was brisk the last week," said Luisa Beers, store manager. She said the store did a good local business as well as tourist sales.
On the other end of the island, Corinne Van Renssalaer of Color of Joy at American Yacht Harbor at Red Hook expressed disappointment over the season.
"I was just looking at last year's figures, and our sales are down a good 20 percent," she said. She added that "the hotels are empty, so what can you expect?" Color of Joy sells original art and gifts, popular among the nearby hotel guests.
Managers of local attractions also had some complaints about Christmas spending.
Achielle Barbel, sales manager for Atlantis Submarine Inc., said, "Our sales are 20 to 30 percent down from what we had expected, and it's because of the cheapie cruises." He said cruise ship passengers who are taking discounted trips won't spend money on a submarine trip, which would be considered a high-end expense, in comparison, say, to the three-for-$10 T-shirts. He did say, however, that passenger traffic on Christmas day was right on target, as well as on Dec. 26.
The venerable L & C Milliner Department Store didn't fare well this holiday season, but this has not been isolated to the season alone. "We are trying to survive," said Leslie Milliner, store owner. He pointed out that competition is tough, with the offshore businesses here on island taking the lion's share of the business.
"It seems they use us as an afterthought," Milliner said
As if proving Milliner's point, Steve Todd, Lockhart Garden Kmart manager, said the season has been "outstanding."
"We did 20 percent over last year," he said, exceeding the store's projections. He said the store does about 25 percent cruise ship business, catering to the passengers and the crews. Kmart offers a discount to crew members.
The store's seasonal success tends to back up the opinion that passengers on the cheaper cruises head to Kmart, not Diamonds International.
And apparently the mega-yachts weren't doing much local spending either, at least at Crown Bay Marina. Candace Groce of Marine Warehouse described Christmas spending as "not much busier than an average day."
Overall, even with the government's vendor payments and income tax refunds, it appears that the millennium bug biting the cruise ship passengers is also biting local merchants right where it hurts.