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Holiday Sales Falter But Specialty Shops Thrive In Johnson County, Kansas

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Frank Morris
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KCUR 89.3
Specialty shops in Downtown Overland Park, like The General Store & Co. are enjoying a strong Christmas season, despite declining sales tax revenue in Johnson County.

Sales tax collections for the early part of this year’s holiday season are down across Kansas, and that includes Johnson, Wyandotte and Douglas counties. But some local shops are having a great year, by selling experience as well as stuff.

November sales taxes collections fell off 6 percent in Johnson County, and almost as much across Kansas. The decline likely has more to do with the long shift to online shopping, which is projected to climb almost 17 percent this year.

Specialty boutiques, like the ones that line Santa Fe Drive in downtown Overland Park, Kansas, are a bright spot for brick-and-mortar retail. John Lucas, co-owner of the General Store & Co., says getting people in the door isn’t a problem this year.

“Our biggest challenge has been getting inventory in from the vendors,” says Lucas.

Lucas says sales are up at the Downtown Overland Park store by about 20 percent this year.

“Our customers come in because they have fun. They know us, we know them. They want to get out of the crowds of the big box. And, you know, there’s not personal attachment to a website,” Lucas says.

Next door, the Culinary Center of Kansas City is also doing brisk business in kitchen supplies, but retail manager Rachael Weir says merchandise is only part of the strategy.

“We’re here to provide cooking experience, the interactive parties. Being around people, being around the kitchen table. That’s what we’re about,” says Weir.

Foot traffic has been strong in Downtown Overland Park this year, Weir adds, despite the overall softening in in-person retail sales.

Frank Morris is an NPR correspondent and senior editor based at KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri.  Follow him on Twitter: @frank newsman.

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