ARARAT - The Christmas trade period has been hailed quiet but steady by Ararat business owners, with visitors to the region helping to boost takings in the lead up to the festive season and in the traditional bargain hunting period following boxing day.
While online and out of town shopping lures many away from Ararat, many business owners believe locals are still supporting Ararat businesses and are being rewarded with good customer service and prices better than expected, proving that taking your shopping dollar out of the region is not always the smartest choice.
Rob Stebbing from Lyal Eales Stores said Christmas trade in the seven-day-a-week business was quieter than the previous year, but last minute shopping on Christmas eve and post Christmas was good.
"The Monday before Christmas and Christmas eve was really busy and it has been busy after Christmas too," Mr Stebbing said.
"Last year was an exceptional year and we were always going to be chasing high figures this year."
With Christmas now a memory and thoughts turning to holidays, camping gear is proving popular, even more so with good weather experienced over the Christmas/New Year period.
Lyal Eales has traded seven-days-a-week for the past 15 years and Mr Stebbing believes it is something all business owners in Ararat should consider.
"We have always have traded seven days a week," he said.
"Some try it for three months, and give up, but you need to do it for six months for it to take off. The first few months will be quiet, but it will pick up.
"It is surprising how many people are around on the weekend."
New business owner Debbie O'Brien, from Something Beautiful, experienced her first Christmas trade period this year and said while it was a good Christmas, she had 'nothing to compare it to'.
Ms O'Brien said she would have liked to have seen more locals shopping in town, but thanked those who did take the time to spend their money in Ararat.
"If people tried to buy local they would find that it was cheaper than going to Ballarat," she said.
"But it was a good Christmas, we were happy with it."
Ms O'Brien also said there appeared to be a few visitors in town since Christmas, and with cicadas proving an annoyance factor in Halls Gap, believes it may have had an impact on the number of people 'retreating' to nearby towns.
"The money that has been taken since Christmas has been from visitors," she said.
"We've seen a few tourists and they have been spending their money."
Jenny Hunter from Hidden Secrets also reported a quieter Christmas than the previous year, although was reasonably happy with takings and said there was a buzz of positivity around.
"We didn't get the passing trade that we usually get, people were browsing, not buying, to start with.
"People seemed to come in and get their ideas earlier so they knew what they wanted and then came back.
"People are a bit wary of their money now. But we did have happy customers who were happy to get what they could in town. The older ones tend to stay in town."
In relation to Christmas trading hours, Ms Hunter said businesses needed to consider opening on weekends in the lead up to Christmas.
"If some shops stay open they all need to be open, it's been a bone of contention for 20 years or more," she said.
"We are retailers and need to realise we are in a tourist town and need to accommodate people."
Ararat Chemmart's Monique Hargreaves agreed that business owners needed to consider extending their opening hours to the weekends before Christmas.
Chemmart also experienced a quieter Christmas trade period.
"We didn't really have that crazy Christmas buzz this year. I think a lot of people shop online now," she said.
Chemmart extended its hours to 9pm for two nights prier to Christmas, which Ms Hargreaves said in hindsight didn't work, however, the business extended opening times to 4pm on both the Saturday and Sunday prior to Christmas proved successful.
"Next year it would be good if more people extended their hours on a Saturday and Sunday," she said.
While planning to close at the end of February, Ararat's Toyland enjoyed a busy Christmas period with a 40 per cent off sale.
"The 40 per cent off made it really hectic, especially after Christmas, there were a lot of travellers around, a lot of new people I haven't seen before," Tim Plush said.
Mr Plush cited the internet as a contributing factor to quiet Christmas trade across the board.
"Everywhere you are getting the same story," he said.
Trade was steady right through December according to Graeme Foster from Fosters Mensland.
"Customers have supported our businesses and as in past years there was a rush towards the end of the month," he said.
Mr Foster said sales were on a par with the previous year and both Saturday and Sunday trading was encouraging.
"The last Sunday (prior to Christmas) in particular we traded well and there were a few people up the street on that last Sunday," he said.
"We need to acknowledge the efforts of ARBA and Council in getting together and encouraging people to shop locally, and having the City Band up the street."
Mr Foster also acknowledged The Ararat Advertiser in organising its annual Christmas promotion.