Shoppers in Shorts on Christmas Eve

Warm December got people off couch and into stores, a boon for retailers
"When it snows, people are staying home in their pajamas doing online shopping," said Lisa Field of the Sag Harbor Variety Store. Not so this year, as pre-Christmas temperatures rose into the 60s. Durell Godfrey

December’s unusually warm weather seems to have yielded sort of a balmy business boon for many South Fork retailers.

Shop owners this week said the sun and warmth leading up to Christmas brought more people outside, including locals and city folk alike.

“We saw a lot more customers than we normally would. They came earlier, they lingered,” Sybille van Kempen, owner of Loaves and Fishes Cookshop in Bridgehampton, said on Monday. Sales were “just as good as years past and a little better. . . . I think the weather did have a lot to do with it.”

Lisa Field, whose family has owned the Sag Harbor Variety Store since 1970, agreed. “Over all, I think it was better for shopping, because when you have a really nice day people are going to say, ‘Let’s take a walk downtown on Main Street,’ ” Ms. Field said, adding that other shop owners she spoke to made similar observations.

“When it snows, people are staying home in their pajamas and doing online shopping,” she said. “The good weather, I think, was a blessing to many store owners. It was more conducive to the sense of community and going out to go shopping.”

Maria Bartelme, manager of Wainscott Hardware, said she noticed more of her customers who are second-home owners coming in on the weekends along with the locals. “We’ve definitely seen an increase even in our regular customers, because everyone is able to work outside and do small projects outside the house and in the yard,” she said.

Indeed, The Wall Street Journal reported on Dec. 13 that the effects of the warmer-than-usual temperatures were felt in New York City, too, where tourists ditched winter coats and hats to take pictures with the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree on the day temperatures hit a record high of 67 degrees in Central Park.

Some attributed their seasonal successes to more than just the sun and warmth. Ms. van Kempen said building the new Loaves and Fishes retail space next to the Bridgehampton Inn paid off. “Our new location has helped tremendously,” she said. “We really stand out. . . . I think everybody should move their store once in a while. It creates a lot of excitement and people want to come see what you’re doing.”

But for some retailers, whether the weather brought that boon depended on their merchandise. Ms. Field and Ms. Bartelme both said their stores managed to offset losses on winter items — whether it be Sag Harbor Variety Store’s hats, scarves, and gloves or Wainscott Hardware’s salt and snow shovels — by continuing to sell through the rest of their stock.

“To some degree we have the advantage because of the variety of merchandise we sell,” Ms. Field said. “Even though we weren’t selling the cold winter items, more people were out so we were selling more of the everyday items. A store that only has winter gear in is probably not going to give the same report.”

Take Lars Svanberg, for instance. The owner of Main Beach Surf and Sport in Wainscott has sold fewer down jackets, fleeces, and skis than he would normally this time of year, but he has been selling more surfboards, skateboards, and stand-up paddleboards than during Decembers past.

“It was a shift in product that we definitely saw,” Mr. Svanberg said. “The key for me has always been having a really broad selection of seasonal gear so that no matter what the weather is, we can take you through four seasons. It’s always summer somewhere. It has been sort of weatherproof.”

Another such business may very well be the retro shop Whoa! Nellie in Montauk, where Linda Seaton, the owner, described December business as “consistent, smooth, enjoyable, and profitable enough.” Over all, Ms. Seaton said, the spirit of giving was alive and well in Montauk, but she couldn’t specifically attribute it to the balmy temperatures. “People are cheerful in all kinds of weather in Montauk,” she said.

“The weather may have brought some who may not have otherwise ventured out,” she said. “Let’s put it this way: Had the weather been blustery, we might have served locals only.”

Holiday highlights were easy to come by on the South Fork this year, it seemed. Ms. Field sold two giant holiday wreaths, made of live greens, right off the rear facade of her store, and Ms. Seaton rented two props, a shark and a tinsel wreath, to Vanity Fair for a pair of magazine photo shoots. Ms. Bartelme said she and many other Christmas tree retailers sold out of them this year, and Ms. van Kempen said she helped one local homeowner decorate not just his house here but also two more he owns in Florida and California.

But temperatures began dropping sharply this week, just in time for people to start making their New Year’s resolutions.

Reflecting on his store’s inventory for a moment, Mr. Svanberg offered one thought in conclusion.

“Now, if we had a wish: Let it snow,” he said. “If it changed and we got winter right now, that would be great."