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Christmas – yes, Christmas – is coming to stores

Summer is over. The last of the swimsuits are on clearance racks. And stores have begun selling ornaments, artificial trees and other Christmas merchandise.

Yes, Christmas.

When it comes to the holidays, some national chains have no chill. Macy's has started decking the halls as if Santa were coming down the chimney tonight. Big Lots put out its Christmas wares weeks ago, in case shoppers wanted to begin preparing for their winter wonderland during the back-to-school supply run.

They're not the only ones.

Holiday merchandise has been up at Kmart for a week. Lowe's, BJ's and Home Depot are all in the process of setting up their Christmas trees. And it's only a matter of time before other stores follow suit.

It's called "Christmas creep," the phenomenon that happens when retailers jump-start the holiday shopping season. Each year, it seems to begin earlier and earlier.

Brenda Hartman of Barker has been watching Christmas creep from the front lines for the past five years. An elf of sorts, she assembles artificial Christmas trees at local stores as an independent contractor for a marketing firm.

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As a harbinger of the holidays in the thick of summer, she has heard it all. During her first hour at work on the sales floor of the Amherst BJ's Wholesale Club early Friday afternoon, she didn't go 10 minutes without fielding remarks. Some people were happy to see the trees. Most were not, she said.

"The children get so excited when they see a Christmas tree," Hartman said. "But, other than that, it's mostly moans and groans."

When she first started with the company, the trees came out in the middle of October. But since then, it "seems to start earlier and earlier every year," she said.

The early start seems extra odd this year, timed as it is in the midst of an unseasonable September in Western New York.

"I should be putting up palm trees, not Christmas trees. It's 80 degrees out," she said.

Stores hurry the holiday season to the forefront for several reasons. Retailers can make up to 30 percent of their total annual sales during the holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation. And since consumers tend to spend the most money at the first retailer they visit, each store competes for first crack at the Christmas consumer's wallet.

"The holiday season is make-or-break time for many retailers," said Charles Lindsey, a marketing professor at the University at Buffalo School of Management.

Shoppers complain that rushing Christmas cheapens the holiday and prevents them from fully enjoying Halloween and Thanksgiving. In fact, 71 percent of adults said they are "annoyed or very annoyed" when they see Christmas merchandise in stores before Halloween, according to a 2015 survey by data firm Rich Relevance.

Retailers, however, say they get a head start on Christmas because customers want it.

"At Macy’s, we do love Christmas," said Julie Strider, a Macy's spokeswoman, who emphasized that the holiday items didn't come out any sooner this year than in years past. "It takes a while to set up all of our stores with holiday trim shops, and we want to ensure we have festive décor available for our customers when many begin shopping."

Vidler's 5 & 10 opened its year-round Christmas room a decade ago. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

If consumers didn't want to begin their Christmas shopping in September, stores would wait. But the stats show consumers have no qualms about spending for Christmas before the first snowflake has fallen. About 40 percent of holiday shopping begins before Halloween, according to the National Retail Federation. And much more than half of all holiday spending takes place before Thanksgiving. Black Friday used to be the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season but now, by the time it rolls around, consumers are already weary.

Vidler's 5 and 10 Variety Store in East Aurora opened its year-round Christmas room a decade ago due to demand from summer vacationers and out-of-town visitors, according to Don Vidler. The store sells ornaments and lights steadily from January through August, and begins ramping up its holiday merchandise inventory in September. It spends September and October adding more festive decor, and usually sees holiday sales begin to really pick up steam in mid-October.

"Believe it or not, back in the mid to late 70s when I was in high school and college, most of our Christmas merchandise wasn’t even put out until the week of Thanksgiving," Vidler said. "My dad and I would put up the store Christmas decorations on  the Sunday after Thanksgiving. That wouldn’t fly now!"

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