Despite intractably high unemployment numbers and a hobbling economy, many local residents continued to prioritize holiday shopping this season.
From the Merced Mall to downtown boutiques, over recent weeks residents lined up to buy gifts for loved ones and take advantage of end-of-the-year sales.
The spirits of many Merced retailers were generally high Wednesday, the day after Christmas -- typically regarded the second-busiest shopping day of the year after Black Friday.
"Definitely we've seen an increase this year," said Jackie Goodwin, owner of Helen & Louise women's clothing shop in downtown Merced. "It's been really nice. There's more foot traffic. People seem to be spending a little more, so we had a really good season."
Throughout the morning Wednesday, people took advantage of a storewide 30-percent-off sale, thumbing through trendy blouses, belts and pants. Lynette Koehn, shopping there with her baby daughter, said that compared with recent years, her family spent a little more this holiday season.
"It was a better year for us financially," she said. "I like all of the local stores," she said. "I like to support Merced, as much as I can."
Next door at The Armory, several customers browsed the fashionable menswear, taking advantage of an after-Christmas-Day sale. Cheri Mister showed up with her son Thomas to exchange some clothes. They agreed their holiday budget has remained fairly steady.
"The only thing that changed was we made sure to keep it local because everybody's been struggling," she said. "It seems like a lot more people have been shopping online, and it takes from our community."
While The Armory has been open little more than a year, business has been "nothing but great," said owner Ashley Leffard. "More people are going downtown for shopping as a destination," she said. "I think they hear about it from friends. Word of mouth is huge for our business."
At the Merced Mall, hundreds of people in sweaters, hats and other festive winter wear bustled about the city's complex of corporate retailers.
Sears Store Manager Dina De-Berowley said sales in Merced this holiday season have been "up" for the retail giant.
"People have been very positive," she said. "People have been coming in with a great spirits. The prices and the deals have been amazing for the customers."
At Target, management said sales had increased steadily over the last four years. "Every year it gets better," said Team Leader Sanjeet Dhanota. "I know we had a recession a couple years ago, but we're not noticing that here.
"The community is doing much better," he added. "The town is doing much better, and the guests like spending their money over here, so that's good."
Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or email@example.com.