Holiday shoppers will be more careful with what they're buying this year, but if an informal survey Saturday is any indication, they will, indeed, be buying.
Some area retailers are kicking off the season this weekend with open houses that offer customers cookies, popcorn and discounts. Business owners said they are cautiously optimistic about the weeks ahead.
"We're off to a good start," said Chandra Cunha, co-owner of Mulberry Lane in Modesto's McHenry Village. "We are focused more on price point this year."
At Morris Nursery in Riverbank, owner Ron Hoffmann oversaw a festive atmosphere that included everything from a fully decorated Christmas tree, hung upside-down and revolving, to photos with Scooby- Doo and Shaggy.
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Hoffmann said he didn't downsize his display or holiday stock this year because he thinks it sends the wrong message.
"I didn't want to buy into it," he said. He said the store has always stocked or- naments and décor that are reasonably priced, and that's helped bring crowds back year after year.
Among the faithful were Kathy and Wayne Evans, former Oakdale residents who now live in Yucaipa, near Palm Springs.
"We come back every year," said Kathy Evans, a retired schoolteacher.
Wayne Evans, who owns a commercial insurance agency, said many of his clients are struggling with the continuing recession.
"But we're absolutely going to celebrate (the holidays)," he said. "I'm looking for gifts for my clients that are still special and a little different, but not as expensive."
Marian McCormick and her daughter, Cathryn Cardoso, are firm believers that it's never too early to start the holiday season.
"Are we a little late this year?" Cardoso asked her mom.
With 17 family members, the two were looking for unique gifts at McHenry Village.
"We always look for sales anyway," said Cardoso.
"But," added McCormick, "if we find something we think someone will like, we'll buy it anyway."
Mulberry Lane, in its 10th year, sells home decorator items and accessories. Cunha said good customer service is the key to surviving a tough past couple of years.
"We really listen to what the customer wants," she said. "They're after that vintage, nostalgic look."
Terri Quadro of Riverbank, shopping at Morris Nursery, said she isn't changing her spending habits.
"I've always been conservative," she said. "I really feel sorry for people who over- extended themselves."
Nationally, falling incomes and rising energy costs could dampen consumer spending during the holidays. People who do spend will stick to Wal-Mart, Target and other discounters, and continue shying away from big-name department stores such as Macy's, said John Lonski, chief economist of Moody's Capital Markets Group.
Tara Fromm is a Wal-Mart shopper. Roaming the displays at Morris with her husband, Brandon, and niece, Mia Crisp, Fromm said she is very mindful of her budget.
"We're a young married couple, so money is always a concern," said the on-site Davis High School substitute. Her husband teaches special education at Downey High. "But we pick and choose from fancier stores and then accessorize to make it work."
For those looking to save, homemade gifts are always an option. And the sweet kind generally are well- received.
Katherine Sandlow baked spritz cookies — and dispensed advice — at Keller's on Saturday.
"Be liberal with the vanilla," she said. And don't throw away cookies that get a little burned, as a batch of Sandlow's did. "Just cover it with powdered sugar."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2343.