School stockup

Marie Havenga • Jul 21, 2015 at 1:03 PM

The National Retail Federation predicts families will spend an average of $634.78 on clothing, shoes, supplies and electronics. That's down from $688.62 last year.

Total spending is expected to hit $26.7 billion. If you add in back-to-college sales, that number soars to $72.5 billion.

While the retail association says it will be hard to reach last year's numbers — which were boosted by pent-up demand after an economic slump and a growing population of school-age children — Tri-Cities-area store owners and shoppers say the cash registers are ringing as loudly as last year.

“I just spent a pile of money with my grandkids,” said Barb VanSchelven, who works as a clerk at Dockside Clothing in Grand Haven.

VanSchelven said she takes her grandsons from Florida shopping every August to help out her daughter, who is a single mom. The boys — Jack, 17, and Aaron, 11 — picked out T-shirts and shorts at a downtown store.

“The younger one, this is the first year he doesn't have to wear a uniform, so he's delighted to buy all that,” said VanSchelven, who spent about $125 on each boy.

Shoes were not on the shopping list this year, otherwise VanSchelven estimates she would have plunked down another $70 to $80. Instead, the boys went for bright-colored T-shirts.

“They go to school in Florida, so they can wear T-shirts and shorts,” she said. “That's what they buy every year.”

T-shirts, backpacks, hammocks and skateboards are top-sellers this season at Buffalo Bob's in Grand Haven.

“The kids are buying hammocks like no other,” said owner Jill Hutchinson. “They hang them in the trees at different levels.”

Buffalo Bob's has sold more than a hundred hammocks this year. Hutchinson said she has to order more of the colorful slings every week because she can't keep them in stock.

Presumably, students are buying them to study in, right?

“They call it 'mocking,'” Hutchinson said. “I think they're going to take them to school and hang them up wherever they can find trees. I see people buying more of what they want this year than what they need.”

But sales of school staples remain strong, she said. Burton and Dakine backpacks are hot items. Kids come in to test them out, and Hutchinson and her staff provide filler material to simulate textbooks.

“A lot of them struggle trying to find something to hold all their books,” she said.

To read more of this story, see Saturday’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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