Local retailers report sales have been brisk the past couple of weeks for patio furniture, hammocks, grills, and other outdoor items.
Some speculate that the high cost of gasoline may keep residents near home this year, and most expect business to only get busier with this weekend's Memorial Day holiday, the traditional kick-off to the summer season.
“Now that the weather's breaking and it's getting warm again, people are shopping again,” said Wendy Ziegler, manager of the Kohl's department store on Monroe Street in Toledo. “They're being cautious on what they buy, but they are getting stuff that will offer pleasure to them.”
Kohl's offers plenty, from hammocks to resin furniture to a large collection of plastic glasses and dishware, items that might be used for picnics or reunions, she added
A desire to have enjoyment in the backyard is superseding concerns about the economy, say local retailers. Some shoppers are plunking down money for higher-end items.
Lori Fletcher, manager of Myers Hearth & Casual on Reynolds Road in Toledo, said her store has steady business in higher-end patio furniture, and the company sells wicker, aluminum, and wrought iron, priced from $499 to nearly $5,000 for a set that includes a thatched umbrella.
The business has sold out of small clay fireplaces known as chimineas and is awaiting the arrival of a $4,000 natural gas unit that will resemble a fire pit and can be started with a remote control, she said. As in the past several summers, she expects at least one sale of the $9,000 “barbecue kitchen,” that includes a gas grill, a built-in refrigerator, and seating.
“It's phenomenal for people who entertain,” Ms. Fletcher said.
Other brisk sellers include wooden swings and picnic tables, she added.
Pamela Rucker, of the National Retail Federation in Washington, said strong summer sales are not surprising.
“The home furnishings market has done really well because of all the new construction,” she said. “And those are all houses with backyards, so it's logical that sales would be brisk in that category.”
Harold Albertson, manager of the Target store in Springfield Township, said he has sold out of grills (priced $130 to $200) and reports strong sales of patio furniture, hammocks, and even folding chairs.
“I just think people are ready to get outside,” he added.
Kirby Slocum, assistant store manager of The Andersons in Maumee, said sales of summer-related items got off to a late start because of the cold spring, but the last couple of weeks have been busy.
However, Michael Huss, vice president of operations for Overhead, Inc., in Toledo, which branched into patio furniture sales about six years ago to complement its fireplace business, said business has slowed a little bit from last year for both patio furniture and chimineas.
“I think the patio furniture industry has been growing at a tremendous rate the last five years, so it's a combination of saturation and some issues with the economy,” he said. “And the weather hasn't been terribly helpful.”
But those who are buying are sparing no expense, he said. The company has patio sets starting at $550 and cast iron chimineas starting at $250. Although the traditional round umbrellas for patio tables cost $150, more shoppers are choosing an octagonal market umbrella that has wood posts, is larger than a traditional umbrella, and sells for $315.
“The people who are spending are spending for the nicer items,” said Mr. Huss.