Will Jews save Christmas Depends on whom you ask

So, will the late start of Chanukah benefit retailers or not? Well, depending upon whom you believe, the answer is: Yes, possibly no.

Recently, dueling articles on the subject surfaced in the Wall Street Journal and the popular Web site Slate.com.

The Journal article noted that this year marks the first time since 1959 that the first day of Chanukah and Christmas fall on the same day. Most workers, Jewish included, will not have to work Dec. 26 — and stores will be open. Finally, experts prognosticate that the holiday coordination may lead to more frenzied buying as the Dec. 25 deadline approaches.

Yet Slate’s article, a direct response to the Journal, mocks the notion that the Jews can save Christmas with a dismissive “oy vey.” Conceding that the average American Jewish household has 30 percent more bread to spread than the average American household, Daniel Gross, Slate’s economic writer, then sets up a very convincing equation.

If we consider that Jews make up but 2 percent of America’s population, and then imagine that each Jewish household will spend five full times the national average on holiday purchases, (a ridiculously high number just meant to hammer home Gross’ point) the additional money in retailers’ coffers would be $4.7 billion.

“That sounds like a lot, but it’s a drop in the bucket,” reads the article.

“The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales, which it broadly defines as all retail industry sales in November and December, will total $439.5 billion. So, even if all Jews procrastinate and buy their Chanukah presents toward the end of December rather than at the end of November, it still won’t make more than a tiny difference in overall spending.”

But, hey, don’t let a thoroughly detailed statistical refutation ruin your day — this is America! Local merchants have heard both arguments, and they agree — with both of them.

Tom Allen, general manager of Stacey’s Bookstore in San Francisco, is in the camp that believes the coincidence of Christmas and Chanukah is a good thing. At least it can’t possibly be bad.

Sales slack when Chanukah is here and gone by the end of November. Allen likes things better when there’s one big season on everybody’s minds.

“The argument against it is there are so few Jews that they’ll not be able to affect the result. But Jews are Americans and shoppers and how can they not be affected by the holiday rigmarole? All the décor and advertising? Momentum builds toward a certain holiday and people are shopping later and later and people get enthusiastic and spend more money on themselves as well,” he said.

“My impression is that the retail season is much better when momentum peaks as much as it can, for Jews and gentiles alike.”

At this point, Stacey’s is dead-even with its numbers from last year, which isn’t unexpected. But if, as Allen hopes, momentum will indeed peak, then the best is yet to come.

Foster Ball, an assistant manager and wardrobe consultant at Patrick James Clothiers in San Francisco’s Financial District, is also a believer in Allen’s momentum theory.

“It makes good sense to me. Half my clients are well-off Jewish men. To get Chanukah and Christmas shoppers together at the same time in the same store, it’s the whole shebang,” he said.

Others, however, are not so optimistic. When queried on the retail effect of simultaneous major holidays, they can only utilize the one-time catchphrase of wrestler The Rock: “It doesn’t matter.”

“This happened a few years ago. It’s the same,” said Sheila Sutterland of The Children’s Shoppe in Menlo Park before terminating the interview to deal with a throng of customers. (At least we can assume that the coincidence hasn’t hurt business.)

Dennis Ronberg, owner of Linden Tree Children’s Recordings and Books in Los Altos, says his business is identical or perhaps even a little bit down from last year. If holiday convergence leads to big sales down the road, he’s all for it, but he isn’t holding his breath.

“I hope we have a crazy last three weeks. But we’re flat and we do have a strong Jewish community here,” he said.

“It’s nice when Chanukah is earlier in December. That draws out the holiday season for us.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.