While North America is going through times of economic uncertainty, it appears Metro Moncton’s traditionally strong retail industry is continuing to flourish.

With a month to go until Christmas Eve, the holiday rush has begun and it appears the local retail industry is still booming, despite any potential economic downturns,

“Christmas rush definitely has started. We’re even busier than last year actually and I don’t know why,” said Andre Cormier, owner of La Mine D’Or Jewellers. “I know our traffic is up and our sales are up and all the other retailers I talk to, they seem fairly happy about the sales.”

In fact, while some might worry what the future holds economically, for certain retailers it’s been a banner season.

“The Christmas rush started very early this year, the earliest we’ve seen it in our 23 years here. It started just after Thanksgiving and normally it’s just after Remembrance Day,” said Gifts Galore co-owner Steve Clerke. “This has been a record Christmas.”

Despite fears of a faltering Canadian dollar and a slumping economy, Clerke believes consumers are just looking on the bright side this holiday season.

“I think people are probably tired of the doom and gloom that has been on the news so they’re sort of celebrating life and saying ‘we only get one Christmas 2008, so let’s enjoy it,'” he said.

Valerie Roy, chief executive officer of the Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce, says retail giant Champlain Place continues to be packed with shoppers and the mall operators are “very optimistic about what the sales levels are going to be this year.” She adds that the restaurant industry is also enjoying the spin-off from people being out and about shopping this holiday season.

“I think, generally, Greater Moncton is still feeling optimistic, people are reasonably well off and we don’t feel that we are in a recession yet, in this city anyway,” she said.

A quick trip through Champlain Place certainly seems to confirm that the retail sector isn’t fazed, as eager shoppers looking to get their holiday gift-buying out of the way are hustling and bustling from store to store.

“I’m not too worried about the economy,” said Paul LeBlanc of Moncton, on a break from the day’s Christmas shopping. “Either way, it’s Christmas and it only comes once a year, so you might as well make the most of it.”

Others aren’t quite ready to completely cut back on holiday spending, but are still mindful of what the future might hold.

“I might not spend quite as much as in the past, but even in the worst of times I think holiday shopping will always happen and be important,” said shopper Louise Melanson. “It’s a bit of a worry, but worrying won’t change anything, so I try not to too much.”

In addition to local shoppers, Roy says she has also noticed a number of out of town licence plates in mall parking lots. “The weather has been so good, people are travelling,” Clerke said, noting he’s had plenty of customers from Maine, Quebec, Nova Scotia, northern New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island in the last few weeks. “Right now with the gas prices being so low, that’s why people are travelling and from farther away distances. That’s why there’s been an increase in traffic at stores and it’s not just on weekends anymore either.”

Ian Munro, director of research with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, says in the current economic society, consumers may look to shed some dollars from their Christmas shopping bills.

“You’ve got to pay the rent, you’ve got to pay the mortgage, you’ve got to put gas in your car to get to work and buy the groceries. If you need to tighten your wallet, Christmas spending is one way you can cut back,” he said, noting that common sense would indicate that it might be the higher-priced items that consumers cut back on in potentially difficult financial times.

“If you’re worrying about your job or worried about your future, you’re probably still going to heat your house and still make your rent payment, but you probably would cut back on that big screen TV and the new computer.”

However, Bryan Moreau, floor manager for the Sounds Fantastic Bonaccord Street location, says the Christmas rush has begun for them as well and they haven’t noticed anything alarming in terms of lack of sales.

“I can’t say (sales) are not affected at all, but it’s definitely nothing too big that we’re worried about. To be honest, I haven’t seen anybody just not get what they wanted to,” he said, noting items like flat panel TVs are popular this year and that purchasing trends don’t appear to be out of the ordinary compared to past years.

Although the bulk of the holiday shopping season is still to come, thus far it appears Metro’s retail industry is still alive and well, and stores will continue to be busy right up until Christmas — another trend that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

“There are always last-minute shoppers and always people like myself who wait until the last minute to do their shopping and that will never change until the end of time, because people always wait,” Clerke said.