It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Only storefront Santas this year are likely to be leaner and their bags less full.
Retailers are reeling from a recession that, like a bad cold, looks like it could get worse before it gets better.
At Thinker Things toy store in Flower Hill Promenade, they have felt the trickle down: November was a very off month, according to owner John Naisbitt.
"You do the best you can do, I don't have the answer for it," Naisbitt said. "The kids in our area I'm sure will have a great Christmas but sales will not be what they were in past years. These are times that almost all of us have never been through."
He estimates sales were down about 30 percent from November of last year, which usually marks the beginning of his store's holiday push.
Thinker Things' holiday sales in November and December make up more than 25 percent of their year, he said.
They have tried to help pull in customers with their annual holiday catalog and by making improvements to their Web site, but at this point, Naisbitt said, all they can do is hope.
A late start
Brian Miller, owner of six Geppetto's traditional toy stores including one in Del Mar Highlands center, acknowledged there are some real challenges to success this shopping season.
"I'm optimistic for a good season," he said, "but it's going to be a little bit strange because Thanksgiving comes so late in November this year. There's actually one week less of shopping - that doesn't help."
Noting November this year was a little soft in sales for his stores, Miller said he believes customers will eventually come around for Christmas, though whether they'll be shaving their budgets to make ends meet is uncertain.
Despite worries, some retailers are saying it's going to be business as usual - with a little more emphasis on customer service.
"We're not slowing down, we're moving forward keeping the store fresh," said Barb Forest, owner of Cedros Soles in Cedros Avenue Design District. "We're not changing our mode, we still have the latest and newest things."
Forest said she might order a little less than usual.
"We're trying to stay positive and rely on customer service, which is always important no matter what the situation," she said.
Forest said she is fortunate to have steady patronage throughout the year and is not relying on the holidays to make up for other months.
Debbie Beran, owner of Beran's Estate and Fine Jewelry in the Rancho Santa Fe Village, said she does not have any expectations for this holiday season. Instead, she is focusing on providing a positive, upbeat atmosphere, which she calls the "Beran's stimulus package."
The jewelry store will continue providing free cleanings and prong checks, and beginning in December, free hand waxing for women while they wait.
"Everyone can come have a smile, a laugh and free service," she said. "The Internet can't compete with good service."
Beran said no matter how the shopping season turns out, she will keep plugging along and is optimistic that when the markets correct, customers will remember her efforts to make the season brighter.
She encouraged residents to support local businesses, not just in the Ranch but also in neighboring communities such as Del Mar and Solana Beach.
"If everybody did that, it could make their season," Beran said.
A tip for the cost-conscious this season?
"There's a small-ticket item, scented holiday pencils, that are flying off the shelves that go for $7 for a pack of five," Geppetto's Miller said.