COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Joah Winkler, 21, is shopping for just one person on his Christmas list this year: his secret Santa.

In Decembers’ past, he has purchased gifts for a longer list of people. This year, however, he has decided to cut back, as lower wages at a new job Downtown and the cost of “everything” climbing has made the season more stressful.

“I really want to buy presents for everybody, but I can only afford the secret Santa,” Winkler said.

In Ohio, holiday sales are forecasted to increase by 3.4%, according to a 2022 report by the Economics Center at the University of Cincinnati for the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants. That generally misses the national mark, where reports from Deloitte and the National Retail Federation place growth in the 4% to 8% range. 

More than half of statewide sales — from October through December — are likely to be in the metro Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati areas, according to the university’s report.

Black Friday did not feel like Black Friday this November at FERA, a newer denim and designer boutique on High Street in the Short North that opened during the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It just felt like a normal Saturday for me,” store manager Milly Pierson said. “Saturdays are always our busiest days.”

Traffic was in and out but not crazed — and even before Black Friday, business has been slow, Pierson said. “I think people were holding off for sales and all of that.”  

Mariah Douglas, 27, took advantage of Black Friday deals, so she has finished a lot of her gift-getting already. The Ohio State University alumna moved to New York City in August, and she said while she has not cut back this year, she is working harder to find those sales on what she gets for family and friends.

Continued holiday sales growth across the country, according to both the university’s report and national reports, may be “muted” compared to the 2021 holiday shopping season. 

Brad Evans, the director of research at the Economics Center, told NBC4 in an earlier interview that economic headwinds — including inflation and concerns of a recession — are one factor driving that.  

In the Midwest, between October 2021 and October 2022, inflationary growth was 7.4%, according to the report. Inflationary growth was 6.6% in the previous year-over-year period.

Inflation is still pinching some Midwestern pocketbooks and has risen at a higher rate in the region than others in the country. 

For Sophie Richard, the pinch came with a move to Columbus, after living in different parts of New England and most recently New York City. Richard started her master’s degree at Ohio State University in August and she is also in the process of planning a wedding, so she has had to rethink Christmas this year for a number of reasons.

“On a grad student budget, I have to be a little bit more frugal, and a little bit more creative,” Richard said.