Downtown merchants report that business seems to be up this year compared to a year ago, but no one feels like boom times are here.

Downtown merchants report that business seems to be up this year compared to a year ago, but no one feels like boom times are here.

"It's been busy, very busy," said Carlene Cutler, owner of DPS Antiques and Collectibles, in its 12th year of business downtown.

"We've had better years, but I think it's a little better than last year," Cutler said. "I know there are a lot of people that don't have work, but it is the holidays."

Tami Furlong, owner of Fundamentals parent-teacher store for 22 years, said her business is about the same as last year, and last year was strong.

"I carry educational toys and children's books, so December is always a good month," Furlong said. "I haven't really had time to sit down and run the numbers, but it seems about the same as last year.

"I think our business was above average the last few years. As people were re-evaluating their spending, I think they were looking for more quality and more educational things, and they did not cut kids out of their budget they way they may cut out presents for other people in the family."

Business seems down at The Hamburger Inn, according to manager Donna Rice, who has worked there 22 years.

"It's down," Rice said. "It's kind of hard for us to judge because (new owner) Bill (Michiliatis) just took over in March. Maybe on the whole things are better than last year. Our busy day will be Christmas Eve. It does seem like (orders for) pies are down. I have maybe close to 25 pie orders for Christmas, which I guess is about average, but there have been Thanksgivings where I've made 140 pies."

Michelle Runyon, a former accountant who has owned Chelley Belly's for about four years, said she felt the economic downturn last year, but since then things have improved.

"We notice just a small dip at the beginning of last year, then it went back up," Runyon said. "Now we're back to where we were last year.

"The prior years, when we were first in business, it increased each year, but we noticed when the (recession) hit. December is usually a really good month. We're losing college students (on Christmas break), but people have less time to cook at home when they're shopping, they're buying gift cards, and the hot drinks pick up."

Mel Corroto, owner of Beehive Books for the past three years, said business seems stronger this year.

"We were building over our first three years and then when the economy went down, we absolutely noticed that," Corroto said. "This year I do notice people spending a little bit more. It seems like they came in earlier, in November. It seems like people are wanting to spread out the expense. We're pretty pleased."

Ed Paxton, owner of Woodland Cigar Co., said business seems close to previous years, although taxes and fees have gone up, resulting in a higher dollar volume if not higher net profits.

"We're up about 7 percent, but I think the numbers are up because the taxes are up," Paxton said. "It inflates last year's prices a little bit. When all is said and done, we may show small increase in profits, but not much. It's hard to judge. On paper it looks a little better, but I'm still not putting money in my pocket."

One hit, Paxton said, was that state excise tax licensing fees jumped tenfold, from $100 annually to $1,000 annually.

All the merchants described downtown foot traffic as being pretty good.

"There seems to be a little more foot traffic," Paxton said. "You hear about parking every day. That's still a problem. The few merchants I talk to seem to be doing pretty well."

The Main Street Delaware First Fridays program has "helped our traffic quite a bit," Runyon said.

Downtown shoppers feel a commitment to downtown, Furlong said.

"I hear from an awful lot of people who are really trying to shop local, downtown in general," Furlong said. "I realize and they do, too, it's not always possible. But it's heartening to have such loyal customers."