But for some stores, 2010 was still a happy holiday.
It was a good holiday season for Designs by Rosa on Wabash.
The store had its usual assortment of holiday gifts and flowers, but this year the owner was much more precise about items she stocked for the store.
"I know that people will spend a little bit but they're not gonna go all out so I'm not gonna go all out," said owner Rosa Yamada.
Yamada was careful because the last two years, holiday shopping slowed with the recession. This year, she was prepared for cautious shoppers.
"Definitely cautious. They were like, 'No, I could get this but I don't need that,' so they would leave things behind," she said.
Shopping the week of Christmas was down nationwide according to ShopperTrak -- snow storms in the east and one fewer Saturday in the month contributed to less spending.
The holiday shopping season showed improvements since last year, however.
ShopperTrak estimates that the season will yield a 4 percent increase for retailers.
"It's not the best Christmas ever but it is a change in what we've seen in the last two years and its kind of exciting for retailers," said Bill Martin with ShopperTrak.
One reason for the improvement is that store owners are being smarter with their inventory, like Yamada. As a result of retailers improving in their inventory science, consumers will see a shift.
"Going into the spring, you're not going to see as many sales just because retailers have gotten smarter and don't have that over, excess inventory of merchandise that they need to discount," said Arturo Angel with Leo J. Shapiro & Associates.
Yamada says she underestimated the popularity of a few things, but that vendors were eager to fill a quick order and got it to her before Christmas.
Vendors becoming more flexible allows stores to be conservative with initial orders.