Clark County consumers dug deeper into their wallets to remodel houses, buy new cars and repair their existing vehicles in the last three months of 2010, according to a state report issued Wednesday.
The sales boost was especially beneficial to local contractors, sellers of building materials and automobile dealerships, three categories that contributed to the county’s overall 6.5 percent increase in October-to-December retail sales last year. Clark County’s retail sales totaled $1.1 billion, compared with $1 billion in sales for the same three-month period in 2009, according to the Washington Department of Revenue.
For the entire year, taxable retail sales in Clark County increased by 3.6 percent to $1.9 billion, much better than the statewide 0.1 percent decline to $100.8 billion in 2010.
In Clark County, homebuilders and car sellers said their increase in sales stemmed from the pent-up demand of residents who could no longer put off home and vehicle maintenance.
“You can only nurse ‘Old Betsy’ along for so long, and then the car either needs to be replaced or repaired,” said Jon Creedon, owner of the Vancouver Ford dealership, off state Highway 500 and Andresen Road.
In the fourth quarter, Clark County sales of new and used autos increased by $10.4 million (24.2 percent). Sales of building materials increased to $3.3 million, or 8.2 percent, likely reflecting a surge in home-remodeling projects, said Mike Kinnaman, a contractor and owner of Designers Northwest Inc., a Vancouver-based remodeling business.
“What you’re looking at is mainly the upswing in the market,” said Kinnaman, president of the 700-member Building Industry Association of Clark County.
Despite the increase in remodeling, local homebuilders saw fewer new housing starts in the fourth quarter, as measured by building permits issued for unincorporated Clark County. Overall homebuilding activity decreased 42 percent in October through December, a three-month period that generated 76 building permits for single-family houses, down from 131 permits handed out in the fourth quarter of 2009, the county’s Community Development Department reported Wednesday.
Other builders said the sales increase in building materials could be due to rising prices.
“I just got notice from my (subcontractor) that drywall is going up and the concrete supplier is raising the price in July,” said Tracy Doriot, a homebuilder and owner of Doriot Construction.
Still, Clark County’s specialty trade contractors — companies that pour concrete, frame buildings and lay bricks, among other construction specialties — saw a 14 percent increase in year-over-year sales, which reached $255.2 million in 2010.
Meanwhile, department store sales in Clark County suffered a 0.3 percent decline to $144.8 million in 2010, while sales at general merchandise stores inched up just 1.6 percent higher to $398 million in 2010.
Creedon said automobile sales at Vancouver Ford have continued to improve through the first three months of 2011.