Autos drive boost in local retail sales

Clark County merchants tally $1.1 billion in second quarter, state reports

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 

Clark County 2Q activity subject to sales tax

2012 — $1.1 billion

2011 — $1 billion

2010 — $987 million

2009 — $966 million

2008 — $1.2 billion

SOURCE: Washington

Department of Revenue

Another round of strong auto sales helped boost Clark County's retail sector once again in the second quarter, according to a state report issued Friday.

But sales rose more modestly in categories such as general merchandise, restaurants and new construction, a sign that local consumers are still struggling with unemployment, stagnant wages and upside-down mortgages. Some say the small gains signal economic recovery. Others say county shoppers still are not spending enough to lift sales growth above the small year-over-year increases of the past two years.

"Basically, compared to last year, the second quarter was pretty flat," said Mary Sisson, co-owner of Vancouver toy store Kazoodles.

The Washington State Department of Revenue reported that Clark County's total taxable retail sales reached nearly $1.1 billion in the second quarter of 2012 and store-only retail sales totaled $505 million during that same period. New and used motor vehicle and parts sales turned in the highest year-over-year increases, reaching $99.8 million in the second quarter, up 21.4 percent from $82.2 million during the same three months last year.

The numbers reflect car buyers who took advantage of declining interest rates to replace worn-out vehicles with models that are safer and more fuel efficient, said Jon Creedon, owner of the Vancouver Auto Group dealership, which includes Vancouver Ford, Hyundai and Suzuki off state Highway 500 and Andresen Road.

"People were saying, 'This thing is nickle and dime-ing me and it doesn't even have an air bag,'" he said. "They decide they can actually save money and avoid costly repairs."

Meanwhile, car dealers this year find themselves in the eye of the perfect storm, said Greg Leonard, general manager and co-owner of Vancouver Toyota Scion & RV Center, on the northwest quadrant of Interstate 205 and state Highway 500.

He said several factors fuel the trend. First, the supply of new vehicles shrank when car manufacturers pulled back on production from mid-2007 to mid-2011. But now demand is rising to replace the older — in some cases more than 11 years — models.

"The recipe is an increase in consumer demand and low-interest financing," Leonard said. "We've seen that across the board."

But stores that sell furniture, clothing, shoes and household items saw just so-so sales, according to the state report, which showed sales at general merchandise stores rose by 2.4 percent in the second quarter.

Sisson expects her toy store's sales to gradually improve with the approaching holiday shopping season.

She said her customers with school-aged children say they've been feeling squeezed by costs this year.

"It was not just the price of the school clothes, but all the supplies they had to buy," she said. "And the school fees have gone up for different activities."

Building improves

Retail sales for heavy construction increased by 37 percent in the three months ending in June, compared with the same period last year. Major second-quarter Clark County projects included state road projects on Interstate 205, state Highway 14 and state Highway 500. Also in the mix, Vancouver's $44 million project to restore public access to the Columbia River waterfront west of the Interstate 5 Bridge.

Retail sales for the construction of new buildings — houses and commercial buildings — increased by 3 percent in the second quarter, rising to $69.4 million, as local contractors started returning to work.

Statewide, taxable retail sales increased 4.7 percent to $26.8 billion during the second quarter of 2012, compared with the same period last year, the revenue department reported. Store-only retail trade statewide increased 5.3 percent to $12.3 billion during the same period.