Area sales still slipping

shortpumppromoLocal spending is still in the doldrums, down about 6.4% in the first quarter compared with the same time a year ago. But some sectors of the consumer economy are seeing a sales increase, and a few others are showing signs of improvement.

Sales at metro area businesses equaled $2.6 billion during the first quarter, according to a BizSense analysis of taxable sales receipts submitted to the Virginia Department of Taxation for Richmond, Henrico, and Chesterfield.

That is a decrease of $177 million from the same time period in 2008.

Suppliers of building material and garden equipment are among the hardest hit, with sales off by 20 percent. Those dealers raked in $101.7 million, about $26 million less than they did a year ago.

Electronics and appliance dealers, furniture shops, and clothing stores endured year-to-year sales decreases between 20 and 24 percent. But for those retailers there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Sales for electronics, and to a lesser degree clothing, have increased from the fourth quarter. Electronics and appliance sales grew by $15 million, a 29 percent increase. Clothing sales appear to be improving, up 1.82 percent from the fourth quarter.

Hobby and entertainment stores increased sales 26.5 percent from the fourth quarter, earning $61.6 million. That is still down 13 percent from a year ago.

The only business categories posting both quarterly and year over year increases are general merchandise stores, grocery stores and health and personal care stores.

General merchandise stores, which include big-boxes like Wal-Mart and Target, reported $450.1 million in first quarter sales. That is up a full $51 million from the fourth quarter. Compared to last year, the number is a 4.8 percent increases.

Health and personal care stores, which include everything from medical supplies to cosmetics, are up 20.6 percent from the fourth quarter and 11 percent from a year ago.

Food and beverage stores earned $417.2 million in the first quarter; up 8 percent from the previous quarter and 4.5 percent from a year ago.

As more people spend food dollars at the grocery store, they aren’t spending as much eating out. Restaurant and bar sales basically flat, up one percent from the previous quarter and down 1.6 percent from a year ago. Food service receipts totaled $277 million in the first quarter.

Al Harris is a BizSense reporter. Please send news tips to [email protected]

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