Business

Thurston County retail sales dip

Year-over-year taxable retail sales in Thurston County fell nearly 9 percent in the third quarter of 2009, the seventh consecutive quarter in which businesses and consumers cut back on their spending, according to state Department of Revenue data released Thursday.

Most notable in the year-over-year third-quarter period was a 15 percent drop in overall taxable retail sales in Lacey, a city known more for its recent growth than reduced consumer spending. Especially notable was the loss of sales generated by construction, which fell 53.2 percent to $31 million in the third quarter of 2009 from $66.3 million in the third quarter of 2008, the data show. The percentage of decline in construction sales in Lacey was nearly twice the decline that the state experienced, Revenue spokesman Mike Gowrylow said.

Statewide taxable retail sales fell 11.6 percent from the previous year in the third quarter, the third-largest decline on record. The retail sales numbers are expected to show improvement in the final quarter of 2009, Chief Economist Arun Raha said Thursday. Raha said retail sales figures in the state are forecast to be down only 2 percent on a year-over-year basis in the fourth quarter of 2009.

“It’s the first evidence in a long time that consumers are opening up their wallets,” he said about the recently completed quarter and its holiday shopping season. “Now, of course, it has to be sustained and that’s what I worry about.”

Helping to sustain that spending will be job growth and a decline in the unemployment rate. If the state gets both, the uptick in spending will be sustained, Raha said.

“If not, all bets are off,” he said.

In Thurston County and its four largest cities, the overall year-over-year taxable retail sales data show:

Thurston County: Fell 8.95 percent to $968.7 million from $1.06 billion

Olympia: Fell 2.68 percent to $435.3 million from $447.2 million

Lacey: Fell 15.29 percent to $238.8 million from $281.9 million

Tumwater: Fell 5.44 percent to $109.2 million from $115.5 million

Yelm: Fell 17.29 percent to $35.7 million from $43.2 million

The state also reports a separate category of retail sales called retail trade, a category that better reflects consumers purchases, according to the state. That information shows:

Thurston County: Fell 4.60 percent to $476.5 million from $499.5 million

Olympia: Fell 6.79 percent to $216.2 million from $231.9 million

Lacey: Fell 2.14 percent to $143.1 million from $146.3 million

Tumwater: Fell 4.45 percent to $52.7 million from $55.1 million

Yelm: Fell 1.40 percent to $21.3 million from $21.6 million

Still, there were a few silver linings in the third-quarter data.

In Olympia, home of the Olympia Auto Mall, retail sales generated by sales of new and used vehicles increased 2.8 percent to $64.8 million from $63 million. In Lacey, hit hard by the slower construction market, retail sales at food-service and drinking establishments rose 0.2 percent in the period, while the state was down 3 percent in that category. And in Tumwater, retail sales generated by general merchandise stores rose 1.3 percent to $28.1 million from $27.8 million.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403

rboone@theolympian.com

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