It's expected to be a busy back-to-school shopping season across the U.S., and local stores are already noticing an uptick.
The National Retail Federation is forecasting a 14.1 percent increase in spending this year, with the average family with children in grades kindergarten through high school spending $688.62. Most of that will be spent on clothes and shoes, according to the survey.
A possible reason for the large jump, according to the survey, is that during the recession, families cut back on school spending. Even though the economy is still in recovery mode, those families need to replace items that they were making do with during the leanest times.
In Whatcom County, back-to-school shopping is especially strong because of Canadian visitors. Not only is the Canadian dollar strong, but the Harmonized Sales Tax is still in place in British Columbia. The HST increased the tax rate on a variety of categories, including school supplies. The HST is scheduled to be dropped by B.C. in April 2013, returning to a tax program similar to the previous system.
Back-to-school shopping began last week in some local stores, a few weeks ahead of schedule. Laura Lee Bosman, who operates the Bellingham and Lynden Little Red Wagon consignment clothing stores as well as Wild Blueberries children's store in Fairhaven, said school shopping activity usually gets going during the Northwest Washington Fair week in the middle of August.
"We have definitely seen activity pick up," said Bosman, who added that she recently added extra staff to handle the increased business. "It's also been a busier summer than in the past."
The Launching Success Learning Store also has experienced stronger than normal sales, said co-owner Dan Sanford. One of the trends noticed at the store is the increased sales in products that help students retain academic skills during the summer. In the coming weeks the store expects to see more teachers and parents coming in to prepare for the school year.
At Wee One Reruns, a children's consignment store on James Street, customers have already brought in clothing to sell and sales are already up compared to previous years, said Kathy McCrady, who operates the store.
"The cooler weather (this summer) probably has people thinking about the upcoming school year," said McCrady, adding that the store is adding about eight new accounts a day.
In terms of products, a few new trends are emerging this season. At Wild Blueberries, Bosman said lunch boxes that have reusable containers are popular.
"I think the (upcoming Bellingham) bag ban is on people's minds, and more seem to want to get away from the plastic sandwich bags," Bosman said.
At Kids Northwest in downtown Bellingham, co-owner Janet Hodgin said they've been adding to the children's shoe lines. This year more interest is in the waterproof, breathable shoes.
"Those kind of shoes are so practical to this climate," Hodgin said.
With the early start to shopping season, customers' attitudes also seem to have changed at some local stores. While shoppers remain on the lookout for good prices in this economic climate, they seem willing to go ahead with purchases if the quality is good or the clothes are very cute, Bosman said.
"The mood is much lighter than in years past," Bosman said. "People seem willing to spend a little more, particularly when it comes to consignment clothes."
Last week I wrote about construction starting on Marriott's Springhill Suites at 4040 Northwest Ave., near the West Bakerview Road intersection. After the article published I received more details on the hotel, which will have 122 rooms. It is expected to take about 13 months to complete, said Dan Baggen, an architect involved in the project. He said the second phase will involve about 80 more units, but that isn't expected to begin until after the completion of the first phase. He added that during construction, no traffic diversions are expected along Northwest Avenue.
Several local liquor license applications were recently submitted to the state. One application is for a specialty beer and wine shop, which includes the selling of growlers, at 2001 Iowa St. The proposed business name is Bellingham Beverage Express and the applicants are Mark, Dean, Joyce and Amy Shintaffer as well as Craig and Laurie Mullarky.
Applications also were submitted for two restaurants: Café 542, which is at 7466 Mount Baker Highway in Maple Falls, and Eagles Roost at 4973 Cottonwood Court in Birch Bay.
A tenant improvement permit was submitted to the city of Bellingham to renovate the former Mojo Music School of Music space at 2815 Meridian St. According to the permit, the renovation is for a new office and religious center.
An application also was submitted to put in a Pizzazza eatery in the new Yorky's gas station, which is being rebuilt at 2418 Alabama St.
Retail Tip Sheet runs each Sunday.
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at email@example.com or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamHeraldBiz.