It turned out to be a record-breaking holiday shopping season for Whatcom County retailers.
Whatcom County had $891.5 million in taxable retail sales in the final three months of 2012, the most ever in one quarter, according to new data from the Washington State Department of Revenue.
That figure surpassed the previous mark of $873.4 million, set in the fourth quarter of 2007.
The 7.7 percent increase over the previous fourth quarter was significant, better than the state average increase of 5.6 percent. Altogether, Washington state brought in $29.5 billion in taxable retail sales in the fourth quarter of 2012.
Retail trade, which focuses on sales that took place in stores, totaled $460.9 million in Whatcom County, also the highest local total in a single quarter.
Canadian shoppers appear to be continuing to drive the increase in sales, even as the Canadian dollar has remained around parity for several years.
The economy in British Columbia's lower mainland has remained vibrant despite some concerns of a housing market bubble and uncertainty with upcoming elections, said Ken Oplinger, president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
While he expects local retail sales growth to slow in the first quarter of 2013, over the longer term Oplinger remains bullish about further growth in retail sales.
"Looking at the overall economy in Canada, it's hard to make the case that this (increased Canadian shopping) won't continue for the foreseeable future," he said.
Retail trade growth continued to be strong in the northern Whatcom communities of Blaine and Sumas. Those communities are seeing significant growth in e-commerce and mail order sales as Canadians take advantage of better prices by having items sent to U.S. mailboxes for pickup, Oplinger said.
In Whatcom County, the general merchandise category, which is typically big-box stores, continues to grow. In the fourth quarter of 2012 those stores totaled $132.4 million, up 5.6 percent from the previous year.
Other retail sectors posting large gains include furniture (up 22 percent), clothing and accessories (up 13.9 percent) and autos/auto parts (up 8.9 percent).
RETAIL SALES BY COMMUNITY
A look at how selected communities fared in overall retail sales and retail trade (sales that took place in stores) in the fourth quarter of 2012, and the percent change from the fourth quarter of 2011:
Whatcom County: $891.5 million, up 7.7 percent. Retail trade: $460.9 million, up 7.1 percent.
Bellingham: $593.8 million, up 8 percent. Retail trade: $359.2 million, up 5.9 percent.
Blaine: $36.5 million, up 12.4 percent. Retail trade: $16.1 million, up 28.2 percent.
Everson: $5.3 million, down 6.1 percent. Retail trade: $2.1 million, down 5.6 percent.
Ferndale: $43.9 million, up 1.1 percent. Retail trade: $18.8 million, up 23.4 percent.
Lynden: $50.4 million, up 3.2 percent. Retail trade: $22.1 million, up 2.4 percent.
Nooksack: $1.7 million, up 1.4 percent. Retail trade: $828,479, up 2.9 percent.
Sumas: $7.6 million, up 46 percent. Retail trade: $4.2 million, up 46.1 percent.
Unincorporated Whatcom County: $152.4 million, up 8.2 percent. Retail trade: $37.6 million, up 4.5 percent.
SOURCE: WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE
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