It turns out 2013 was a good year for Whatcom County car dealers, and they may see further growth in 2014.
Last year local car dealers sold 4,011 new cars, a 9.7 percent increase compared to 2012, according to data from the Dominion Cross-sell Report, which gets its information from the Washington State Department of Licensing.
Last year's sales are a 27.7 percent increase from 2011.
Wilson Motors was tops in Whatcom County last year, selling 794 new vehicles, according to the report. Wilson Motors was followed by Northwest Honda (483 new vehicles), Dewey Griffin (464 new vehicles) and Rairdon's of Bellingham (427 new vehicles).
Sales still are not back to the pre-recession years, but they're close, which comes as a relief to dealers. The car industry, along with construction, was one of the hardest-hit sectors during the recession.
"This is the first year in a while where the fun factor outweighed the stress factor," said Julian Greening, co-owner of Wilson Motors in Bellingham. Wilson Motors sells Toyotas and Mercedes-Benz.
The local increase is in line with the national trend. According to a recent Bloomberg News article, 15.6 million vehicles were sold in the U.S. last year, a 7.6 percent increase from 2012. It was the highest volume of vehicles sold since 2007.
One interesting trend that shows up in the sales numbers is people tend to shop for the season, just like they do for clothes. During the winter months, for example, all-wheel drive vehicles like the Subaru Outback and Toyota Rav4 topped the top model list, while the fuel-efficient cars and pickup trucks were popular during the spring and summer months.
Greening said the momentum of 2013 has carried over into the first few weeks of January. He's expecting 2014 to be a growth year.
"I think we'll get back to pre-recession volume in 2014," he said.
He has several reasons for being optimistic. Interest rates remain low and are expected to stay at this level throughout the year before rising in 2015. Also, consumer confidence is up, and there is pent-up demand because people have been holding onto their cars longer.
Greening said the company also is doing well with its Nissan dealership, which Wilson Motors purchased in 2013.
"We've seen some great growth in that market while getting to know that product line," Greening said.
-- A business called Third Planet opened a store at 200 W. Holly St. on Friday, Jan. 24, in the former Digs space. According to the company's Third Planet Bellingham Facebook page, the business has stores in Kansas, serving the counterculture for more than 20 years. It will have a variety of products, including smoking accessories, clothing, jewelry and incense.
-- An interesting "coming soon" sign is up at the old Fountain Galleria building on Meridian Street, near Cascade Pizza. The company is called Bikesport and has a store in Seattle, offering bicycles, cycling accessories and clothes.
-- The retailer Fuego closed its Bellis Fair store but has several permanent locations in the Seattle area.
-- The new H&M clothing store is going into the former Big 5 space, according to a building permit application. The remodel for the 19,000-square-foot space will include a new storefront on the outside at the entrance near Macy's.
-- A permit was issued for a remodel of a building to put in a retail pharmacy at 300 E. Sunset Drive.
-- A permit was issued to install retaining walls for the new Oxford Suites hotel at 4051 Meridian St., near Barnes & Noble.
-- A liquor license application was filed to put in a restaurant called Tadeos Northwest at 3040 Northwest Ave., across from Yeager's Sporting Goods. The applicants are Horacio and Maria Avila, who also operate the Tadeos restaurant in downtown Bellingham.
-- A liquor license application was filed to serve beer and wine at the Pho & Bubble Tea restaurant at 4492 Meridian St. Applicants are Theresa Lee and Thia Nguyen.
Retail Tip Sheet runs each Sunday.