Despite a weak Canadian dollar, retail sales remained relatively strong last spring in Whatcom County.
Whatcom County tallied $922.2 million in taxable retail sales in the second quarter, a 5.5 percent increase compared to a year earlier, according to the Washington State Department of Revenue. Retail trade, which focuses on sales in stores, totaled $431.8 million in the second quarter, a 2.2 percent increase compared to a year earlier.
While overall retail sales in Whatcom County rose by a healthy amount in the second quarter, the increase was below the state average of 9.4 percent. Statewide retail trade rose 8 percent.
$58.4 Amount in millions that car dealers brought in during the second quarter of 2015
A look at what was bought and where in the second quarter indicates local residents and increased visits from those south of Whatcom County factored into the year-over-year rise. New and used auto sales totaled $58.4 million in the second quarter, rising 8.3 percent. Big-box stores, a traditional shopping spot for Canadians when the loonie is strong, generated $89.9 million in sales in the second quarter, down 7.6 percent compared to a year earlier.
The Canadian dollar was between 78 and 83 cents compared to the U.S. dollar in the second quarter, down from 86 cents at the beginning of the year. The Canadian dollar is currently around 75 cents compared to the U.S. dollar.
During the second quarter 583,111 fewer people crossed southbound through the five border crossings into Whatcom County compared to the same time last year, according to data compiled by Western Washington University’s Border Policy Research Institute.
Along with increased spending by local residents, last spring local retailers noticed an uptick in the number of visitors from Skagit and Island counties as well as from the Seattle area, said Guy Occhiogrosso, president and CEO of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce. He said chamber members indicated that the visitors were looking for other shopping options.
In Bellingham the momentum of a strong spring slowed by the end of summer, said Brian Henshaw, the city finance director. The retail sales report for October (which looks at August sales) was the first month this year showing a year-over-over decline. Overall sales are up 3.9 percent through the October report. The best month for Bellingham in terms of sales growth was in June, he said, and included items that indicated residents were leading the way, such as auto sales and construction.
17.9% Increase in Lynden’s retail sales in the second quarter compared to a year earlier
Retail sales rose in six of the seven largest Whatcom County communities in the second quarter year over year, with Sumas dropping 12.5 percent. Lynden had the biggest percentage jump, rising 17.9 percent.
The complete report can be found on the Department of Revenue’s website.