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Whatcom County retail sales slow down in first quarter of 2014

Whatcom County retail sales slowed in the first three months of 2014, with a sluggish economy, a weaker Canadian dollar and the weather likely factors.

Overall sales in Whatcom County totaled $754.9 million in the first quarter, down less than 1 percent compared to the same period in 2013, according to a new report from the Washington State Department of Revenue. Retail trade, which focuses on items sold in stores, totaled $364.6 million in the first quarter, down 2.4 percent compared to a year earlier.

During that three-month period the Canadian dollar dropped significantly, from 94 cents compared to the U.S. dollar to 88 cents. While that probably played a small role in Whatcom retail sales, a bigger factor likely was the overall economy not doing as well, said Hart Hodges, director at Western Washington University's Center for Economic and Business Research. Weather also may have been a factor, with a couple February weekends having snow or ice on local roads.

As a group, big-box stores posted a significant slowdown. The general merchandise store category totaled $86.4 million in the first quarter, down 12.1 percent compared to a year earlier. Sales of clothing were down 15.9 percent for the same period.

Whatcom County had some growth in certain categories. New and used car dealers posted strong growth, rising 11.7 percent. E-commerce also did well, posting a 12.2 percent year-over-year increase.

Hodges expects that the second-quarter numbers bounce back a bit but not enough to make it a strong first half of the year.

Washington state posted a 4.9 percent rise in overall retail sales, led by strong growth in King County, which posted a 6.6 percent increase.

Skagit County was up 2.2 percent, to $517.8 million in overall sales.

RETAIL SALES BY COMMUNITY

A look at how selected communities fared in overall retail sales and retail trade in the first quarter of 2014, and the percent change from the first quarter of 2013:





CommunityRetail salesChangeRetail tradeChange
Whatcom County$754.9 MDown 0.3%$364.6 MDown 2.4%
Bellingham$495.3 MDown 1.3%$275.3 MDown 3.5%
Blaine$29.9 MUp 4.4%$12 MDown 4.1%
Everson$5.3 MUp 8%$1.8 MUp 4.1%
Ferndale$41.6 MUp 11.2%$14.3 MUp 0.1%
Lynden$46.7 MUp 2.9%$19 MDown 1.4%
Nooksack$1.8 MUp 11.7%$842,694Up 6.1%
Sumas$5.9 MUp 5.7%$3.3 MDown 3.2%
Unincorporated$128.5 MDown 2.4%$38 Mup 4.6%
SOURCE: Washington Department of Revenue
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