Last spring was apparently a popular time to buy a car or build something in Whatcom County.
Construction and auto sales were key drivers behind a big jump in retail sales during the second quarter, according to new data from the Washington State Department of Revenue. Whatcom County retail sales totaled slightly under $1.1 billion for the quarter, up 11.6 percent compared to the second quarter of 2016. It is the highest quarterly total ever recorded in Whatcom County.
Retail trade, which focuses on products sold in stores to consumers, totaled $471.8 million, up 9.1 percent compared to a year earlier.
Whatcom County’s new and used car dealers sold $79.7 million in cars and trucks in the second quarter, up a whopping 22.6 percent year-over-year. While a much smaller category, the $15.2 million in sales for recreation vehicles, boats and motorcycles was nearly double the $8.1 million total from a year earlier.
Sales related to construction projects totaled $217.5 million in the second quarter, up 27.7 percent compared to a year earlier.
The data indicates a solid local economy, said Guy Occhiogrosso, president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The big boost in car sales means local shoppers continue to pick up the slack during the slowdown in cross-border traffic because of the weaker Canadian dollar. And since cars and trucks are a big-ticket item, a jump in sales also indicates consumer confidence is strong, he said.
The local unemployment rate also dropped significantly in the first part of 2017, from 6.3 percent in January to 4.7 percent in May.
That kind of confidence could bode well for retailers during the holiday shopping season, Occhiogrosso said. The third and fourth quarters tend to have the highest overall sales totals of the year.
Other sales categories that did well in Whatcom County include garden supplies and retail building materials (up 12.6 percent) and electronics and appliances (up 10 percent). Big box store sales were nearly identical to the second quarter of 2016, according to Department of Revenue.
Local restaurants continued their steady increase in sales, rising 4.9 percent to $92.8 million for the second quarter.
Looking at the number by communities, Lynden had a strong second quarter, with total sales rising 36.7 percent to $84.6 million. Much of that increase came from sales related to construction. Ferndale was up 14 percent to $57.6 million, while Bellingham was below the county average, rising 9.4 percent to $684.5 million.
Whatcom’s retail sales also were much stronger than the state average. Retail sales in Washington rose 5 percent in the second quarter, while retail trade rose 4.9 percent.