Despite a drop in cross-border traffic, Whatcom County retailers were able to post strong sales in the first three months of 2015.
Overall retail sales totaled $795.2 million in the first quarter of this year, a 5.3 percent increase compared to the same period in 2014, according to new data from the Washington State Department of Revenue. Retail trade, which focuses on sales inside stores, hit $376.8 million in the first quarter, up 3.3 percent compared to a year earlier.
This came during a period when Canadian traffic into Whatcom County slowed as the loonie dropped from 86 cents compared to the U.S. dollar in January to 79 cents by the end of March. During the first quarter about 418,000 fewer people crossed the border southbound into Whatcom compared to a year earlier.
One of the few categories where sales were down was in general merchandise, which focuses on big-box stores. Sales in that category totaled $79.2 million, down 8.3 percent compared to a year earlier. Big-box stores in Bellingham were a popular place for cross-border shoppers when the Canadian dollar was stronger. The decline in big-box sales has coincided with the weakening loonie.
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First quarter sales were up significantly in categories more frequented by local shoppers, including building materials (up 16.9 percent year over year), electronics (up 10.5 percent), furniture (up 9.2 percent) and auto sales/parts (up 8.9 percent).
Sales at restaurants also were strong, rising 5.5 percent to $77.7 million.
Stronger retail sales despite a weakening Canadian dollar is a trend also noticed by the city of Bellingham. In a recent Bellingham Herald article about Canadian traffic, city Finance Director Brian Henshaw noted that sales in Bellingham were up through May, with general merchandise being one of the few major categories in decline. Overall retail sales in Bellingham totaled $527.7 million in the first quarter, up 6.5 percent compared to a year earlier.
Overall retail sales also were up in nearly all of the communities outside of Bellingham. Lynden had the biggest jump, rising 11.6 percent year over year to $52.1 million. Ferndale was the only Whatcom County community to experience a decline in sales, falling less than 1 percent.
Reach Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.