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Whatcom retail sales hit all-time high in third quarter

A nearly completed building at Affinity at Bellingham, an over-55 community off Telegraph Road, is shown Tuesday, Feb. 9, in Bellingham, Wash. A construction boom helped push retail sales in Whatcom County to a record high in the third quarter of 2015.
A nearly completed building at Affinity at Bellingham, an over-55 community off Telegraph Road, is shown Tuesday, Feb. 9, in Bellingham, Wash. A construction boom helped push retail sales in Whatcom County to a record high in the third quarter of 2015. eabell@bhamherald.com

Led by a jump in construction projects, Whatcom County posted its highest-ever total in retail sales during the third quarter of 2015.

Retail sales were $994.3 million between July and September last year, a 5.8 percent increase compared to a year ago, according to new data from the Washington State Department of Revenue. The previous high sales total was the third quarter of 2014, at $939.3 million.

The boost in sales didn’t come from shoppers in stores, however. Retail trade, which focuses on store sales, totaled $431 million, down 4.8 percent compared to the third quarter of 2014. The general merchandise category, which focuses on big-box stores, totaled $90.8 million, down 17.6 percent compared to a year earlier.

A big portion of the boost came from retail sales related to construction projects. That category totaled $198.6 million, up 34 percent from a year ago. Quite a few large, visible construction projects were underway last summer and fall, such as the remodel of Western Washington University’s Carver Gym, said Hart Hodges, director at Western’s Center for Economic and Business Research.

“So construction is not only offsetting the weaker Canadian dollar, it's also pushing up spending in the face of falling gasoline prices and low inflation,” Hodges said.

The Canadian dollar was in the 75-cent range compared to the U.S. dollar in the third quarter, a time when Canadian traffic into Whatcom County was slowing significantly.

In that three-month period, 3,882,284 people crossed southbound through the five Whatcom County border crossings, down nearly 830,000 people compared to a year earlier.

One community receiving a big boost in retail sales through construction projects was Lynden. Overall retail sales totaled $85.8 million for the third quarter in that city, with $34.4 million coming in the construction category. During that quarter, several projects were taking place, including the 330,000-square-foot Preferred Freezer Services warehouse.

Along the border, Blaine (down 6.7 percent) and Sumas (down 12.7 percent) posted decreases in both retail trade and overall retail sales.

Retail sales numbers for the holiday shopping season are expected to be released in the spring.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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