‘Our retail strength is increasing’

Published 12:47 pm Saturday, March 13, 2010

Despite a string of businesses closing recently, Austin’s retail numbers appear to be holding steady.

“Despite the tough economy, our retail strength is increasing,” said Austin Area Chamber Director Sandy Forstner.

Despite the lowest retail sales numbers since February of 2009, the $20 million in gross taxable retail sales in January was the highest January total since the city began the Local Option Sales Tax in April of 2007. January gross taxable retail sales in January of 2008 were about $16.3 million, and the total climbed to $18.7 million last year.

Forstner said the January’s retail totals of $20 million were a little higher than expected, even though retail sales decreased from December’s $22 million. Forstner noted some retail months are stronger than others. January is traditionally a slower retail month following the holiday season.

Forstner said the local retail sales have shown consistent increases, which he attributed additional retail variety in the city.

The chamber’s Buy Mower/Grow Mower was part of the reason for the increase, Forstner said.

“I think people are more aware of why it’s important to shop locally, and it’s showing up in these numbers,” Forstner said.

The program has helped prevent “retail leakage” and keep people’s money in the community, Forstner said. Money spent in the community tends to cycle back through the community through jobs and charitable causes, he said.

The Buy Mower/Grow Mower program isn’t the only cause of strong retail sales, as Forstner said newer businesses like Walmart also contribute to the increase.

Austin retail news wasn’t all positive, as another business along 18th Avenue Northwest recently announced it is closing. Christpher & Banks, located in Oak Park Mall, joined Kmart and Hollywood video on the list of businesses slated to close.

“Anytime we lose a business, it hurts,” Forstner said.

While overall retails sales have been strong, Forstner said that increase isn’t evenly spread to all the businesses in the community.