Retail sales rebound in Rock County
Sales in the first six months of 2011 were 7.1 percent ahead of those posted for the same period in 2011, according to the state Department of Revenue.
And they’re nearly on par with those reported for the first six months of 2008, when the county joined the state and nation in slipping into a spending pattern hampered by the Great Recession.
There’s no doubt retail sales have improved. That data is readily available from the revenue department, which collects state and local sales taxes on goods and services sold.
What’s more difficult to determine, however, is what fueled the increase because the state department does not break down sales taxes collected by specific sectors of the economy.
Local economic officials believe the increase could be attributable to troubles in the local housing market. Homeowners are having trouble selling their homes, and more are choosing to invest in their existing homes.
In addition, permits for new home construction have tanked while the number of permits for significant alterations or additions to Janesville homes is running significantly higher than previous years.
Without any hard data to back him up, Forward Janesville President John Beckord suggested that high-ticket items such as appliances, carpet and everything else that goes into home improvement could be a driver.
“I’m wondering out loud if people are spending more to improve their homes rather than buy or build,” he said.
Davie Riemer, managing partner of Harris Ace Hardware stores in Janesville, Beloit and Monroe, said his stores have done well in the first six months of the year.
“So much of our business is dependent on the weather, and the year started great,” Riemer said. “But we had a really bad April and gave back almost everything we’d made.
“Then May and June were both up over last year.”
Riemer said he’s seen evidence that the home improvement market has strengthened. The builders, plumbers and other contractors that are regular customers are doing more and more remodeling.
So, too, he said, are the do-it-yourselfers.
“Maybe after a couple of years, people are adapting and saying that this is the way the economy is, it’s not going to get any worse, and they’re starting to loosen up the pocketbooks a little,” he said.
Menards in Janesville also is experiencing strong sales, said Jeff Tucholke, the store’s general manager.
“We’ve noticed that all kinds of projects seem to be popular, but our guests seem particularly interested in fixing up their homes whether it’s painting a room, adding a deck, updating windows, adding a new door, replacing their roof or turning their yard into more of an outdoor living space,” he said.
While it hasn’t released data for June, the U.S. Census Bureau has estimated that retail and food services sales for June will be 8.1 percent ahead of those for June 2010. It also estimates that total sales for the second quarter of 2011 will be 7.7 percent better than the same period a year ago.
Sales gains are expected from gas stations and non-store retailers—businesses that sell goods or services without conventional store-based locations.
Increases are also expected from car dealers and sellers of building materials and garden supplies.
Declines are expected from electronics and appliance stores, while sales by department and home furnishings stores are expected to be static.