Florida retail brisk in September as state surpasses national average
By Jaime Levy
Although national reports show stalling retail purchases in the wake of September's terrorist attacks, Florida merchants report sales slightly above those for the same period last year.
According to TeleCheck Services a Houston-based check acceptance company that publishes monthly figures based on dollar volumes of check payments at 27,000 stores nationally Florida retailers in September had a 3.3% increase in business compared to last year, surpassing the national average of a 0.9% gain in the month.
Miami-Fort Lauderdale numbers came in 2.5% higher than they were a year ago an increase that a TeleCheck spokesman described as "reasonably good."
Miami's "local economy is doing better than other areas," said Bill Ford, senior economic adviser to TeleCheck and former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. "Not bad, considering what happened."
At Dolphin Mall, General Manager Al Messer said, the week of Sept. 11 was actually good for sales. With travelers stranded until commercial flights resumed after a ban prompted by the attacks, he said, mall shuttles from area hotels made it easy for would-be flight passengers to become shoppers.
But, after that, Mr. Messer said, sales were flat.
"For the three weeks after that, there was a major drop," he said. "It probably dropped in half. Last week, we were right back up to where we were before Sept. 11.
"All it means to me is, thank goodness we're getting back. How long will this continue? I don't know. But I'm feeling a lot better about things."
When sales dropped 30% soon after the attacks, said City Furniture Vice President Keith Koenig, he braced for bad news. But a strong Labor Day weekend before the attacks and a recovery in the last week of September resulted in a smaller monthly decrease than expected
"We have fared better than I expected," Mr. Koenig said. "I was expecting a bigger net effect than a 2% sales decline for the month of September, that's for sure."
Mr. Koenig said his Sunrise-based furniture chain would open its 13th South Florida store this month.
"Every big ticket retail cars, electronics, furniture, home improvement items and purchases that could be postponed was noticeably affected the week of Sept. 11 and the week after.
"The American consumer is very resilient," Mr. Koenig said. "They need to buy cars. They need to buy furniture. They need to buy electronics."
Paul Rothenberg, vice president of communications for the Florida Retailers Federation, said a general economic slowdown had affected the retail industry before Sept. 11.
Since then, he said, retailers may be seeing changes in consumer buying habits.
"People have turned to purchasing other things," Mr. Rothenberg said. "They've gone away from frivolous things and turned to necessities. People are putting off buying the big new TV and stereo system, the very expensive dress or suit."
Although TeleCheck's numbers found the Miami-Fort Lauderdale and Orlando areas had two of the nation's strongest Septembers, Mr. Rothenberg said anecdotal evidence showed tourist hot spots now are seeing retail sales cooling.
"The retail industry is not entirely dependent on tourism, although it's a good partnership," he said. "We have a huge amount of tourists and those people do buy things. When there's a drop in the market, retailers certainly do feel a pinch."
Sunrise-based Mayor's Jewelers held an inventory sale at its Dadeland store over the weekend that spokesperson Sydnei Warren said brought in $2 million, making it the location's highest-volume weekend in history.
"It's very hard after such a tragedy to focus on business as usual," Ms. Warren said. "However, we're fortunate enough because people still come into our stores to celebrate things.
"They're still going to have birthdays," she said. "They're still going to have anniversaries. Some of them, given the economic downturn, are celebrating on a lower scale, but some are celebrating on a larger scale.
"There are some whose financial future is a little uncertain. They may do a slightly less expensive gift," Ms. Warren said. "Then other people say, the future's uncertain. I've always wanted this. I'm going to buy it."