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Area retail sales report reflects tough 4th quarter for region

March 12th, 2014 9:28 pm by Tony Casey

Area retail sales report reflects tough 4th quarter for region

Illustration compiled by Mike Murphy/Johnson City Press

There’s no way to sugarcoat a Tri-Cities Retail Sales Report put out Wednesday by East Tennessee State University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

The results were anything but sweet for the report, which had figures from the last quarter of 2013, including the holiday shopping season. In comparison with the fourth quarter of 2012, sales numbers were stagnant in Johnson City and Kingsport and into the negative in Bristol.

According to the report, dollar sales increased just 0.4 percent to $531 million for Johnson City, stayed the same in Kingsport at $408 million and plunged to $260 million in Bristol, a 12.9 percent decrease. For the entire year, Kingsport’s sales figures rose 2.1 percent to $1.522 million, Johnson City’s was up 0.3 percent to $1.916 million, and Bristol’s was down 7.9 percent to $1.002 million.

A correlation between employment figures and retail sales figures is at the base of the problem, said Dr. F. Steb Hipple, professor of economics and research associate for the BBER, who prepared the report.

“We’re getting a consistent picture, although a bleak one,” Hipple said of his report, saying the month-to-month numbers they receive on employment and sales numbers can be a bit erratic. To correct this, the BBER uses quarterly reports as means of letting the sometimes jumpy numbers settle down.

The Tri-Cities area economy has had consistently found itself in a slump for seven quarters now, with the factors of employment and retail sales running parallel to each other.

“This has been the story of the past few years,” the report read. “And is likely to continue to be the story in the immediate future.”

Hipple said Bristol’s numbers have tended to be the most erratic, possibly because of its economy being so event-driven, with music and sporting events being a big draw and driver to the economy.

One Bristol business has been doing fairly well amid bad overall regional retail numbers. Bob Barrettt, co-owner of HobbyTown USA in Bristol, Va., opened that location in November. With steady numbers there, it has come at somewhat of a cost to Barrett, as he’s noticed a correlation of his own between the increase in sales at his Bristol location to the decrease in sales at his Johnson City location, which he expected.

Overall for 2013, he saw a decrease of about 2 percent, which, actually was good news for Barrett.

“It was a win for me, because a lot of others are doing a lot worse,” he said.

Barrett said from what he could tell, fewer people are coming into his stores with a big tax return check, ready to spend. He also said the local job figures are related, too. Between these figures and apprehension about health care costs, expectations and sales are down. Thankfully, he said, after a post-Thanksgiving sales drop, he saw a solid pickup around Christmas and churned out a pretty good year.

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