Midcoast retail sales up 2 percent in 2011

Retail sales in the Midcoast increased 2 percent in 2011 from 2010. Downtown Rockland merchants are looking forward to 2012.
Retail sales in the Midcoast increased 2 percent in 2011 from 2010. Downtown Rockland merchants are looking forward to 2012. Buy Photo
Posted Feb. 24, 2012, at 2:08 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 24, 2012, at 4:14 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Restaurants, lodging businesses, auto dealerships, and building supply companies in the midcoast saw sales rise during 2011, but the picture was not as bright for other merchants.

The year-end retail sales report from the Maine Bureau of Revenue Services shows that overall consumer retail sales for the Camden and Rockland markets totaled nearly $436 million in 2011, representing a 2 percent increase from 2010.

This is 5 percent less, however, than the record year of $460 million set in 2007 and just under the statewide average 3 percent increase reported in 2011. Personal consumer retail sales totaled $14.98 billion in 2011 throughout Maine.

The Rockland and Camden markets include all of Knox County as well as the adjacent Waldo County towns of Lincolnville and Islesboro.

Lodging businesses such as motels, hotels, bed and breakfast establishments and campgrounds in the combined Rockland and Camden markets experienced the best increase among local businesses. Lodging businesses’ reported sales jumped 5 percent from 2010 to 2011. The 2011 lodging sales set a record for the local area, reaching $33.6 million, beating the previous high of $31.8 million reached in 2008.

Connie Russell, general manager for the Samoset Resort in Rockport, said 2011 was an OK year with a slight increase registered over the previous year, but he expects to see a record year in 2012 for the resort.

A three-year, $4.5 million renovation project being completed this spring at the Samoset features a new restaurant and lounge, a new spa, remodeling of one wing and improvements to 21,000 square feet of meeting rooms for conferences.

And after three years of closing for the winter season, Russell noted the Samoset will return to being a year-round resort.

“We’re excited. There is a buzz about the new Samoset,” Russell said.

The resort employs about 300 people during its busy season.

Robert Liberty — whose company Liberty Hospitality owns the Trade Winds Motor Inn and Navigator Motor Inn in Rockland, the Country Inn in Rockport, and the Cedar Crest Motel in Camden — said that last year was a strong year. He said the peak six to eight weeks of the summer were up 10 percent over a year earlier.

Liberty said he expected another record-setting year for 2012 though he does have one significant concern.

“I’m always optimistic but with gas prices, I don’t know what will happen,” Liberty said.

He said if gasoline prices are around $4 per gallon then the local lodging industry will do well, but if it reaches or exceeds $5 per gallon, that would change the outlook. He said one advantage local businesses have is that they can draw from the larger population centers in southern New England even if gas prices soar.

Restaurants saw their sales jump 4 percent in the combined Rockland and Camden market in 2011, reaching a record $68.9 million.

Dealers of cars, trucks, motorcycles, motorboats, airplanes and motor vehicle parts saw their sales speed up by 5 percent in 2011, totaling $68.7 million. While motor vehicle sales were up from 2010 and 2009, the sales are down significantly from annual figures between 2004 and 2008.

The largest single category in retail sales for the midcoast is building supplies. Sales of building supplies rose 2 percent from 2010, reaching $84.3 million. That amount, however, is nearly 17 percent less than the $101.2 million record set in 2006.

General merchandise sales, representing items sold in department and furniture stores, were down 1 percent, slipping to $74.6 million.

Sales of taxable items at food stores were unchanged in 2011 in the combined Rockland and Camden markets at $53.2 million. Most food, however, is exempt from the state’s sales tax and thus not included in the state revenue services figures.

A miscellaneous category of retail stores that includes gift shops, antiques shops, jewelers, book stores, pharmacies and sporting good shops dropped 2 percent in 2011, falling to $52.2 million. The record sales in this category was $57.6 million in 2005.

Lorain Francis, the executive director of Rockland Main Street, said most Main Street merchants had a great holiday season and a good year overall. She said she had no predictions for 2012, but added that the various festivals held in Rockland benefit Main Street. Those include the Summer Solstice in June, the North Atlantic Blues Festival in July, the Maine Lobster Festival and Maine, Boats, Homes & Harbor Show in August, and the Festival of Lights in December.

“They’re wonderful for Rockland. These events bring people into Rockland who shop and dine, who stay here and hopefully they will come back again,” she said.

Retail sales figures are available by month at the Maine State Planning Office website, http://www.maine.gov/spo/economics/.

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