Midcoast sees retail boom in first quarter

Christy Adams stands behind the counter at the Lobsterman's Restaurant on Main Street in Rockland recently.
Christy Adams stands behind the counter at the Lobsterman's Restaurant on Main Street in Rockland recently.
Posted May 18, 2012, at 4:14 p.m.

Retailers in Knox and Waldo counties saw a strong first quarter and are optimistic about a strong summer season.

The Rockland and Belfast markets both produced record retail sales for the period of January through March 2012, according to the latest report from the Maine Bureau of Revenue Services. The Camden market showed increased sales from last year, but figures still were well below the previous record-high sales figures.

“We’re seeing a trend toward confidence,” said Dan Bookham, executive director of Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce. “People are believing a real recovery is taking hold.”

Bookham said officials from each of the eight tourism regions in Maine were expressing optimism Thursday at a statewide tourism conference. He said advanced bookings for lodging were up, and there were more requests for tourism information.

He noted that the trend of declining gasoline prices is helpful, and barring something unexpected, this should be a good summer for all types of businesses.

In the Rockland economic market — defined by the state as all of Knox County except Camden, Rockport, Hope and Appleton — retail sales totaled $58.6 million in the first three months of 2012. This is nearly 8 percent more in sales than was recorded in the first three months of 2011. The 2012 sales top the 2006 first-quarter record of $57.1 million.

In the depth of the Great Recession in 2009, first-quarter sales dropped to $49.7 million for the Rockland market.

The Belfast market showed retail sales totaling $30.1 million during the first quarter, which is an 11 percent jump from 2010. The previous first-quarter record in the Belfast market was in 2008 when sales reached $28.9 million.

Camden area sales totaled $17.3 million for the first quarter of 2012, up 5 percent from a year ago. This is about 15 percent less than the $20.5 million record set in 2007.

The uptick in sales experienced in Rockland and Belfast exceed the statewide increase of 7 percent. Retail sales statewide totaled $3.054 billion during the first quarter.

A spike in building supply sales helped boost overall retail sales in both the Rockland and Belfast markets. Building supply sales in the Rockland market for the first quarter leaped 17 percent from a year ago, reaching $13.5 million. Belfast building supply sales increased 47 percent, reaching $5.9 million.

The code enforcement office in Rockland also has reported increased activity. Permits have been granted for three new homes during the past three months, along with permits for numerous renovations and additions to residential buildings.

Motor vehicle sales in the Rockland market for the first quarter rose 7 percent from a year ago, reaching $13.2 million. Belfast motor vehicle sales were about the same at $6.7 million.

Restaurant sales rose 10 percent in the Rockland market, bringing in $6.5 million sales during the first quarter.

The latest figures have been encouraging to some business owners.

Shawn Elliott and Christy Adams of Round Pond, who opened the Lobsterman’s Restaurant on Main Street in Rockland just last week, say they have faith in the midcoast economy.

Elliott, a lifelong lobsterman, said he wanted a place to market his own product. They selected Rockland because of the amount of tourism and year-round people who come through the city, he said.

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