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Holiday sales activity on the Coast surprisingly strong

There was concern going into the Christmas season on the Coast that normal holiday sales would be impacted by the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. But while some retailers open immediately after the storm said business was slow for a while, Christmas sales were surprisingly strong.

Ocean Springs, for example, saw a huge jump in sales tax collections in both November and December. The city, which was fortunate to have few retail outlets and restaurants damaged by the hurricane, posted nearly a $100,000 jump in sales tax collections in November, and nearly a $185,000 increase in December. Sales for November 2004 were about $270,000 compared to $376,000 in November 2005. December sales tax collections this year were $461,000 compared to $276,000 in 2004.

D’Iberville is another city which has seen an increase in sales activity since the storm. City Manager Richard Rose said sales tax collections in September and October were up a little more than 50%.

“Most of the sales tax revenues comes from north of Interstate 10,” Rose said. “We are encouraged that sales taxes will continue to stay at a high level to help us offset some of the losses we will find in other departments like property taxes. Sales taxes are extremely important to D’Iberville. We are lucky Katrina didn’t move further east and damage our largest retail center.”

Rose didn’t have figures yet for November and December, but said it is pretty obvious that there will be an increase over prior years because people lack a lot of basic necessities, from clothing to cookware.

“Everything is gone,” Rose said.

Coast retailers reported fewer returns than normal this year after Christmas. People kept a majority of the items they received because they needed them. For many people, it wasn’t a year you had to struggle to figure out what to buy loved ones.

“It isn’t like a normal Christmas,” said Tina DuBose, manager of the Singing River Mall in Gautier. “Considering the situation, everybody needs everything. It was a different Christmas.”

Singing River Mall received little damage from Katrina. DuBose said that leasing activity has been strong since the storm because a lot of other retail areas on the Coast were damaged or destroyed. While she didn’t have sales figures, her observation was that the mall was busier than normal during the Christmas season.

Edgewater Mall in Biloxi took a big hit with the hurricane because of its proximity to the beach, but was able to reopen November 16. By Christmas, 75 stores were open representing 75% of what was open a year ago.

“By March we should be up to 80 to 85 stores,” said Terry Powell, manager of Edgewater Mall. “Once we get Dillards open sometime next summer, we should be up to full capacity at that point. Overall for the retailers, sales have been tremendous. I think part of it is replacement of things people lost in the hurricane, but also just our normal Christmas sales. When we look at our Christmas Santa photo sales, they were greater than last year. And last year was a good, good year for us.”
Traffic congestion has been a problem since the storm, but just before Christmas the Popps Ferry bridge and U.S. 90 were reopened.

“We were very happy to see that,” Powell said.
Despite the devastation, Powell said they were certain the mall would come back fast and strong.

“I had no doubt we could do it,” he said. “We had our minds set we would get things back open, and we did it.”

Retail outlets that provided necessities to replace household furnishings have been doing a brisk business on the Coast.

“We didn’t open for six weeks because we had so much damage here,” said Phillip Patterson, vice president of Hopkins Boulevard, a home furnishings import store on U.S. 49 in Gulfport. “Once we did reopen, we were extremely busy. But I sell something that everyone needed. I had an awful lot of recovery, people replacing what they lost such as dining room sets, coffee tables, beds — the basic needs of living. The three months between when we opened and Christmas were amazing. It really made up for being closed for six weeks.”

Patterson believes sales will continue to be strong for the next year as people move into different phases of recovery. The first phase was people who had a small amount of damage that could be repaired quickly. People cleaned out their houses, and moved back in. The second phase will be people who bulldozed their destroyed homes and are starting to build from scratch.

“I believe we will see a lot of growth in the next year,” Patterson said. “We haven’t even scratched the surface. People are trying to put their lives back together, and that is going to take time. It is going to be at least 12 to 18 months of rebuilding for a substantial amount to be back on their feet.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.


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