By  on July 30, 2009

WASHINGTON — Retailers continued to adapt to a “price conscious” consumer across the country, as sales moderated slightly in June and early July, according to the Federal Reserve Board’s Beige Book released Wednesday.

Anecdotal accounts in the report, which provides a snapshot of economic activity in 12 regions in the U.S., seemed to indicate some stabilization in the overall economy.

Still, retail stocks lost ground Wednesday, with the S&P Retail Index down 0.1 percent, or 0.42 points, to 349.38, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.3 percent, or 26 points, to 9,070.72.

Among the retail stocks losing ground Wednesday were American Apparel Inc., 4.9 percent to $3.71; New York & Company Inc., 3.8 percent to $3.34; Nordstrom Inc., 1.9 percent to $25.31; J. Crew Group Inc., 1.9 percent to $27.84, and Zale Corp., 1.4 percent to $4.87.

Retailers in the Boston, Kansas City and San Francisco districts reported modest sales increases, while merchants in Philadelphia, Atlanta, St. Louis, New York and Dallas had flat or mixed sales results. Sales continued to decline in Cleveland, Richmond and Minneapolis.

“Consumers focused on purchasing less-expensive necessities, while sales of big ticket items languished,” the Fed reported.

Despite some positive sales results, retailers in most regions were preparing for a poor back-to-school season and planned to trim back inventory levels.

Merchants in New York, which had been lagging behind the rest of the region in retail sales, reported an overall uptick in sales in the period, although levels were 8 to 10 percent below the comparable period last year. One major retail chain in New York said moderate-priced lines were selling better than premium or lower-priced ones.

In the Philadelphia area, one retailer said, “Customers are keeping a more watchful eye on how they spend their money,” giving a boost to mass market stores. Discounters in San Francisco also continued to post healthy sales, with consumers focusing on necessities, while sales at department stores and small retail outlets “remained anemic.”

By contrast, department stores in the Dallas area saw continued improvement in sales while discount retailers reported slightly weaker sales activity.

While some regions saw a fragile stabilization in overall retail sales emerge, others weren’t quite as fortunate.

The manager at a department store chain located outside of Washington said retailers were “fighting for a little piece of what money is out there.”

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