WASHINGTON — First-quarter results from department stores may have boomed because of strong demand for clothing, but the three apparel and accessories store categories all posted a drop in retail sales in April, even while showing some strength compared with a year ago.

Clothing and accessories store sales fell 2 percent to $15.6 billion last month, but sales surged 8.2 percent against April 2003, according to the Commerce Department’s retail sales report released Thursday. The decline in April mirrored the softness seen last week in comparable-store sales for the month, which rose only 3.9 percent compared with 6.8 percent in March.

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