WASHINGTON — Unseasonably warm weather and hurricanes in the South produced uneven apparel retail sales in September and early October, the Federal Reserve reported Wednesday.

The Fed’s survey, known as the Beige Book, was based on interviews with a range of businesses, including apparel retailers, which painted a mixed sales picture in the Fed’s 12 districts.

Higher energy costs pinched consumers’ pocketbooks and “constrained” business spending across the country, while anxiety about Tuesday’s presidential election also “heightened uncertainty among consumers,” the Fed said.

“Unseasonably warm temperatures were blamed for weak sales of fall merchandise in the Cleveland, Chicago, and Minneapolis districts,” the Fed’s report said. “Once again, national chains suggested that the Midwest was one of the weaker performing regions.”

Meanwhile, hurricanes “disrupted retail activity” in the Atlanta region, although building materials had a boost in sales.

“Department stores and clothing stores [in Philadelphia] had somewhat better results than other types of stores as the arrival of cooler weather prompted sales of fall apparel and other seasonal merchandise,” the report stated. “However, some women’s clothing stores indicated they have not achieved the sales gains they had expected despite generally good sales of fall clothing styles.”

In Boston, sales of women’s apparel, jewelry and accessories increased, while men’s apparel and home furnishings were down, according to the report. Demand for lumber and lumber-related products was strong, as home building and remodeling picked up.

In the New York region, economic growth “cooled off” in September.

“Retailers report that sales were below plan in September, though a few chains registered some improvement in early October,” the Beige Book said.

Retailers in San Francisco reported apparel sales have been softer than expected and expressed concern about inventory levels going into the holidays.

This story first appeared in the October 28, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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