WASHINGTON — Sales at apparel and specialty stores and department stores fell in October, in line with a decline in overall retail sales, which could have been impacted by the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast in late October, according to the U.S. Commerce Department’s monthly retail sales report released on Wednesday.

Apparel and specialty stores posted a 0.1 percent seasonally adjusted decrease to $18.8 billion in October compared with September, while sales at department stores fell 0.3 percent to $14 billion last month. Sales at general merchandise stores, a category that includes department stores and discounters showed the only sign of strength with a 0.2 percent increase to $50.7 billion.


In the overall economy, retail sales fell 0.3 percent to $411.6 billion in October. “Even though we cannot isolate the effect [of Sandy], we did receive indications from companies that the hurricane had both positive and negative effects on the retail sales data,” the government said. “Some firms reported a drop in sales due to permanent or temporary store closures and stores having reduced business due to damage, fewer customers and/or lack of employees.”

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On the flip side, retailers reported an uptick in sales of supplies for the affected areas in the Northeast, and other geographic areas where evacuees boosted sales, according to the government.