Byline: Alison Maxwell

WASHINGTON — Sales at specialty and department stores showed modest increases in November, according to statistics released Tuesday by the Commerce Department, sparking some optimism among retail analysts that holiday sales could be stronger than originally predicted.
That’s despite reports that unseasonably warm weather had put a damper on apparel shopping.
Sales at apparel and accessories stores jumped 0.8 percent in November to $11.4 million from $11.3 million in October, while year-over-year sales were up 6.4 percent.
Sales at department stores increased 0.6 percent for the month to $25.2 million from $25 million in October. Department store sales increased 6.5 percent for the year.
General merchandise stores including discount, department and variety stores posted sales gains of 0.6 percent in November. They brought in $32.4 million in November compared to $32.2 million in October. Against November 1998, sales were up 7.3 percent.
“It appears that the holiday spirit hit consumers hard in November,” said Rosalind Wells, chief economist at the National Retail Federation. “Our earlier estimates of 6 to 6.5 percent sales gains for holiday sales will probably be conservative. Increases of 7 percent or more are now more likely.”
Robert Verdisco, president of the International Mass Retailers Association, added that November ended on a high note and said he expects retailers should profit from another strong holiday season this December.
“It will be particularly strong for discount department stores, big-box specialty stores, home centers, furniture stores and casual apparel stores, particularly those apparel stores that have connected with the juniors market,” Verdisco said.
In October, sales were flat at apparel and accessory stores and department stores and increased 0.2 percent at general merchandise stores, according to revised Commerce figures.
Overall, U.S. retail sales advanced more than the expected 0.5 percent in November as spending rebounded for automobiles. Sales rose 0.9 percent in November to $255.8 billion. Sales were up 9.4 percent over last year. October retail sales rose a revised 0.3 percent, initially reported as unchanged.

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