Byline: Kristi Ellis

WASHINGTON — Retail sales at apparel and accessories stores in March fell a seasonally adjusted 0.7 percent against February, while sales at all retail outlets posted a 0.2 percent decline.
Although dropping to $12.3 billion in March, apparel and accessories stores’ sales still posted a 4 percent year-to-year gain. While overall retail sales fell to $274.1 billion in March, the year-to-date sales increased 1.9 percent.
The Commerce Department’s figures mirrored March sales figures released by department stores and apparel and accessories stores Thursday.
“The weather and the economy are the two biggest factors for declines,” said Diane Kutyla, an economist with the Deloitte & Touche Consumer Business Group. “With about one-third of the nation experiencing the coldest spring ever, people were not interested in buying spring apparel or home garden equipment.”
Kutyla pointed to a “consumer hesitancy,” due to the economic slowdown but she stressed that there is ” more bad psychology out there than is warranted.”
Department-store sales, excluding leased departments, held steady, posting a seasonally adjusted 0.4 percent rise in March, to $26.6 billion. The year-to-year comparison yielded a 2.3 percent sales gain for department stores. General merchandise stores posted a 0.3 percent increase, amounting to $34.4 billion in the month.
“Durables are slowing because of a weak economy, but soft goods are holding up better,” said Rosalind Wells, chief economist for the National Retail Federation. “That is typical of a slowdown.”