By Chuck Slothower
FARMINGTON Local retailers are preparing for their busiest shopping season of the year amid a worrying drop in business.
Tax revenue from Farmington's retail sector, a reliable barometer of retail sales, has fallen for four consecutive months compared to year-ago totals. For the first five months of the city of Farmington's fiscal year, retail revenue was down nearly 4 percent.
That doesn't bode well for the crucial holiday shopping season, when retailers can rack up sales to make up for slow months earlier in the year.
However, a holiday bounce back could be just what the ledger needs.
The National Retail Federation expects holiday retail sales to increase 4.1 percent this year. If that holds true in Farmington, it would provide a welcome relief from concerns about the dwindling jobs in the area's coal and oil and gas industries.
"Retailers are always optimistic they'll have a good season," said Jeff Ring, general manager at Animas Valley Mall.
He said it's business as usual at the mall. "We've been steady," Ring said.
The average holiday shopper spends $749.51 on gifts, decor, greeting cards and more this year
Many retailers do 35-40 percent of their annual business between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Ring said.
"For retail in general, these next five, six weeks, they're huge weeks for everybody," he said.
At Freytag Farrar Jewelers, 3555 E. Main St., President Brian Freytag is optimistic.
"We're anticipating a good year," he said. Sales have been up about 15 percent over last year. After a mediocre October, "so far November has been very good, so December should be equally as good," he said.
Some customers seemed to hold off on purchases because of uncertainty regarding the presidential election, said Freytag. With the election over, more people are spending.
Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts said looming economic issues on the federal level may be impacting consumers' desire to spend.
"It probably has to do with some uncertainty about the economy in a go-forward basis," he said. "The fiscal cliff and the end of the Bush-era tax cuts are probably giving people some concern about their fiscal flow.
"Once we have a greater amount of certainty about those kinds of issues, I'd be hopeful that people's confidence in the economy would be enhanced and they'd be willing to dispose of that income."
Roberts said the city is likely to continue with conservative budgets into its next fiscal year.
"We're concerned about the flow of revenue, but we believe we can manage that degree of decreased revenues," he said. The city must also deal with planned partial shutdowns at Four Corners Power Plant by the end of the year, and at San Juan Generating Station in future years.
"I think we are going to see some jobs lost in the next six months to a year as a result of decreased operations at the power plants," Roberts said. "That's a factor that doesn't bode well for us as a city."
The economic picture appears somewhat brighter in Durango. Sales-tax revenues through October were up 5.5 percent from the same period in 2011.
Durango has posted 23 consecutive months of improved revenue from year-ago totals.