Xmas sales offer signs of recovery

Last year’s Christmas season sales tax revenues for Issaquah were a little merrier than expected, allowing city leaders a ray of hope for finances in 2010.

The City of Issaquah reported a modest 3 percent increase over expected sales tax revenues, $18,749 above the city’s February forecast. Sales tax revenues received in February typically reflect sales activity in the month of December.

More encouraging, the sales numbers for that month were 17 percent better than for Christmas 2008. This economic improvement was noted in a March 22 financial update presented to the Issaquah Major Planning and Growth Committee, based on revenues received in February.

“We’re in a reasonably good state,” said Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger. “As long as we maintain our spending restraint we’re in good shape for next year.”

Considered a volatile revenue stream, sales tax revenue is subject to significant variations year to year due to larger economic influences at the regional and national level.

But the closely-watched Christmas tax revenue is viewed by city officials as a likely indicator of an economic trend, and some believe the improvement is a sign that the recession at the local level is ending. Matthew Bott, CEO of the Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce, said the numbers were a sign of hope.

“That’s very encouraging,” Bott said. “We live in a very resilient community, and we’re looking forward to continued good news.”

Big-box retailers like Costco Wholesale noticed a bump in local sales, while newer restaurants such as pizzeria Tutta Bella enjoyed brisk business.

Bott added that niche businesses which sold affordable household commodities seemed to be doing especially well.

One of those retailers is Fischer Meats on Front Street, which this year celebrated 100 years in business. After the December 2008 blizzard that practically shut down the city in the run-up to Christmas, owner Chris Chiechi said his shop enjoyed a record-breaking year of sales in 2009.

Noticing customers “hung around more than in the past,” the store added fresh fish to their offerings in June and sales continued to climb.

Chiechi said he was seeing a greater number of locals returning to the store more often, and that those who did shop locally were increasingly interested in good quality food.

“People seem willing to spend more money on eating well, if they were around (town),” Chiechi said.

But it wasn’t all good news, especially for local “mom and pop” stores on Front Street. Issaquah Furniture owner Frank Smith, who decked out his store with an award winning display of Christmas lights, said last December was one of the worst in his 15 years in business.

“I might have sold a rocker here and there, and that was about it,” he said.