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Storm spending lifts LI sales tax revenues

Terry Gottlibe of Pound Ridge loads her car

Terry Gottlibe of Pound Ridge loads her car with sandbags from the Home Depot in Brewster while her daughters Katelynn, 9, and Bridget, 4, help. Gottlibe purchased the sand in preparation for the upcoming storm. (Oct. 27, 2012) Credit: Lisa Weir

Long Islanders stocking up on storm supplies and filling gas tanks kept cash registers ringing last month.

Nassau and Suffolk counties together collected $170.5 million in estimated sales taxes in October, a rise of 4 percent compared to the same period last year, according to a report released late Tuesday by the state Department of Taxation and Finance. Nassau posted a 5.6 percent increase, while Suffolk's sales tax revenues climbed by 2.5 percent.

October sales tax estimates are an important economic indicator, since they reflect back-to-school spending and the start of holiday shopping, said Pearl Kamer, chief economist with the Long Island Association, the largest local business group. However, superstorm Sandy's impact might make the October results a less reliable predictor of holiday sales than usual, she said.

"With so many people losing homes and having flooded basements, we have to assume that the holiday season will be somewhat less robust than we would like," Kamer said.

Local retailers agreed. Holiday purchases "are going to be more about hope and a token gift of gratitude," said Julie Marchesella, who is president of the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce and owner of Queen of Hearts, a plus-size formal-wear shop in Merrick. "The big dollars are not going to happen."

The strength of the October sales tax figures probably reflected storm preparations and higher gas prices, said Irwin Kellner, who is based in Port Washington and is chief economist for the MarketWatch news organization.

Last month gas prices were 4.8 percent to 10 percent higher than the previous October's prices, according to AAA, the largest U.S. motorists organization.

Plus, the storm "struck around the 29th, and it was widely heralded for the previous five to seven days, so it's entirely possible that, indeed, people did go out to buy generators and other equipment, like plywood," Kellner said.

Todd Kirschner, co-owner of Trio Hardware in Plainview, said business was "very, very quiet" in the weeks before the storm, but the days after made up for it, despite a one-day loss of power. The store sold fistfuls of batteries, plus flashlights, candles, lanterns, other supplies and about 30 generators at prices ranging from about $550 to $1,300, he said. Trio doesn't normally even stock generators.

"The biggest thing we had to do was crowd control," he said. "It was like, 'Oh my God, the world came to an end' all of a sudden."

With Tom Incantalupo

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