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Analysts optimistic over strong February retail gains

Shoppers at a Century 21 department store in

Shoppers at a Century 21 department store in Manhattan. A new Century 21 will be moving into a space near Lincoln Center after signing a 20-year lease for the four-story, 60,000-square-foot building. (March 3, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

Strong February sales gains for chain stores and major retailers had retail analysts cautiously optimistic Thursday about Long Island's retail scene.

Despite last month's storms, chain stores posted a 3.7 percent sales increase in February, the strongest gain since November 2007, which saw a 4.9 percent rise, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers' index of 29 retailers. Merchants ranging from J.C. Penney Co. Inc. to Target Corp. reported monthly sales increases for stores open at least a year.

"We saw Long Island clearly hold its own in spending for the holiday . . . and now it's no surprise with the February numbers," Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for the NPD Group, a Port Washington-based market research firm, said Thursday. "Long Islanders are not ones to wait out a shopping excursion just because of snow."

Long Island, which has a disproportionate number of dual-income families compared with other areas of the country, has consistently outpaced other regions in retail sales even during the recession, he said.

Still, Cohen and others noted that the economy is not out of the woods yet. The February gains are compared to February 2009, when same-store chain retailers saw a decrease of 4.3 percent.

"I do think if unemployment figures look better that's a positive sign," said Joel R. Evans, a professor at Hofstra University's Zarb School of Business. "If not, it's still tough sweating. February is an awfully hard month to gauge," he added, referring to a combination of factors that include last year's decline.

February was good for the Sweet Gourmet, which saw gains of 20 percent, said co-owner Michael Wikan. But his Sayville shop, which sells chocolates, sweets and gourmet specialty food items, gears its sales toward holidays like Valentine's Day, he added. This year there weren't many leftovers, which he said is unusual.

"It's definitely a sign that it's getting a little bit better," Wikan said.

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