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LI small retailers cautious; Feb. sales mixed

Customers with shopping bags walk around at the

Customers with shopping bags walk around at the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City. (July 10, 2009) Photo Credit: Newsday/Photo by Yana Paskova

February retail sales figures released Friday corroborated the gains reported last week by major retailers, but locally the results were mixed, leaving independent merchants both hopeful and guarded about the coming year.

Despite February snowstorms, retail and food service sales increased 0.3 percent from January and 3.9 percent from February 2009. Excluding motor vehicles and parts, February retail sales jumped 4.2 percent from the year before, the Commerce Department reported.

Gift card redemptions, less bad economic news than last year and retailers' sales may have helped last month's revenues, said Joel R. Evans, a professor at Hofstra's Zarb School of Business. But it was unclear whether February's sales increase is an indication of long-term recovery, he said.

In January, Long Island's unemployment rate jumped to 7.8 percent, the latest local unemployment data available. "I think it's still going to be slow going because of the job market and the housing market," Evans said.

Amira Garbus, co-owner of the Huntington Business Products Centre, figures she lost two days of business to snow. Some of her customers are still without jobs, she noted. "Being 40 years in business, we've never seen anything like this," she said. "I am not normally a bleak person, but truthfully, I don't see an end to this for another year."

Susanna H. Meinersman, co-owner of the Bon Bons Chocolatier in Huntington, said her corporate sales have dropped in recent years but February sales were up by 4 percent over February 2009. Valentine's Day business was good, she said. "I felt the biggest change was attitude this year," she said. "People were in a better mood, happier to celebrate and buy something."

Carlene Afetian, owner of Northport clothing retailer Veronica Rayne, experienced better than expected sales last month - a month that is normally very slow for her. She estimates her February revenue was 6 percent higher than a year ago. And customers have begun their spring shopping earlier than usual this month, she said. "I was happily surprised," she said. "It's my slowest month of the year, and they were still shopping."

Warren Slater, co-owner of Oscarzulu Northport gift store and fine art gallery, said he had the best February in seven years, largely because of two customers who spent a lot of money. He's hoping his February performance becomes a trend, but he wasn't quite convinced.

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