The Maryland Retail Merchants Association released figures yesterday that confirmed what merchants already knew about 1991: Business stank.
According to figures compiled by the Census Bureau, Maryland's total retail sales in 1991 were down 1.43 percent from those of 1990. Nationwide retail sales gained 0.94 percent.
Maryland's drop was steeper than those of its largest neighbors, Virginia and Pennsylvania, which posted 0.87 percent and 1.33 percent declines, respectively.
Tom Saquella, president of the association, said 1991 may have been the worst year for Maryland retailers in recent memory. "We knew 1991 was a difficult year, but not as difficult as these figures indicate," he said in a press release.
Mr. Saquella said 1992 sales have turned "mixed and spotty" after a strong performance in January and February. He added that the state's performance in August and September will be a good indicator of how strong sales will be during the upcoming holiday season.
He recalled that sales appeared to be slowly improving for a few months last year before business fell off the table in August and stayed poor for the rest of the year.
"We may be seeing that pattern repeating itself in 1992," he said, noting that U.S. consumer confidence fell sharply in July. The Conference Board reported Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index fell to 61.0 in July, 11.6 points lower than in June.
The 1991 sales decline is a strong indicator that Maryland has been hit harder by the recession than have other parts of the country. Even in 1990, when sales were lackluster, Maryland outpaced the national performance.
Maryland's 1991 decline was worse than the national performance in all retail sectors except durable goods, the association said. In the critical category of "general, apparel and furniture," Maryland's decline was 0.90 percent. In the same category, sales were up 0.58 nationwide and fell 0.06 percent in Virginia and 1.30 percent in Pennsylvania.