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A good year for retail in Washington County

January 14, 2008|By TOM RIFORD

The year 2007 was very good for tourism in Washington County. Hotels reported a strong year, with revenue up over last year. The new Homewood Suites by Hilton is reportedly doing very well, as is the one-year-old SpringHill Suites by Marriott.

Camping and RV-ing were very popular in Washington County in 2007. Area campgrounds reported a brisk year, with very healthy occupancy and sales revenues. Camper visits to private campgrounds were up compared to last year. Jellystone Park, for instance, reported a large increase in business, mostly attributed to the new water park.

Our museums, attractions, and parks also reported a strong year.

It was a good year for the retail industry sector of the local economy. This sector is significantly impacted by shopping visits generated by out-of-town travelers. Without a strong tourism industry, the retail industry would be negatively impacted.

As reported previously, Washington County is among the best regions in the nation for retail shopping. The county ranked 17th out of more than 300 regions in a study by the Chicago-based National Research Bureau, in retail space per capita. This shopping center study is three years old, but certainly helps illustrate that Washington County's retail industry depends on out-of-town shoppers, which also means that a lot of local jobs in the retail sector are supported by visitors. Many new stores have opened since the study was completed.

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During 2007, the top retail centers in Washington County reported strong traffic and sales, and gains in several areas of measurement. Nationally, consumer confidence rose in the last quarter, as the economy showed signs of sluggish growth. Overall, U.S. retail sales for the 2007 holiday shopping season grew by 3.6 percent over the same period in 2006, A nationally recognized report done by SpendingPulse analyzed spending across the electronics, specialty (apparel), ecommerce and luxury sectors.

Prime Outlets, known as the single most visited local destination by out-of-county residents, enjoyed a very good year, according to its management. Last year at this time, the outlet and specialty store mall reported more than 4.5 million shopping visits ? 2007 was nearly as strong a year, and saw increases in some areas.

The Valley Mall reported a strong year. Some individual shopping days were up over 7 percent compared to the same days last year.

Shopping visits after Christmas are reportedly way up (the days after Dec. 25 will be almost 10 percent of the mall's holiday-season total revenue). During all of 2007, shopping visits were about the same as 2006. Some stores reported large gains in sales revenues, and the Valley Mall reported that sales of mall-wide gift cards increased by more than 2 percent. More than 8.9 million shopping visits were reported at the mall last year. In the Tri-State I-81 corridor, the Valley Mall is confirmed as the industry-leading retail facility.

Also, the new Olive Garden restaurant will open Jan. 14, and is a very exciting addition to the Valley Mall. A Chili's Restaurant is expected to open at the Valley Mall in the fall of 2008. Some other news includes popular stores expanding. For instance, Victoria's Secret will begin a significant remodeling and expansion in February.

The Centre at Hagerstown reported a busy 2007, with occupancy of the shopping center at very healthy levels. Last year, the Centre at Hagerstown reported more than 5.8 million shopping visits ? 2007 was reportedly a terrific year for revenue for tenants at the Centre at Hagerstown. The center is 100 percent leased. New traffic from the Shoppes at Hagerstown (Best Buy, Five Below, Party City, etc.) have helped the Centre at Hagerstown, and the Super Wal-Mart received high honors this past holiday shopping season, recognized as being one of the best-performing Wal-Marts in all of North America.

Local restaurants enjoyed a good 2007, and expect some new things during 2008. The business cycles of this challenging field will be interesting to watch, with new additions not yet announced, and several existing restaurants re-evaluating their locations. It was good to see a few new restaurants open during the past few weeks, including the new Governor's Landing Deli and Restaurant in Williamsport.

There were several network television episodes, scenes from movies, and independent movies filmed in Washington County during 2007. The History Channel, for instance, is showing this week "The Hunt for John Wilkes Booth." I watched the premier on Dec. 23, and much of the History Channel movie was filmed in Washington County. It was good to once again see Washington County play a part on the screen, and also to remember the positive local economic impact that film and television productions bring to our county.

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