Three months of shutdowns and stay-at-home orders barely put a dent in retail sales in Navajo and Apache counties — and sales actually jumped in tourist-dependent southern county areas.
Even hotels, restaurants and bars suffered surprisingly modest impacts, according to the Independent’s analysis of county and town sales tax figures from March, April and May — when Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order was in effect.
In fact, many southern Apache and Navajo county communities reported a big increase in retail sales increases during much of that period, according to figures released by the Arizona Department of Revenue.
The figures account for the relatively solid position of most towns and counties in the region, despite the shutdowns and the big rise in unemployment. Many cut costs and deferred projects in anticipation of a downturn. Moreover, most counties and towns have received millions in federal stimulus money from the CARES Act and other relief measures.
The combination has left counties and cities in better shape than predicted, even though a partisan deadlock has killed prospects for a second stimulus bill.
Consider what happened to sales taxes collected from retail trade in the April-June period this year to the same period last year, when the national economy was booming.
Show Low collected $2.4 million in retail sales taxes in April, May and June this year, with the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders in effect. Last year for the same three months, the town collected $2 million in retail sales taxes. So despite the shutdowns, the town’s retail sales tax collections jumped 20%.
Even hotels stayed the same — $39,000 in lodging tax both this year and last year.
Some other sectors suffered. Restaurants and bars tax collections went from $243,000 to $218,000. Still, that amounts to a decline of 10% although restaurants and bars were all but shut down for weeks.
The figures from other White Mountain towns paint a similar picture.
In Pinetop-Lakeside, retail sales for those three months brought in $429,000 this year compared to $328,000 last year. That’s a whopping 31% increase, despite the shutdowns.
Restaurants, bars and hotels all suffered but not nearly as much as you might have expected. Pinetop restaurants paid $173,000 in taxes from April to June compared to $237,000 last year — a 37% decline.
Hotels paid $43,000 compared to $52,000 for the same period last year, a 21% decline.
Economic development officials aren’t sure how to account for the relatively strong performance in the southern reaches of both counties.
Some sectors like hardware stories and home improvement stores registered big gains, as people stayed home and took on long-deferred projects, offsetting losses elsewhere.
Moreover, local officials noticed towns remained busy on weekends right through the shutdown. They speculated that perhaps people dropped plans for vacations and longer trips, but still decided to risk outdoor-oriented weekend jaunts to the White Mountains.
In any case, here’s a rundown on retail sales in April, May and June this year compared to the same period last year in both counties and assorted towns. These figures reflect only retail sales, excluding other sales tax categories including bars, restaurants, hotels, communications, utilities and others. Changes in those other categories may offset either increases or decreases in the retail sales category.
Springerville: + 33%: $240,000 this year vs. $181,000 last year.
Pinetop: + 31%: $429,000 this year vs. $328,000 last year.
Show Low: +20%: $2.4 million this year vs. $2 million last year.
St. Johns: +32%: $101,000 this year vs. $76,000 last year.
Snowflake: + 68%: $236,000 this year vs. $140,000 last year.
Taylor: +39%: $307,000 this year vs. $221,000 last year.
Navajo County: -18%: $1.7 million this year vs $2 million last year.
Apache County: — 2%: $311,000 this year vs. $317,000 last year.
Eagar: -12%: $83,000 this year vs $94,000 last year.
Holbrook: -2%: $303,000 this year vs. $309,000 last year.
Winslow: — 3%: $652,000 this year vs. $631,000 last year.