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Apparel and Sporting Goods Stores Lead Surge in March Retail Sales Amid Pandemic Recovery

Apparel and sporting goods stores led the surge in retail sales last month as the U.S. economy continued to reopen and COVID-19 recovery started to take hold.

According to the Department of Commerce, total retail sales — a measure of purchases at stores, at restaurants and online — rose by 9.8% to $619.1 billion in March, compared with economists’ bets of a 6.1% gain. The spike follows a 2.7% tumble in February.

In March, as a new round of stimulus checks hit shoppers’ bank accounts, sporting goods and hobby stores saw sales advance 23.5%. Clothing and accessories stores, meanwhile, saw an improvement of 18.3%. What’s more, both general merchandise stores and miscellaneous store retailers recorded a 9% hike in sales, while sales at non-store retailers were up 6%.

Comparatively, sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers swelled 15.1%, building materials stores grew 12.1% and gasoline stations shot up 10.9%.

Experts have suggested that President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, passed last month, has given the retail industry reason for optimism in the months ahead. As part of the American Rescue Plan, the government ramped up COVID-19 inoculations, testing and contact tracing, developments that are likely tempering shoppers’ anxieties about returning to stores.

“Strong performance in the retail and services sector will lead our nation’s economic recovery from the pandemic,” said Tom McGee, president and CEO of the International Council of Shopping Centers. “We’re hopeful that warming weather and ongoing vaccine rollout will sustain momentum into the summer months and help the economy return to pre-pandemic levels.”

Hopes about the economy’s rebound were bolstered by the Department of Labor’s latest jobless claims report, which showed that seasonally adjusted initial claims for the week ended April 10 were 576,000 — the lowest figure since the early days of the outbreak and a sharp decline from the prior week’s total of 769,000.

“You see the economy opening,” Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said yesterday in remarks at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. “I think we are going into a period of faster growth and higher job creation, and that’s a good thing.”

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