Last year was a roller-coaster ride for Maryland retailers, according to statistics released yesterday by the Maryland Retail Merchants Association.
After plunging for the first eight months of 1992, sales took a PTC sharp turn upward in September and never looked back. As a result, a year that could have been as disastrous as 1991 resulted in a modest 0.6 percent gain.
The sales total of $38.2 billion was achieved on the strength of durable goods, which increased 4.18 percent for their best year since 1987. Restrained by food price deflation, nondurable sales fell 1.59 percent, the second straight year they've dropped.
Durable goods -- items designed to last three years or more -- include such items as furniture, heavy appliances and cars. Nondurables include food, apparel and household items.
Even with two years of decline, nondurable goods are soaking up a bigger percentage of Marylanders' spending than they did five years ago. They accounted for $23.1 billion, or 60 percent, in 1992, compared with $15 billion in durable goods. Five years before, the totals were $17.9 billion for nondurables and $14.4 billion for durables -- a 55-to-45 percent split.
A drop in the percentage of spending for big-ticket durable items can signal a decline in disposable income.
While the 1992 sales results were bad news for grocers, it was welcome relief for most retailers, said Tom Saquella, president of the Maryland retailers' group.
"We couldn't have stood a repeat of 1991," he said. That year, sales fell in all the major categories tracked by the association.
Mr. Saquella said he started to sense an upturn in August, thoughthe figures didn't show a rebound until September. "There was a lot of pent-up demand," he said.
Sales were especially brisk in the critical GAF category (general, apparel and furniture), which rose 5.11 percent, to $10.9 billion in 1992. Meanwhile, department store sales gained 3.36 percent for their best year since 1987.