"I don't have anybody coming in here crying, which is about the only way we can gauge it," jokes South College Center co-owner Landry, who has 21 tenants in his shopping complex at the corner of Johnston Street and South College Road. "We have no whiners and no complainers," he says.
Landry's center is perhaps the best example of a cross-section of retail and service outlets in Lafayette. It's a healthy mix of long-established shops, fresh faces and one brand new spot, a pet grooming center and boutique called Spoiled, which is tentatively scheduled to open in March. And all jokes aside, Landry keeps his finger on the pulse of their activity, which is why news that Lafayette Parish has broken yet another record for retail sales ' the total amount spent by consumers on goods and services ranging from clothing and groceries to utilities ' didn't come as a surprise to him.
Landry says his tenants are thriving. Cell phone company Nextel had one of its biggest months ever this past January; Acadian Religious celebrated a banner weekend recently; True Value/Medallion Hardware is benefiting from the boom in upscale home construction; and Musso Shoe Repair's employees are bumping elbows with each other to meet the demand for their services. "They can't keep up with the need. He does a tremendous business," Landry says. Landry and his brother, David, also own the UPS store in the center, which experienced a 15 percent increase in volume in 2004 ' its best yet.
The most obvious sign that business is abuzz in the center is the success of Southside Bakery. After opening in mid-2003, it recently renovated its corner space to expand the bakery's offerings.
Retail sales in South College Center and throughout the parish were strong last year, especially in December, when they rose to $410 million, a 6.5 percent increase over sales in December 2003. For the year, taxable sales increased 3.6 percent over 2003, rising to $3.85 billion. The increase from 2002 to 2003, a record $3.72 billion at the time, was 2.7 percent.
Though a rise in retail sales reflects an increase in spending, it certainly does not indicate that retailers across the board ' some of which are struggling in the face of new competition ' are in a better position than they were a year ago. The utilities group accounted for the biggest increase at 65 percent; furniture and home furnishings, 18 percent; lumber and building materials, 7.9 percent; and auto, 6.3 percent. Decreases came only in apparel and miscellaneous services, which includes hotels, bowling alleys and dry cleaners.
Economists caution that price increases must be factored into retail sales tallies before determining if there's been real growth. The level of increase in Lafayette Parish, however, is typically a positive indication, says Dr. Paula Carson, associate dean of UL Lafayette's B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration. "Even if you can chip away [at the 3.6 percent increase], I think there will be residual growth that you can see."
From 2003 to 2004, the Consumer Price Index, which reflects changes in prices paid by consumers for a typical basket of goods and services, increased 1.8 percent. Accounting for that increase, the uptick in local sales would be 1.8 percent, but the parish's chief economic development official insists the local tax base is growing at a higher rate. (End of year figures for the nation were not available at press time.)
"We've had significant job growth, that could be a factor," says Gregg Gothreaux, head of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority. He also points to the impact of new tourism dollars, a sector that picked up in 2004 for the first time since Sept. 11, 2001.
Additionally, Gothreaux maintains that per capita income in Lafayette Parish is increasing faster than the national average, rising 58.6 percent from 1993 to 2002, the most recent period for which tracking is available. Despite that growth, the portion of total income spent on retail goods in Lafayette Parish has remained stable at 63 percent, he says. "More dollars were spent without an increase in [percentage] spending per person," says Gothreaux.
Economist Carson agrees that Lafayette is selling much more than consumer products, which is why it's able to draw in many dollars. "I think the Lafayette area is doing a much greater job in terms of diversity," she says. The city's growing variety of products and entertainment venues is drawing shoppers from outlying areas like Abbeville, New Iberia, Opelousas and Rayne. She says consumers from these areas shop the Mall of Acadiana, for example, and stay in town for a movie and dining. "It's an event, as opposed to a chore."
What's disturbing about the trend, Carson cautions, is the impact it has on the economies of the smaller municipalities. She says Lafayette is growing at the expense of outlying communities, and she doesn't see that changing ' despite passionate efforts by the leadership of those cities to keep locals from leaving. "It's like a train; it's hard to stop the train," she says.
Both Gothreaux and Carson say there may be more reason for shoppers to head to the Hub City. The food group expanded with new restaurants last year, but it held steady in terms of the percentage of retail sales it generates, accounting for about 17.5 percent of the total sales in 2004. With more on the way ' Bonefish Grill in River Ranch, Doe's Eat Place on Pinhook Road and Monitos' Tapas Bar & Restaurant downtown ' Gothreaux says the new establishments will in part redistribute some of the business. With all of the new restaurants introduced in the past year, this group ' which includes grocery stores and bakeries ' failed to show any significant growth in 2004. The largest group is general merchandise ' department, drug, hardware and sporting goods stores ' which accounts for 26.5 percent of all sales, followed by the food and auto group ' automobile dealers, service stations and boat dealers.
The future of local retail sales, hampered by the popularity of Internet commerce in the past few years, is more promising now, says Carson, who sees the novelty of purchasing online wearing off. "People are going back to traditional bricks and mortar," she says. Carson notes that people are fearful of identity theft and sharing credit card information, and want immediate gratification. "If you need a new pair of shoes for tonight, you're going to the mall," she says.
The parish shows a remarkable consistent pattern of retail growth. Sales rose steadily from 1995 to 1998, dipped in 1999 and began a solid climb, with the exception of a small .4 percent hiccup from 2001 to 2002.
Some of Landry's tenants, namely Garland's Salon, Buttross Jewelers and Ricky Smith Audio, have been around long enough to experience the biggest years in the parish's retail history, like the 40 percent swell in taxable sales from 1981 to 1982. Sales skyrocketed from $1.5 billion to $2.1 billion, dropping a year later to $1.75 billion due to a downturn in the oil industry.
Landry hopes that rollercoaster has come to a halt, explaining that South College Center's tenants, overwhelmingly homegrown businesses, can make better strategic moves and buying decisions when the economy is stable. "If they can get a little bit of growth every year, they're happier with that than with this big up and down stuff," Landry says.
Nationally, Republicans must gain six seats to win Senate control. The most competitive races, many in states where Obama lost in 2012, remain too close to call.
The Baton Rouge Republican has repeatedly battled a perception within his own party that he perhaps wasn't the best choice to carry the GOP banner.
Even if Jimmy Graham's production dips while the star tight end recovers from a shoulder injury, it looks like Drew Brees won't have much trouble finding other targets.
A former campaign manager for Senate candidate Rob Maness is striking at the Republican contender's tea party support, saying Maness only sought to appeal to conservative organizations because he needed money for his campaign.
Ninety-two percent of public school teachers were rated either effective or highly effective in a report the state issued marking the second year of a new statewide evaluation process.
Corporations spending in state elections; Kenny G and Hong Kong; states resist gay marriage and more national and international news for Thursday, October 23, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.
President Barack Obama is turning to black radio listeners to plead for midterm votes, a targeted approach to drum up Democratic support at a time when many candidates don't want him around in person.
"I am extremely disheartened by the political machines that are attempting to hijack my efforts along with others that advocate for children."
Landrieu, who is fighting to keep her seat for a fourth term, said that Ebola is serious and precautions should be taken, but she accused Republicans of using the virus outbreak in West Africa to "create fear" here at home.
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.
State education officials are preparing to release performance scores for public schools and public school districts.
Saints coach Sean Payton is starting a new week by emphasizing, repeatedly, the many good things he noticed during New Orleans' latest loss.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.
Even though it had been rumored for months, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu finally pulled the trigger recently on a major campaign shakeup that moved control over to a few Big Easy insiders.