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Lawrence retail sales off to strong start for 2014; key rural intersection set for closure this weekend

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I thought Walgreens seemed busy on Christmas Eve. So many savvy shoppers with our Chapstick holiday gift packs, and a variety of products with a seal even more meaningful than the Good Housekeeping one: "As Seen On TV." (It says not only do we care, but we also saved a bundle on shipping and handling.)

Now there is a new City Hall report that suggests I was right. Lawrence shoppers finished the final days of the Christmas shopping season on a strong note, as retail sales for the period were up about 4 percent compared with a year ago. Technically, the report also covers the first few days after Christmas, so let's not forget the importance of post-holiday shopping to those numbers. (It is meaningful, as I still have a slight concussion from the avalanche of discounted wrapping paper, bows and snow globes that hit me when I opened the wrong closet door.)

The latest City Hall report represents the second of 12 sales tax payments the city will receive from the state in 2014, and thus far the numbers are painting a healthy picture of the city's retail scene. Taxable sales in Lawrence are up 5.2 percent for the year, compared with the same period a year ago.

Most of those numbers have been driven by holiday sales. As you may remember, many retailers complained that the holiday shopping season got off to a slow start but then picked up steam late. So, I thought I would take a look at several of the past reports to determine if the overall holiday shopping season was better or worse than normal.

When you combined the December 2013, January 2014 and February 2014 sales tax distributions, you get a pretty good picture of the entire holiday shopping season. (The reports measure spending that took place about a month and a half earlier.) Those reports show Lawrence recorded $369.4 million in taxable sales during the period. That's up from $349.4 million during the previous holiday season, an increase of 5.7 percent. So, all in all, it appears it was a decent holiday season for Lawrence retailers.

There were some big winners in other retail markets as well. The large retail cities of Overland Park, Topeka, and Wichita (Sedgwick County), all have posted large increases, according to the 2014 reports. Lawrence's performance, at a 5.2 percent increase, has it among the larger gainers as well. Here's a look at several of the state's big retail markets and how their year-to-date collections compare with the same period a year ago.

— Dodge City: down 1.1 percent

— Garden City: up 3.8 percent

— Hays: down 22 percent

— Hutchinson: up 3.2 percent

— Junction City: down 0.4 percent

— Kansas City: up 3.9 percent

— Leawood: up 1.9 percent

— Lenexa: up 6.7 percent

— Manhattan: up 3.9 percent

— Olathe: down 1.5 percent

— Overland Park: up 9.7 percent

— Salina: up 5 percent

— Shawnee: up 3.9 percent

— Topeka: up 7 percent

— Sedgwick County: up 7.2 percent

In other news and notes from around town:

• A question about sales tax collections came up at a recent City Commission meeting. Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said he was curious to know whether Lawrence's sales tax collections have truly been growing or simply rising as the result of inflation. As some readers may remember, I occasionally do such a calculation, but haven't for a few months. (Bernanke and I use the same inflation calculator, and he misplaced it when he was cleaning out his desk.)

But I'm ready to go now, so let's do some calculating. Here's how we'll do it. In 2013, the city had taxable sales of $1.38 billion. So that's our baseline. We'll convert everything to 2013 dollars using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' inflation calculator. Here's what taxable sales look like once they are adjusted for inflation:

2013: $1.38 billion

2012: $1.37 billion

2011: $1.34 billion

2010: $1.31 billion

2009: $1.36 billion

2008: $1.38 billion

So, as we've previously reported, 2013 was a significant year because it marked the point that we finally had regained the losses that we suffered as part of the recession. As the numbers show, the low point was in 2010. Adjusted for inflation, we lost about $70 million in retail sales and other taxable sales in Lawrence from 2008 to 2010. Then we started a slow climb back up.

But I think Farmer was interested in taking an even longer look back to determine how our numbers have stacked up against inflation. Remember, our baseline number is $1.38 billion, at the amount of taxable sales in 2013. Let's see if our inflation-adjusted totals from years gone by are higher or lower.

2005: $1.41 billion

2000: $1.39 billion

1998: $1.37 billion

1995: $1.28 billion

So, have taxable sales in Lawrence grown faster than inflation? Well, it just depends on when you start measuring. From 1995 to 2013, taxable sales grew by 7.8 percent, once adjusted for inflation. From 2005 to 2013, they have declined by 2.1 percent, once adjusted for inflation.

• We had news in the paper today about the latest construction work on the South Lawrence Trafficway. Well, now I have some news about the unofficial East Lawrence Trafficway. I don't know what you call it, but lots and lots of motorists every day get off of Kansas Highway 10 at the County Route 1057 interchange and then use a combination of Old K-10 Highway, Noria Road and North 1500 Road (15th Street extended) to get into East Lawrence and downtown. So, I call it the East Lawrence Trafficway. Regardless, don't take that route this weekend. Douglas County officials are planning to close the intersection of North 1500 Road and Noria Road from 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Crews, weather permitting, will be replacing the pavement at the intersection.

The work is being done as part of the improvements needed to prepare the intersection for the heavier truck traffic that will be coming from the expanded Penny's Sand Plant that is along the Kansas River just north and east of the intersection. Penny's is paying for the work.

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