Numbers suggest Lawrence retailers had a slow start to the holiday shopping season

photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World File Photo

In this file photo from Dec. 1, 2011, a pedestrian crosses the intersection of Seventh and Massachusetts streets at dusk as colorful lights breathe some holiday life into downtown Lawrence.

January sure seems like it didn’t get the memo that 2021 was supposed to be a bounce-back year. Lawrence City Hall got its first sales tax check of the new year, and the best you can say about it is at least it didn’t bounce. It wasn’t that bad, but it also wasn’t anything to brag about.

Lawrence posted a 9.1% drop in sales tax collections for the month, compared to the same period a year ago. That is the largest drop for any of the 10 major retail centers that we monitor across the state.

Granted, this is only one month’s worth of numbers, and it is never wise to make too much out of a single month. However, the January report is an interesting one because it provides our first snapshot at how the recently completed holiday shopping season went. The January sales tax report largely shows sales that were made in November, meaning it captures the early part of the holiday shopping season. The February report will show how retailers did in the important month of December.

Thus far, the story appears to be that brick and mortar retailers struggled, while online retailers were loving Lawrence. While Lawrence’s sales tax collections — the type that traditional retailers collect — were down 9.1%, a special use tax that is charged to online purchases was up nearly 35% compared to the same period a year ago. That was the second-best showing of any of the major retail markets in the state.

Here’s a look at the numbers. Here’s how major retail cities did in terms of traditional sales tax collections, compared to a year ago.

• Olathe: up 3.9%

• Shawnee: up 2.1%

• Manhattan: up 1.2%

• Kansas City: down 1.3%

• Salina: down 1.8%

• Topeka: down 2.9%

• Sedgwick County: down 3.8%

• Overland Park: down 5%

• Lenexa: down 6.9%

• Lawrence: down 9.1%

Here’s how those same communities did in collections of special use tax, which is a type of sales tax consumers pay when they purchase items online from a retailer outside the community. Note: There are other instances where a use tax is charged, but the category of online sales is a big one.

• Olathe: up 70.7%

• Lawrence: up 34.7%

• Shawnee: up 26.4%

• Lenexa: up 25.9%

• Kansas City: up 23.9%

• Salina: up 17.2%

• Manhattan: up 15.5%

• Sedgwick County: up 9.8%

• Overland Park: up 8.4%

• Topeka: up 5.5%

Again, it is only one month’s worth of data, so it is best not to make too much of it. But the big increase in use tax collections comes on the heels of 2020 data that showed a 12% increase in Lawrence’s use tax collections for the entire year. City Hall officials will take the money, but it is not as much fun as collecting traditional sales taxes. After all, a use tax, by definition, means that a Lawrence resident was spending money with a company based outside the city. Maybe even one named after a giant rainforest. Or, is the rainforest named after the company? Tough to tell these days.


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