Local News

Shopping appears to heat up in March

— This March, there was certainly cause to celebrate at Alan Jay Automotive Network.

It was the best March — typically a busy month in itself — since before the recession, said the company’s marketing director, Don Elwell.

While sales were good, the service centers and the body shops did well, too, he said.

“Manufacturers are putting out very good incentives at this time,” he said, “Plus, there are good factory rebates.”

Over at the Habitat ReStore in downtown Sebring, merchandise flew off the shelves and so many donations poured in workers had to rent a warehouse, said manager Stuart Spencer.

“It was an outstanding year,” he said.

While the holiday season — November and December and even October — is traditionally the busiest for retailers and can represent as much as 20  percent to 40 percent of annual sales, March has outdone these months in Highlands County in terms of sales tax collections.

It may indicate there is more local shopping in March, as shoppers pay sales tax when they buy certain things, or that there is more high-dollar buying that month.

This year’s March sales-tax revenue figures were not available, but last March saw $814,069 collected in local sales tax revenues. March 2012 saw $803,104.

Of the 7 percent sales tax Highlands County residents pay, the state returns the local share, 1  percent, to local governing bodies.

Spencer thinks it may be because people have money to spend from income tax refunds.

The 12 Hours of Sebring, an annual motorsport endurance race for sports cars held at Sebring International Raceway, is also held in March, which may boost sales tax revenues as visitors buy things locally.

Highlands County also still has a high concentration of snowbirds in March, before many head back home in April, Elwell pointed out.

Jim Hengy, owner of Boner Outfitters in Sebring, said many snowbirds come in during the month of March before heading up North to buy “Sebring” shirts or other souvenirs for folks back home, making that month busier than the holiday season.

While March has robust sales tax collections locally, the holiday season months were not far behind.

This December saw nearly $797,000 in local sales tax collections, while last December’s local revenue was $755,566.

In December 2012, $743,994 was collected, showing a slight but definite upward climb.

This March also might be for the record books.

U.S. consumers ramped up their spending in March at the fastest pace in 4½ years, a sign that the economy is gaining momentum after its winter slowdown.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that consumer spending rose 0.9 percent, the largest monthly gain since April 2009.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.