According to a report issued by the International Council of Shopping Centers, retailers in February saw their best cumulative monthly year-over-year same-store sales since April 2000. Overall comp store sales in February rose 6.7% from the same month a year ago according to the ICSC report that is a result of a survey of 71 chains. The April 2000 gain was 7.9%. Last February only posted a 0.9% gain for the month versus the previous year, blamed mostly on a Northeast snowstorm on President’s Day weekend in 2003.

Better weather on the President’s Day weekend this year in many parts of the country, coupled with a Valentine’s Day that fell on a Saturday worked together with fatter tax rebate checks and a strengthening economy to drive traffic in the mall as well as out.

“Consumers are definitely feeling better,” said Todd D. Slater, an analyst at Lazard Freres & Co. “They are more upbeat about their jobs. They have more liquidity, and they're much more compelled by the fashion offerings.”

Greg Weaver, chairman and CEO of Pacific Sunwear, said the poor weather last year and other factors during the month should have led to a 2% to 3% for retailers during the month. Many retailers, including PSUN, The Finish Line and other mall retailers, actually posted double-digit increases.

Wholesale Clubs, which were up 9.3% as a segment, led all the retail sectors. Costco posted its sixth consecutive double-digit monthly increase with an 11% gain.

Apparel Specialty had an 8.6% increase and even Department Stores got into the act, growing 5.4% for the month. The luxury guys again led the group with Nordstrom up 24.4%, Neiman Marcus gaining 14.1%, and Saks Fifth Avenue jumping 25.2% for the month.

Shoe Carnival reported its first comp store sales gain since September, posting a 4.7% increase for February. Total sales for the month increased 13.6% to $40.1 million from sales of $35.3 million for the year-ago period.

On a category basis, Women’s dress/casual was up in “mid singles” and Men’s dress/casual was down in “mid singles”. Kids comps were up in “high singles”, while Athletic and Accessories were each up in “mid singles”
SCVL said spring weather helped in the Northern stores, while late snow storms negatively impacted the Southeastern stores. Gross margin for February was described as “better than last year”. Inventory was “down slightly” on a per store basis and was described as having a “higher percentage of spring inventory” than LY.

The Company also announced the opening of three stores during the month, one each in Austin, Texas; Lufkin, Texas and Vienna, W.Va.

Famous Footwear is still fighting to get back to positive comp territory, posting a 1.8% same-store sales decline for February. Total sales increased 0.3% to $67.4 million for the month, compared to $67.2 million for the year-ago period. The company said comps decreased as favorable results in the latter part of the month were offset by cold weather that deterred shoppers at the beginning of February.

“The lack of clearance product affected Famous Footwear's sales early in the month, and we believe resulted in overall negative store-for-store sales comparisons,” said Brown Shoe Chairman and CEO Ron Fromm. “More importantly, business has continued to strengthen considerably since late February as gains in athletics and dress footwear are being driven by our new spring assortments and the advent of good weather. Gross margin rates were strong throughout the month.”

Discount Stores were up 6.3% as a whole led by TJX a 10% increase.

Comp store sales at Retail Ventures’ DSW Show Warehouse unit jumped 16.0% for the month of February, reversing the 14.2% decline from the year-ago month. Total sales were up 28.2% to $51.3 million from $40.0 million in February LY.

RVI reported that both its Value City (+5.9%) and Filene’s Basement (+22.8%) chains were in positive territory in comps for the month.

The Buckle reported that total sales for the month increased 14.9% to $29.3 million from sales of $25.5 million in the year-ago period. Comparable store sales were up 10.8% for the month.

Some retail analysts think the strong results so far this year bodes well for retailers as the spring selling season looms larger.

“These two months (January and February) confirm that Americans feel better about digging into their pockets and buying things,” said Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group in a published report. In a recent survey, his firm found that for the first time in three years Americans who intend to spend more money on retail goods than last year outnumber those who plan to spend less.

But Chicago retail consultant George Rosenbaum, head of Leo J. Shapiro & Associates, was quoted in the same report that he doesn't think consumers will continue their spending splurge. His firm's consumer research shows people remain worried about the economy and either losing their jobs or suffering a cut in overtime, bonuses or other income.

“Our data says we are not building (sales) momentum,” said Rosenbaum in the report.