Though the beach may have been beckoning, the arrival of summer sent shoppers to the stores last month. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), retail industry sales for June (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) rose a strong 7.5% unadjusted over last year and increased 0.5% seasonally adjusted from May. The gains, which led second quarter sales to rise 6.1% over 2004, were stronger than NRF had been expecting.

“A flurry of economic indicators, like rising gas prices and high interest rates, have led some to speculate that consumers will pull in the reins on spending,” said NRF Chief Economist Rosalind Wells. “But nearly every month, consumers are continuing to spend beyond our expectations.”

June retail sales released today by the U.S. Commerce Department show that total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants) rose 1.7% seasonally adjusted from May and increased 10.4% unadjusted year-over-year. Automotives and gasoline sales, categories that NRF does not include in its retail industry sales numbers, performed well last month.

Strong growth was seen in several retail categories in June, including clothing and clothing accessories stores, which rose 1.0% adjusted from the previous month and climbed an impressive 9.3% unadjusted over last year. General merchandise stores, including department stores, also saw gains, with sales increasing 1.2% from May and rising 9.8% unadjusted over last June. Sales were also strong at furniture and home furnishings stores, which rose 0.9% adjusted from the previous month and 4.0% over last year. Building materials and garden equipment and supplies dealers continued to see strong year-over-year growth with sales climbing 9.1% unadjusted over last June and rising 0.2% from May.

“Standout retail categories in June were general merchandise sales and clothing stores, which were helped by pent-up demand from a cool May and much warmer weather in June, which stimulated sales of summer apparel,” said Wells.

NRF expects retail industry sales to increase 5.4% this year over 2004.