Despite the rising cost of gasoline, consumers headed to the stores in May. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), May retail sales in the GAFS category (general merchandise stores, clothing and clothing accessories stores, furniture and home furnishings stores, electronics and appliances stores, and sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores) rose 5.9% over last year and increased 0.8% adjusted over April.

GAFS sales rose 10.0% in the first quarter and have risen 7.5% to date in the second quarter.

“As the economy continues to pick up steam, retailers are reaping the benefits,” said NRF Chief Economist Rosalind Wells. “The job market has long been the missing piece of the economic puzzle. With recent good news regarding job creation, all the pieces have fallen into place.”

May retail sales released Monday by the U.S. Commerce Department show that total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants) increased 1.2% seasonally adjusted for the month and rose 6.1% unadjusted year-over-year.

Economic recovery continued for the clothing sector in May. Sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores rose 0.9% adjusted over April and 3.4% unadjusted over last year. General merchandise stores also saw healthy increases of 1.3% adjusted over April and 7.8% over last year. Health and personal care stores saw sales rise 0.9% over April and 6.0% over last year. Electronics and appliances stores are also on the rise, with sales up 0.1% over April and 8.2% over last May.

The Commerce Department also reported that sales of gasoline were up 19.6% unadjusted over May 2003, largely due to higher prices.

“Consumers may be paying much more at the pump, but their spending patterns have not been visibly affected,” said NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin. “With Father¬ís Day approaching, retailers should expect to see this growth continue into June.”