The U.S. saw a jump in retail spending in July, while the picture in Maine shows that the rate of growth in sales may be slowing.

“The good news is that retail sales in Maine and the U.S. are growing year-over-year. That wasn’t the case at this time last year,” said Joel Johnson, a policy analyst with the Maine Center for Economic Policy. “The growth in Maine hasn’t been quite as fast as the nation.”

Merchants in Freeport, home of L.L. Bean and outlet stores for luxury brands such as Cole Haan and Coach, reported mixed results, while the Bangor Mall said it has gotten a boost from a recent tax change in Canada.

Nationally, retail sales rose 0.8 percent to July from June, marking the sharpest monthly increase since February, according to the Commerce Department. Consumers across the country appear to be showing more confidence in the economy, the report suggested.

In Maine, the retail sales numbers are delayed somewhat and are not seasonally adjusted, so month-to-month comparisons are hard to make. Looking at this year’s figures versus last year, however, gives a broader picture of the state’s retail spending, Johnson said.

“We’re still seeing real growth and still outpacing inflation, but it’s a little worrisome that there’s been a decline in growth,” Johnson said of the May retail sales figures for Maine, the most recent month available. May retail sales were up 4.7 percent from May 2011.

In Freeport, retail spending has been hurt somewhat by the nice summer weather, according to Janet Dutson, executive director for FreeportUSA, which represents merchants in Freeport.

“We talked to a mix of national outlets and local merchants, and their results are mixed. Some are down 3 to 4 percent from last year, some are flat and others are up 3 percent,” Dutson said. “There aren’t huge changes from last year, but the reports are mixed.”

“We’ve had fabulous weather this year. That tends to keep shopping down in Freeport,” Dutson said. “Tourists come to Maine to do outdoor things. They want to fill up on the beach, lighthouses, kayaking — and shopping tends to drop off.”

“Summer has been up and down generally,” said L.L. Bean spokeswoman Carolyn Beem. “Back-to-school is always strong for us. We’ve had a good month with people loading up on gear and backpacks.”

Meanwhile, malls have done surprisingly well throughout the summer.

The Maine Mall added two new tenants this month with the arrival of clothing retailer J. Crew and Lush Handmade Cosmetics, which will bring the shopping center nearly to full occupancy. Nationally, the average vacancy rate for regional shopping malls in the U.S. was 8.9 percent in the second quarter of this year, according to the real estate research firm Reis Inc.

Meanwhile, the Bangor Mall has gotten a boost from a new Canadian tax law that took effect June 1 and that increased the amount of merchandise Canadians could take home before being taxed. The new rule increased to $200 from $50 the amount that could be purchased on trips longer than 24 hours and to $800 from $400 for trips between two days and seven days.

Each year, Canadian tourists contribute an estimated $230 million to Maine’s economy, according to a website for the Canadian government.

James Gerety, general manager of the Bangor Mall, said the mall has seen an influx of Canadian shoppers taking advantage of the new tax law. The mall has seen fewer buses bringing in scores of customers at once, but there’s been an uptick in more individual car traffic from Canada, Gerety said. The mall does not track car volume in its parking lot, but relies on anecdotal stories or reports to its guest services offices.

“The main reason is the selection and variety of stores and entertainment. There are plenty of buyers enjoying the new change,” Gerety said.

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