Mild early winter weather, rising consumer confidence and exuberant holiday shoppers pushed Maine’s taxable sales to a record high in 2014, according to Maine Revenue Services figures.

The year’s total of $18.94 billion in taxable sales was 4 percent higher than in 2013 and far exceeded the last pre-recession sales total of $17.42 billion in 2007. In December 2014 alone, sales were up more than 10 percent over the previous year.

The latest increase continues a five-year growth streak for Maine’s economy that is expected to continue, said Michael Allen, associate commissioner for tax policy at Maine Revenue Services.

“That was the largest level of taxable sales that we can document,” Allen said.

Sales increased across all sectors, including general merchandise, groceries, automotive and transportation, building supply, restaurants and lodging. The biggest increase was in automotive and transportation, which includes auto sales, leases, parts, accessories, service and repairs. Taxable sales in that sector were up nearly 7 percent from the previous year.

A combination of factors pushed more Mainers to buy vehicles in 2014, said Thomas Brown Jr., president of the Maine Automobile Dealers Association. They included low interest rates, an aging consumer fleet and a wealth of redesigned models for popular vehicles.


The average age of a consumer vehicle on the road in 2014 was 11 years, Brown said, which indicates there was pent-up demand to go out and buy new cars and trucks.

Most important was that consumer confidence reached its highest point in 2014 since the nation’s most recent period of economic recovery began, he said.

“People wouldn’t be out buying if they weren’t feeling good about their particular situation and the future of their situation,” Brown said.

Another bright spot for Maine’s economy in 2014 was its robust holiday shopping season. Taxable sales in November and December were up 6.7 percent from the same two-month period in 2013, Maine Revenue Services figures show.

Craig Gorris, general manager of The Maine Mall in South Portland, said the holiday sales boost was notable in that it affected all areas of retail.

“It was definitely one of the strongest seasons in terms of sales gains over the prior year,” Gorris said. “Everything from women’s apparel, electronics, home furnishings, children’s shoes – everything was up.”


Some of December’s biggest year-over-year gains in taxable sales occurred at hotels and restaurants, the state’s figures show. Consumer spending on lodging was up 20 percent compared with December 2013, and restaurant spending increased by 12 percent. Spending for the entire year was up about 4 percent at hotels and 5 percent at restaurants.

Greg Dugal, president and CEO of the Maine Innkeepers Association, said the sharp increase in winter hotel spending was most likely tied to increased supply in Portland, where spending was up 20 percent in the fourth quarter compared with 2013.

A total of 550 new hotel rooms became available starting in December 2013 at the Westin Portland Harborview, the Courtyard Portland Downtown/Waterfront and Hyatt Place Portland-Old Port.

“It really looks like Portland is driving that train (of increased hotel spending), and it makes sense,” Dugal said.

Food stores also saw a significant taxable-sales boost in December, state data show, up more than 13 percent compared with a year earlier. Taxable sales at food stores were up about 4 percent for the entire year.

Hannaford spokesman Michael Norton said the data is consistent with what the Scarborough-based supermarket chain experienced.

“We did have a strong month in December,” Norton said. “It’s an important month for us because of the holidays.”


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