AUBURN — Curtis Picard cautioned a sold-out chamber breakfast Thursday morning that after six or seven years of growth, his retail forecast for 2019 looked “a little cloudy.”

Picard, president and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine, said he isn’t negative on retail prospects in Maine next year, but his eyes are open.

Fears about “a ‘retail apocalypse,’ ‘retail is going away’ – absolutely none of that is true,” Picard told Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce members at the Hilton Garden Inn Auburn Riverwatch. Retail, though, is undergoing “a serious evolution. Retail has always been super competitive.”

And after years of growth, cycles happen.

He’s listening to real estate agents who say the market is slowing down, and to car dealers who are proceeding cautiously, and he’s watching the effects of tariffs. Picard said he’s talked to retailers in Maine who stocked up on spring 2019 merchandise this fall, months early, to beat the added costs of impending tariffs, but who now have a lot of inventory they’re sitting on and need to move.

Picard, who lives in Topsham, said that for several years, gas prices have been low, consumer confidence has been high and the tourism seasons have been strong. But “I do think we’re headed for some changing times,” he said.

The National Retail Federation is projecting holiday sales nationally will be up 4.3 percent to 4.8 percent this year. Maine typically mirrors that, Picard said, unless a serious snowstorm or bad weather keeps people home. So far this season, so good.

The federation also estimated that 163 million people shopped on “cyber Monday,” up 1 million from last year).

Picard said people talk a lot about the Amazon effect on retail, but he’s watching the Dollar General effect.

“They’re shaking things up, in my mind, as much as Amazon is” by targeting small population centers in rural areas and “taking a huge bite” out of businesses like Walmart, he said.

Companies in Maine who want to stay competitive, he said, need to be conscious about being accessible, being where customers want to find them, offering next-day or two-day shipping, being active on social media and definitely having an e-commerce website.

Kathryn Skelton can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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