SOUTH PORTLAND – Maine Mall retailers are reporting heavy foot traffic and strong sales this summer, boosted by tourists and shoppers looking for bargains, especially for students heading back to school.

G.M. Pollack & Sons, an employee-owned jewelry company with 12 stores in Maine and New Hampshire, saw a significant year-over-year increase in July sales.

“July was a good month for us,” said Raymond Peare, sales manager at Pollack’s mall store. ” And we’re the flagship store, so for us to do well usually speaks volumes for the company.”

Peare said shoppers seem to be “getting more intelligent” about how they spend their money in the wake of a recession that continues to challenge the U.S. economy.

“People seem to be saving more and putting more thought into what they’re buying,” said Peare. “So we’re seeing more planned purchases and less impulse buying.”

Peare and other retailers said they’ve also witnessed an increase in tourists checking out the mall, including passengers and crew members from cruise ships docking in Portland Harbor and Canadian visitors making the most of their stronger dollar.

“The mall management has been promoting us with cruise ships and we’re starting to see an impact,” Peare said. “We’ll probably see an even greater response next summer.”

Amanda Garland, an assistant manager at the Yankee Candle store, said Canadian tourists have been stocking up on jarred candles and other items in top-selling scents such as Tahitian Tiare Flower and autumn favorites such as Apple Cider.

“We’ve had a large number of Canadians,” said Garland. “And they spend a lot of money because they don’t have Yankee Candle stores up there.”

Mall stores that are doing well this summer are on the upside of national sales reports that show both pockets of growth and continued sluggish demand, according to several sources that track retail activity.

The International Council of Shopping Centers reported that 31 major retail chains posted an overall 2.8 percent year-over-year gain for July. The council also projected that back-to-school sales, reflecting retail activity from July through September, will increase for the first time in three years, by as much as 5.4 percent over last year.

Back-to-school needs brought Candace Davis to the mall twice this week. On Wednesday, she bought football cleats and other items for her 13-year-old son, Kyle Hanson. On Friday, she bought a video-camera case and a shirt for her 12-year-old daughter, Caitlin Morgan. She also bought a pair of slacks for herself.

“It was raining Wednesday, so we could barely walk in here,” said Davis, who lives in Westbrook. “But even today, it’s definitely busy.”

The back-to-school bump also could be boosting sales at the two Custom Wireless kiosks in the mall. The company is an authorized dealer of T-Mobile cellular telephone products and services.

Manager Mike Brown said business has been steady all summer, putting the South Portland locations ahead of 12 other Custom Wireless outlets in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

“It’s the first year in two years that we’ve seen an increase,” said Brown, who lives in Buxton. “It seems people are doing better and their looking for value. I think the recession has eased and people have learned to budget their expenses better.”

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]