The U.S. had a jump in retail spending in July, but the picture in Maine shows that 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 from June to July, the sharpest monthly increase since February, according to the Department of Commerce. Consumers appear to be showing more confidence in the economy, the report suggests.

In Maine, retail sales numbers are delayed somewhat and aren’t seasonally adjusted, so month-to-month comparisons are hard to make. Looking at this year’s figures against last year’s, 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 retail figures for May, the most recent month for which they’re available. Retail sales in May were up 4.7 percent from May 2011.

In Freeport, retail spending has been hurt somewhat by this summer’s nice weather, said 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.

“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.”

Malls have done surprisingly well throughout the summer.

The Maine Mall added two 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 was 8.9 percent in the second quarter of this year, according to the real estate research firm Reis Inc.

The Bangor Mall has gotten a boost from a Canadian tax law that took effect June 1, increasing the amount of merchandise Canadians can take home before being taxed.

The rule increased the value of merchanside that could be purchased tax-free during trips longer than 24 hours, from $50 to $200, and during trips lasting two to seven days, from $400 to $800.

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, said the Bangor Mall has seen an influx of Canadian shoppers taking advantage of the new tax law. Fewer buses have been bringing in scores of customers, but there has been more car traffic from Canada, Gerety said.

The mall doesn’t track volume in its parking lot, but relies on anecdotal stories or reports to its guest services offices.

“There are plenty of buyers enjoying the new change,” Gerety said.

Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

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