El Paso retail sales have been increasing in recent months, with Fort Bliss soldiers and Mexican shoppers helping fuel the growth.
State sales-tax rebates sent to the city this month increased 17.4 percent — the second-highest percentage gain among Texas’ 20 largest cities, Texas comptroller’s data show.
The rebates are an indication of retail sales activity. this month’s rebates were for may retail sales.
El Paso’s state sales-tax rebates have increased 7.2 percent so far this year compared with the first seven months of 2010 — the seventh-best percentage gain among the state’s 20 largest cities.
Nationwide, retailers reported strong sales in June, typically the second-biggest shopping month of the year. Revenue at major retailers rose 5.5 percent from a year ago, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers’ survey of 28 retailers’ sales results released last week.
Some El Paso retail outlets and events are doing better than others.
The El Paso tattoo festival, held during the Fourth of July weekend, sold an estimated $400,000 to $500,000 worth of tattoos, reported Brian Kennedy, president of the El Paso Sports Commission, which operates the County Coliseum where the festival was held.
“We had four ATM machines working. we went through $200,000 worth of cash. we reloaded the machines five times during the weekend,” Kennedy said.
Many of the tattoo artists took only cash. Some also accepted credit cards.
This may indicate that many El Pasoans have disposable income. but Kennedy said some of the 8,000 people attending the three-day festival reported they had been saving for months to get a tattoo during the festival from a well-known tattoo artist. The crowd was diverse, he added.
“El Paso seems to be doing better on concert swings than a lot of markets,” Kennedy added. “We were one of the top markets for (Mexican singer) Luis Miguel,” who drew almost 6,000 people, the Coliseum’s capacity for concerts, at a June concert, he reported.
Gina Slechta, vice president of marketing for Chicago-area-based Horizon Group Properties, said Thursday-night summer concerts and summer farmers markets on Sundays at the Outlet Shoppes at El Paso have further boosted already strong sales at the 93-store factory outlet center.
Sales at the West El Paso center have increased about 15 percent from January through June, compared with sales a year ago, Slechta reported. and 2010 sales were strong, she said.
“El Paso is performing the best of our five outlet malls” scattered across the country, Slechta reported.
That’s partly due to the El Paso center being Horizon’s newest and largest outlet mall in its biggest metro market, she said. It opened in October 2007.
But shoppers coming from Mexico and Army soldiers and their families from a growing Fort Bliss also are important factors in boosting sales, Slechta said.
Fort Bliss now has about 24,000 soldiers, and that number is projected to grow to at least 30,000 by 2013. Many of the soldiers are married and have children, which adds thousands of people to the city’s population.
Outlet Shoppes officials have said an estimated 75 to 80 percent of its sales come from shoppers from Mexico. Cielo Vista Mall officials have said about 25 percent of its shoppers come from Mexico. Bassett place surveys have found as many as 27 percent of shoppers are from Mexico.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’ El Paso branch has reported Mexican shoppers account for 16 percent of El Paso retail sales.
Cielo Vista and Sunland Park malls’ officials reported good sales so far this year, but the malls do not provide specific numbers.
On weekends, Cielo Vista’s parking lot is often at 75 to 80 percent of its capacity, reported Cindy Foght, area director of marketing for the malls, in an email statement.
“We believe that the Mexican national and military audience will continue to grow in retail significance for these El Paso malls,” Foght said.
Michael Griffith, director of marketing for Food Management Partners in San Antonio, which operates two Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants in El Paso, including a West side outlet that opened this year, said in an email that Fort Bliss soldiers and Mexican visitors boost sales at the restaurants.
“We have seen especially strong sales in the border regions, and we believe that is helped by the influx of Mexican nationals,” Griffith said.
David Jaffa, who holds the Five Guys Burgers franchise rights for El Paso and new Mexico, doesn’t know how big a part Mexican customers or Fort Bliss soldiers play in strong sales at his two El Paso restaurants. He doesn’t track sales that way. but the restaurants continue to have sales well above the Five Guys’ national average, he said.
When Jaffa opened the Five Guys restaurants on the West and East sides of El Paso late last year and early this year, those restaurants and one he operates in Albuquerque were in the 750-plus restaurant chain’s top 10 for sales, a Five Guys corporate spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., reported early this year.
Jaffa said he plans to eventually have six more Five Guys restaurants in El Paso.
“It’s a positive sign for El Paso that guys like us, and others are opening new restaurants here,” said Jaffa, who previously owned and operated a window and door factory in Rhode Island. “The feeling is that El Paso is a progressive market that is growing, where a lot of other areas of the country are seeing the opposite.”
Vic Kolenc may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6421