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VANCOUVER, WA-Clark County retail sales marked their weakest quarterly increase in the past 16 years, according to the latest data from the Washington State Department of Revenue.

Retail sales totaled $366.7 million in the first three months of the year, a measly 1.4% increase over the $361.7 million rung up in the first quarter of 2000. In 2000, sales were up 8.5% from the year-earlier period.

The slowdown is in part related to consumers taking advantage of Initiative 695, which replaced a 2.2% motor vehicle excise tax with a flat annual vehicle registration fee of $30 and jump-started auto sales that now have dropped off.

At $57.9 million, vehicle sales were down 13.4% through the end of March when compared to sales of $68.9 million in first quarter 2000. The state Department of licensing reports that new car registrations were similarly slim, down 15.1% from the first quarter 2000.

Minus auto sales, Clark County retail trade grew 4.8% in the first three months of the year. Grocery store sales rose 8.6%. Clothing sales increased 6.8%.

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