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WASHINGTON, DC-August retail sales, including non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants, climbed 0.2% from July and 6.6% from one year ago, the US Commerce Department reported today.

Clothing and clothing accessories stores, benefiting from the back-to-school promotions and end of summer sales, rose 7.3% unadjusted from last August, while showing a slight decrease of 0.3% from the prior month. Furniture and home furnishings stores rose 6.4% unadjusted from last year, while decreasing 0.3% from July.

Health and personal care stores increased 0.6% from the prior month and 7.3% unadjusted year-over-year. Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores rose 0.8% month-to-month and 6.5% unadjusted from August 2005. Sales in electronics and appliances stores increased 0.1% from the prior month and 4.9% from a year ago.

Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers continued to show steady growth in spite of the slowing housing market. Sales in this category were up 0.1% from the prior month and 7.6% year over year.

The increases category-wide were attributed to summer vacations, back-to-school shopping and end of season clearance promotions motivated consumers to visit stores this past month. The National Retail Federation estimates that combined back-to-school and back-to-college sales were $54.2 billion this year.

“With a successful back-to-school selling season behind them, retailers can now look to the fourth quarter with a little more optimism,” says NRF chief economist Rosalind Wells. “Declining gas prices could provide a nice psychological boost for consumers just in time for the holidays.”

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