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NEW YORK CITY-Clearance sales of summer merchandise dominated July chain store sales, which rose 2.6% over the previous year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers Chain Store Sales Trends index. Last month, the association predicted a 2% to 3% increase.

Value-oriented and convenience retailers performed best, with discount stores posting a 2.3% increase and wholesale clubs a 5.2% gain (excluding fuel). Wal-Mart posted a 3.7% increase, while Costco’s sales rose 10%. Drugstore sales rose 3.2%.

However, apparel sales remain weak, dropping 5.5%. Department stores saw a 5.7% decline (though Dillard’s posted a 2% increase), while teen-oriented chains dropped 3.5% and luxury department stores declined 3.5%. Early back-to-school sales boosted results at Bon-Ton (up 0.7%), but the rest of the season should continue current trends.

“Consumers will be very price conscious during this back-to-school season and will likely shop more at discounters than in recent years,” said ICSC chief economist Michael Niemira. “Demand for back-to-school and fall merchandise will kick in more dramatically during August. However, waning tax rebate influences may only partially offset the slight positive impact on discretionary spending from lower gasoline expenditures (should the lower prices remain).”

ICSC expects a sales increase of 2% for August.

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