- Associated Press - Friday, November 27, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Holiday shoppers in the Dakotas this season are expected to spend more than they did last year, though a slumping oil economy in North Dakota has retailers there nervous.

If the prediction of North Dakota Retail Association President Mike Rud holds true, it could be the first time in many years that the holiday sales increase in North Dakota falls below the national mark.

“People are leaving the state because they don’t have jobs,” Rud said of the oil slowdown. “You take 30,000, 40,000 shoppers out of the equation that have been here the past few years, that’s concerning.”

The holiday sales increase in North Dakota over the past four years has been in the range of 6-8 percent above the previous year due to the oil boom and good years in agriculture, which also saw a slump this year. Rud is forecasting an increase in holiday sales this year in the 1½ to 2½ percent range over 2014. That would be less than the 3.7 percent increase that the National Retail Federation expects nationally.

“We have been kind of an island,” Rud said of North Dakota surpassing the national mark in recent years. “Hopefully we can continue to hold our own. Sooner or later, you knew it had to level out, and I think that’s what we’re seeing now. It might be just a ‘normal’ Christmas.”

South Dakota Retailers Association Executive Director Shawn Lyons didn’t project a holiday sales increase for that state but said about three-fourths of businesses that responded to a survey expect spending to be the same as last year or slightly up.

“Based on what we are hearing around the state, there is reason to expect a successful holiday shopping season for our state’s retailers,” Lyons said.

It was a chilly start to the holiday shopping season in the Dakotas on Black Friday, with temperatures in the teens, single digits and even below zero in some spots.

The temperature was in the single digits when Carolina Andrade left about 5 a.m. from Sisseton, South Dakota, with her family to shop in Fargo, North Dakota.

“I usually don’t go shopping on Black Friday but there were a lot of good deals. A lot of 50 percent discounts,” she said.

Valerie Bartsh traveled to Bismarck from Watford City with her two adult daughters early Friday. Shortly after dawn they were pushing three full shopping carts through a crowded Target parking lot.

“It’s mother-daughter time, and it’s savings time,” she said.

Lisa Kneifl at the Twist of Pine gift shop in Yankton, South Dakota, said she’s hoping for an improvement in the economy in coming months, but still expects good holiday sales.

“I believe people are hesitant to invest in large items but like shopping locally and will hopefully find the regional shopping good for them during these questionable times,” she said.

Creighton University economist Ernie Goss said this month that low crop prices and manufacturing slowdowns are weighing down the regional economy.

North Dakota’s taxable sales and purchases dropped 16 percent during April, May and June when compared to the second quarter a year ago, according to the most recent Tax Department figures. Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger attributed the drop to the decline in oil activity resulting from lower crude prices.

“You look at the taxable sales dollars, the direction they’ve taken, that’s a major cause for concern,” Rud said. “‘Anxiously optimistic’ is the way everybody is going to view it.

“We’ll see how it goes,” he said. “We’re going to hang in there and hope.”

___

AP writers Dave Kolpack in Fargo and James MacPherson in Bismarck contributed to this story.

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