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January 5th, 2009Economy puts PDX shops in tailspin

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by Erik Siemers

Portland International Airport’s retail vendors – a linchpin of PDX’s recent success – are struggling as fewer passengers take to the air.

Concession sales so far this fiscal year – from July to November – are down 2.5 percent, following two years of more than 8.5 percent growth.

Gift retailers such as Made in Oregon and The Real Mother Goose are all posting sales declines at or near double digits.

“Once October hit, we really saw a slowdown,” said Jayette Pettit, who for the past 17 years has managed The Real Mother Goose store at the airport, where sales were down 20 percent in October and November and about 28 percent in December.

The declines come on the heels of a November in which passenger traffic declined more than 16 percent. It was the airport’s worst performance since Sept. 11, 2001, when terror attacks sparked several months of double-digit drops in passenger traffic.

The airport eventually rebounded. In the past two years it set passenger traffic records. For three successive years it’s also been named the top U.S. airport in a reader’s poll conducted by Conde Nast Traveler magazine. And it is among the finalists in several categories of Airport Revenue News’ Best Airport & Concessionaires awards, including “best overall concessions program.”

But airport retailers find themselves at the intersection of two struggling sectors: retail and airlines.

Consumer confidence continues to plummet, and U.S. airport traffic through September – the latest data available from the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics – is down 8.4 percent from a year ago.

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