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by Bruce Edwards

Rutland’s Bonnie Hawley has been in the retail business long enough to experience the good times and the not-so-good times. The not so good times are back again as retailers — both family owned and chain stores — hunker down to weather the worst recession in decades.

“We got hit with the perfect storm,” said Hawley of Hawley’s Florist on Center Street.

Hawley, who is also president of the Vermont Retail Association, said the perfect storm of last year’s financial meltdown cascaded the country into a deepening recession marked by a credit crunch and mounting job losses.

The result is that worried consumers across the country have cut spending.

The decline in retail sales is evident in the state’s sales tax receipts.

Through the first quarter, retail sales in the state were down 7.5 percent to $1.1 billion, according to the Vermont Tax Department. Last year, retail sales were off 3 percent to $5.1 billion from 2007.

Retail sales include taxable services, such as telecommunications, but does not include motor vehicle sales, which is taxed separately.

Nationally, sales remain in the doldrums, with June retail sales up slightly from May but down 7.8 percent for the year compared to a year earlier, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

Economist Arthur Woolf said retailers should see some improvement by the end of the year as the economy stabilizes. But Woolf cautioned that in the meantime economists are forecasting higher unemployment. “It’s hard to support a rising retail trade when you’re still losing jobs,” said Woolf, a principal in Northern Economic Consulting in Westford.

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