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by Whitney L. Harrod

Increased mall traffic and strong consumer interest in seasonal Easter items bolstered March sales, according to a well-known economic indicator released Tuesday.

The Johnson Redbook Retail Sales Index for March rose an average 3.9 percent compared with the same period a year ago. March sales increased 1.2 percent over February’s.

The index is described as providing an early estimate of retail trends ahead of other reports, such as the chain store sales report to be released by the International Council of Shopping Centers on Thursday.

In the week ended April 3, the day before Easter, sales increased 5.2 percent from last year due to seasonal demand for spring and Easter-related merchandise, according to Redbook.

While some major retailers will release their March sales reports Thursday, Walgreen Co. got ahead of the pack and announced results Tuesday.

The Deerfield-based drugstore chain posted a March sales increase of 6.4 percent to $5.82 billion from $5.47 billion a year earlier. Comparable-store sales increased 2.3 percent. Comparable stores are those open for at least a year. In March, Walgreen opened 54 new stores and closed three, leaving it with a total of 7,225 locations.

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