Retailers grappling with Louisiana sales tax changes, worry about expenses and impact on customers _lowres

Advocate file photo by JOHN OUBRE -- Early morning shoppers stroll the Mall Of Louisiana on Saturday morning in hopes of finding that special sale item during the day after Christmas sales.

Lafayette Parish last year posted its first increase in retail sales since the oil crash of 2014, and five of the parish’s six municipalities saw significant gains as well, according to figures released Thursday by the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.

The exception among municipalities was the City of Lafayette, where retail continued to slump. Sales in unincorporated parts of the parish also dropped for the third straight year.

But those losses accumulated at slower rates than the previous year, and dramatic turnarounds in Carencro, Broussard, Youngsville, Scott and Duson were enough to push the whole parish into positive territory for the first time since oil dropped from nearly $110 to less than $30 per barrel between mid-2014 and early 2016.

Annual sales within the parish increased 0.65 percent last year, from $5.78 billion to $5.82 billion. The City of Lafayette saw a 1.3 percent decrease, compared with more than 2 percent the previous year. The decline in unincorporated parts of the parish was more drastic at 10.6 percent. Still, the unincorporated rate of decline was slower than the 12.5 percent dip the previous year.

Sales in all six municipalities decreased in 2016. Carencro’s huge 25.9 percent gain in 2017 was the most pronounced upward spike last year, thanks in part to national chains popping up along Interstate 49. But recovery is arguably strongest in Youngsville and Scott, where sales topped even their 2014 figures.

Parish-wide sales in 2014 hit $6.4 billion, a figure that is “astronomically high,” said One Acadiana CEO Jim Bourgeois. But even with oil crashing over the next year and a half, retail sales in the whole parish never dropped below 2011 levels, and the figure last year is comparable to 2012.

Bourgeois said retail in Lafayette Parish is sustaining in part because of rapid residential development in Broussard and Youngsville, which are attracting new restaurants and other amenities.

“Could that be impacting the City of Lafayette? I don’t know,” Bourgeois said.

Follow Ben Myers on Twitter, @blevimyers.