April 7, 2005 -- A lion's share of obstacles held sales figures back in March, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, which released March retail sales data Thursday.

The group called the year-over-year rise of just 4.1% disappointing, and blamed what it said was lower customer turnout on a relatively cold March, high year-ago comparison data, high gasoline prices, a sluggish payroll employment gain, and the early arrival of Easter on March 27, instead of in April.

The ICSC tallied 71 chain stores for March 2005 that represented $61.1 billion in comparable store sales with $58.8 billion in the same month of the prior year. Drug stores were among the best performing sectors during the month.

"Fundamentally, the sales pace was clearly slower in March then the reported gain. The question is, how much is temporary and how much of that slowing will linger," said Michael Niemira, ICSC's chief economist and director of research.

Drug stores sales increased by 8.3% followed by discount stores (5%) and wholesale clubs (4.7%). They were followed by luxury stores (4.4%), footwear stores (3.4%) and apparel chain stores (0.6%).

Furniture stores and department stores saw sales decline by 10.3% and 1%.

For April, ICSC expects same-store sales to increase by 2% to 2.5%, on a year-over-year basis.

The ICSC expects that the April 2005 monthly pace of sales for the industry will be up between 2.0% and 3.0%.

ICSC Chain Store Sales Trends is a monthly report on the U.S. retail industry's sales performance based on an ICSC compilation of publicly-available sales for approximately 69 retail chain stores. Industry sales aggregates are compiled for "comparable-store" or "same-store" sales and for total store sales and presented as an index.