In a month marked by economic turmoil, retail and food services sales fell 1.2 percent in September, the largest drop since August 2005, the Commerce Department reported this week.

In a survey of 5,000 retailers nationwide, sales were down one percent from a year ago, though total sales for July through September were up 0.8 percent compared to the same period last year, the report said. Last month's declines follow a 0.4 percent decrease in August.

Sales were down in nearly every retail category last month, including a 4.2 percent drop in motor vehicle sales.

Gas station sales were up 17.8 percent for the year, though price changes accounted for most of the increase. Gas sales rose by just 0.1 percent in September, and station owners are expecting lower prices to further curb growth in the months ahead.

"Better performers tend to be those that have evolved their offer to be as much a restaurant that happens to sell gas, so that as much as gas sales are down, in-store sales are up," said Jeff Lenard, the spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores.

In a recession, retailers do well by selling either upscale or affordable products, Lenard added.