A sharp jump in motor vehicle purchases during December broke a 16-month string of overall retail sales being down in the Midcoast compared with the same month a year earlier.

Retail sales in the region, which includes all of Knox County and the adjacent Waldo County towns of Lincolnville and Islesboro, totaled $43 million in December, according to the Maine Bureau of Revenue Services. This was 11 percent more than the $38.7 million received by local merchants in December 2008.

This broke the 16-month stretch that began in August 2008 in which overall retail sales had been down compared with the same month a year earlier. The last increase came in July 2008 when sales were up 1 percent.

Motor vehicle sales propelled the economy in December with $10.5 million in purchases made, up from $5.9 million in sales a year earlier, according to the state bureau.

Department store sales slumped again in December despite it being the peak of the holiday season. General merchandise stores saw sales go down 2 percent to $9.1 million.

Building supply sales totaled $7.1 million in December, up about 1 percent.

Taxable sales at food stores totaled $4.9 million, up 2 percent. Most food is exempt from the state’s sales tax and is not included in the revenue bureau reports.

Midcoast restaurants reported sales in December of $3.8 million, about the same as a year earlier.

A group of stores that includes gift shops, antiques stores, jewelers, pharmacies and sporting goods shops reported sales of $6.2 million, down about 4 percent from December 2008.

Lodging businesses had sales of $1.3 million, down 13 percent from a year ago.

Statewide, retail sales totaled $1.39 billion, down 2 percent. This was the 17th straight month that statewide retail sales had been down from the previous year.

Total 2009 sales

For all of 2009, retail sales in the Midcoast totaled $415 million, down 8 percent from $452 million in 2008.

The largest category of sales during 2009 was from building supply stores, which reported $82 million in sales, down 8 percent from 2008.

General merchandise stores reported total sales in 2009 of $73.4 million, down 5 percent from 2008.

Motor vehicle sales — cars, trucks, motorcycles and motor boats — totaled $66.2 million during 2009. This was nearly the same amount as in 2008.

Restaurants generated $64.2 million in sales during 2009, down 2 percent from 2008.

The miscellaneous group of stores that includes gift shops had sales totaling $51 million, down 7 percent.

Taxable items at food stores totaled $50.1 million in 2009, down nearly 4 percent from 2008.

Lodging businesses reported sales of $29.3 million during 2009, down 12 percent from 2008.

Lincoln County

Overall retail sales in Lincoln County during 2009 totaled $277 million, down 8 percent from 2008.

Motor vehicle sales accounted for the largest category in Lincoln County with $53.1 million in transactions. This was down 13 percent from 2008.

Taxable sales at food stores rose 5 percent to $47.2 million.

Restaurant sales dropped 7 percent to $45.3 million.

Building supply sales fell 16 percent to $41 million.

Sales in the miscellaneous group of stores totaled $34.6 million, down 4 percent.

Lodging businesses reported sales down 15 percent to $22.6 million.

General merchandise sales dropped 7 percent to $18.7 million.

Other regions

Overall retail sales in December for other regions of the state were:

* Augusta $87.4 million, unchanged.
* Bangor $144.8 million, down 1 percent.
* Bar Harbor $6.9 million, down 18 percent.
* Belfast $13.1 million, down 6 percent.
* Brunswick $60.1 million, down 2 percent.
* Ellsworth $34.4 million, up 2 percent.
* Kittery $40.5 million, up 1 percent.
* Lewiston $79.6 million, down 1 percent.
* Portland $205.7 million, down 1 percent.
* Presque Isle $34.9 million, unchanged.
* Waterville $49.6 million, up 1 percent.