Sales growth was slow at major retailers in September, as same-store sales rose 2.4 percent in September, according to data from the International Council of Shopping Centers and UBS released last week. Retail sales were rising at a 6 percent pace in the first five months of the year.

Reliable data are not available yet for local retail sales, but retail employment gives a hint of the situation. After all, vendors tend to add staff when sales are bustling.

Locally the number of retail jobs is up 5.5 percent in the year ended in August. The sector added 14,600 positions in that span, making it one of the strongest generators of new Washington area jobs.

The types of local retailers that are adding jobs is telling. Building materials and supplies dealers have added 1,600 jobs in the last year, a 9.1 percent gain, suggesting that a building boom is creating demand for lumber, drywall, and the like.

Clothing stores are doing particularly well, adding 2,600 jobs, a strong 13.1 percent gain. Grocery stores are showing decent results, having added 1,800 jobs in the last year, a 4.2 percent rise.

Department stores, it would appear from the Labor Department data, are not having as good a year. They had the same number of local jobs in August -- 29,800 -- as a year earlier. There is a silver lining, however, for local department stores; for most of the past four years they have been cutting jobs, since they had 34,200 jobs in August 2000.

-- Neil Irwin