The recession: It's nothing a little linguine and a nice chianti can't fix.
Sales inside Pasta Shop Ristorante were up 5 percent year over year in November, as recession-weary consumers indulged more in simple pleasures.
"People are getting more work and responsibilities put onto their existing jobs, and companies are asking them to do even more because of layoffs," owner David Alenik said. "What I hear is that work is getting more strenuous and hectic. They tell me, 'Boy, do we love to come here and have a glass of wine and a beautiful plate of pasta, and just relax.' They come here to decompress and forget about the ugly headlines and the stresses. It's a little escape for them."
If the latest state taxable sales numbers are any indication, there's a lot of escaping going on.
The Nevada Department of Taxation reported Monday that sales of tangible goods jumped 9.6 percent, to $3.39 billion year over year in November, a critical shopping month that kicks off holiday spending and includes the big Black Friday post-Thanksgiving retail sales day. In Clark County, sales rose 8.6 percent, to $2.47 billion.
Leading the way were big gains in key consumer categories. Sales in bars and restaurants, which made up 25 percent of Clark County's taxable sales in November, jumped 7.9 percent. Sellers of cars and car parts saw an 8.7 percent sales spike. General-merchandise stores, including department stores, posted a 3.9 percent gain, while sales of clothing and accessories surged 15.4 percent.
Steve Brown, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, called the sales report "very strong." He noted that retail sales are jumping faster than local employment, which is growing at around 1 percent.
"I think it's what we might call 'recession fatigue.' People say, 'I can't hold off buying anymore,' " Brown said.
"That's especially indicated in auto sales, which were strong in the latter part of 2011."
Local consumers are also a little more confident, with fewer mass layoffs, increased hiring in tourism and improving investment income, he said.
Brian Gordon, a principal in local research firm Applied Analysis, said booming clothing and restaurant sales also signal pent-up consumer demand. As they return to spending, shoppers are spurring "a little bit of a bounce from the bottom," he said.
The improvements also mean an increasingly normal retail environment, an important factor in companies' investment and expansion decisions, Gordon said.
And with November's springboard to December's Christmas sales, both experts said those figures should look solid -- probably better than national numbers -- when they're published in February.
Still, the numbers indicate that Nevada and Las Vegas have a long way to go before full recovery.
Taxable sales remained about 8 percent below their January peak of $3.52 billion statewide in 2007. Locally, sales were more than 13 percent below their January apex of $2.8 billion, which was also in 2007.
Construction continued its years-long slide, dipping 15.9 percent statewide and 9.5 percent in Clark County.
Southern Nevada remains in early recovery and is unlikely to return to pre-recession sales in 2012, Brown said.
Added Gordon: "Overall, a more stabilized environment is emerging, and we're beginning the recovery process in general. But we have miles to go before we have moved beyond the devastating effects of this past recession."
Yet, at the Pasta Shop Ristorante, expectations are high for 2012.
The restaurant's business jumped 60 percent when it moved in 2010 from Tropicana and Eastern avenues to Horizon Ridge Parkway near the affluent Anthem and Seven Hills areas. Because times are still tough, the eatery hasn't raised prices on regular menu items, which range from $16 to $25 for dinners. Also, rising food prices forced concessions in some ingredients, such as swapping out pricey pine nuts for less-expensive roasted cashews.
But the Pasta Shop has been able in recent months to dish out specials such as lobster ravioli with grilled salmon and shiitake mushrooms or an 8-ounce calamari steak with black tiger shrimp and scampi sauce for up to $32 a plate.
December's sales were excellent, Alenik said, and though January brought a lull, business has recently picked up.
"I certainly do see continued growth. There's a sense of optimism in the air now," Alenik said.
Gross revenue collections from sales and use taxes totaled $266.3 million in the month. That is an 8.8 percent increase over a year ago and a 7.4 percent increase in the first five months of fiscal 2012, which began July 1.
The general fund portion of sales and use taxes was 2.7 percent, or $9 million, above projections of the Economic Forum, a nonpartisan group of economists that forecasts tax revenue for state budgeting purposes.
Sales and use taxes help fund prisons and schools, among other services.
Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@review journal.com or 702-380-4512.