Meanwhile, sales rose at stores that sell building materials, on retail websites, and at restaurants and bars.
Retail sales, excluding motor vehicle and parts, fell 0.1% in February and rose 4.2% from February previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's monthly report, released Wednesday.
For the year, every category was a gainer, except for sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores, down 3.5 percent, and department stores, in which sales were flat, neither gaining nor losing compared with February 2017.
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A month-over-month drop in auto sales, which were down 0.9 percent, accounted for all of the slight monthly decline in total retail sales.
"There's clearly some buyers' strike going on in the last couple of months, but we know that consumer fundamentals are incredibly sound", said Tom Porcelli, chief USA economist at RBC Capital Markets in NY.
Total sales for the December 2017 through February 2018 period were up 4.3% from the same period a year ago.
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The February numbers won back a slight monthly dip seen in January, which declined 0.2 percent from December coming off one of the best holiday seasons in years but was up 5.4 percent year-over-year. It's still too early to draw conclusions about the impact of tax cuts but extra money in shoppers' pockets should help as the year goes forward. Overall consumer spending reflects more than two-thirds of economic demand in the U.S. Furniture and home furnishing sales were up 3.3% annually, and electronics and appliances sales rose 4.5%.
General merchandise stores were up 2.4 percent year-over-year but down 0.4 percent from January seasonally adjusted.
Economists estimate the economy is growing at a roughly 2% pace in the first quarter, down slightly from the fourth quarter and below the roughly 3% pace registered in the middle of a year ago.
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