Cars, gas and dinner: Where Capital Region residents are spending their money, or not

PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE Mario Ciancetta of Alplaus fills his tank with gas at the Alltown Fresh Market at 1410 Erie Boulevard in Schenectady Friday, January 8, 2021.

PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE Mario Ciancetta of Alplaus fills his tank with gas at the Alltown Fresh Market at 1410 Erie Boulevard in Schenectady Friday, January 8, 2021.

ALBANY — Did you ever wonder where the state’s sales tax revenue comes from? Your wallet, certainly, but beyond that, what items constitute the biggest expenditures we make?

The state-run database at has 548,640 answers, with extensive details on taxable sales in every county of New York

And it also shows what we did and didn’t buy during the COVID-19 lockdown of spring 2020 and the continued restrictions in the summer of 2020.

Some nuggets:

  • Fuel retailers in Schenectady County made $46.6 million in sales in March-May 2020, when so many people were staying home, vs. $63.5 million a year earlier, a 27% drop.
  • Montgomery County fuel retailers saw their sales drop only 19% during this period — truckers kept on trucking through the COVID lockdown, and Montgomery County has a number of diesel fueling stations along its 51 miles of Interstate 90.
  • News flash: E-commerce exploded! New Yorkers made $11.44 billion in taxable purchases on Amazon, eBay, QVC and others from March-August 2020, up 133% from a year earlier.
  • Saratoga County’s beer, wine and liquor stores have enjoyed a 26% increase in sales during the COVID era.
  • Auto dealer revenue in Albany County, the highest of any county in the Capital Region, was 38% lower in March-May 2020 than the same months of 2019 but jumped 71% from spring to summer 2020.


The state’s sales tax year does not follow either the calendar year (January-December) or the state’s own fiscal year (April-March). Instead, it runs March-February. Only data from the first quarter (March-May) and second quarter (June-August) of the 2020-2021 sales tax year are available as of this week.

In this period, as always, the less-populous, more-rural, less-wealthy counties (Fulton, Montgomery, Schoharie) saw far less taxable sales than their larger neighbors (Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady counties). But the smaller counties all saw a year-over-year increase in taxable sales while the larger counties all saw a decrease:

  • Albany County merchants registered sales of $3.05 billion in the two quarters of 2020, down 14.6% from a year earlier
  • Fulton County $395.7 million, up 1.6%
  • Montgomery County $434.3 million, up 2.6%
  • Rensselaer County $1.18 billion, down 2.5%
  • Saratoga County $2.23 billion, down 10.4%
  • Schenectady County $1.26 billion, down 3.8%
  • Schoharie County $213.6 million, up 0.8%


The state Department of Taxation and Finance compiles the data from about 250,000 sales tax returns each quarter and 300,000 annual sales tax returns. It categorizes the businesses that file the returns in 311 groups under the North American Industry Classification System.

Death Care Services, for example, is NAICS Group 8122 generated $23.1 million in taxable sales in 2019-2020. On the other side of the circle of life, Child Day Care Services (NAICS group 6244) generated $3.4 million in taxable sales.

Not surprisingly, Death Care Services saw a big drop in sales even as so many people were dying of COVID: funerals were sharply limited. In March-May 2020, $3.95 million in sales was reported statewide vs. $5.54 million in the same three months of 2019. There was no bounceback in June-August 2020.

Restaurants and Other Eating Places have consistently made the most taxable sales over the years, reaching $41.74 billion in 2019-2020. Automobile Dealers were a distant second at $31.62 billion. No other group topped $15 billion that year.

On the other end of the scale were Hog and Pig Farming ($68,279) and Seafood Product Preparation and Packaging ($9,435).

Coal Mining was the only NAICS group in New York with $0 in taxable sales.

Some highlights from the greater Capital Region:

  • In Albany County, general merchandise stores including warehouse clubs and supercenters reported a 15.1% jump in sales for March-August 2020 vs. a year earlier.
  • In Fulton County, far more is spent to buy, maintain and operate motor vehicles than on eating out: Auto dealers and gas stations reported a combined $120 million in sales in March-August 2019 vs. just $30 million for restaurants and other eating places. (The difference was even greater in March-August 2020, amid COVID: $107 million vs. $26 million.)
  • In Montgomery County, Building Supplies and Materials made a surge to most-lucrative sector in March-August 2020, with $53 million in sales. A year earlier, these businesses reported just $39.5 million sales, good enough only for third place behind auto dealers and gas stations.
  • In Saratoga County, where Saratoga Springs is “The Summer Place to Be,” restaurant sales totaled nearly $96 million in June-August 2020, down 26% from the same period in 2019.
  • In Schenectady County, taxable grocery store sales edged up 8.5% in the six months of 2020 vs. 2019. Statewide, that number shrank 0.8% year over year.
  • In Schoharie County, Lawn and Garden Equipment and Supply ranks much higher as a source of taxable sales than in the state as a whole or other counties in the region; this group of Schoharie County retailers reported $7.7 million in sales for the six months of 2020 vs. $6.2 million in 2019.


When COVID-19 set in and the lockdown was implemented, domestic violence reports increased and many people speculated that self-abuse — drinking and drugging — also would increase.

Drug sales, both legal and illegal, are not subject to sales tax, so this particular state database can’t gauge that. Nor does the database indicate what portion of the increase in grocery store and gas station sales are due to beer.

But it does specify exactly how much is spent at Beer, Wine and Liquor Stores (which is NAICS group 4453, in case the question ever comes up on Trivia Night).

Statewide, sales at these stores soared during the first six months of the COVID crisis. However, alcohol sales at bars and restaurants no doubt dropped sharply at the same time, so the net increase in drinking by New Yorkers may not be as great as it seems.

Here is the total of reported beer/wine/liquor store sales in March-August 2020 and the percentage increase from 2019 for the seven counties and the state:

  • Albany $65.3M 34%
  • Fulton $4.3M 31%
  • Montgomery $4.5M 27%
  • Rensselaer $16M 22%
  • Saratoga $44.4M 26%
  • Schenectady $18.9M 36%
  • Schoharie $1.9M 29%
  • New York $2.76B 26%

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