WASHINGTON (AP) _ Retail sales rose 0.5 percent in April, as stores got the shopping boost they'd hoped Easter and school holidays would bring.

After a flat March, sales jumped to a seasonally adjusted $222 billion in April, the Commerce Department reported today.

The gains included increased purchases of spring clothing, gardening and home-improvement supplies, food and autos.

The lowest unemployment rate since 1970, coupled with almost no inflation, has helped fuel a buying frenzy this year. A plunge in mortgage rates, encouraging home sales, also has inspired Americans to shop.

The shopping boom started during this year's mild winter. Post-holiday discounts and unseasonably warm weather boosted retail sales by a huge 1.0 percent in January and an upwardly revised 0.9 percent in February. February sales originally were reported at 0.7 percent.

The Commerce Department on May 1 also revised its March retail sales figures to reflect steady sales in that month instead of the 0.1 percent drop reported earlier.

Analysts suspected some buyers of holding back in March in anticipation of a late Easter, which came in April this year.

The holiday didn't disappoint.

Sales of durable goods _ such as hardware and cars _ were up 0.5 percent in April, after dropping 0.4 percent in March.

Stores that sell gardening and home-improvement supplies increased their sales by a healthy 1.6 percent in April after a flat March.

Furniture and appliance sales, though, dropped a bit again in April, by 0.4 percent, following a 0.5 percent drop in March. But that has only slightly slowed a huge buying spree begun this winter.

Auto dealerships' sales rose by 0.7 percent in April after decreasing by 0.1 in March.

Sales of nondurable goods, including clothing and food, rose again in April by 0.6 percent after a 0.2 percent rise in March.

Clothing sales spiked up by 1.3 percent after holding steady in March, and total sales at department and specialty stores were up 0.8 percent in April after a 0.2 percent March rise.

Bars and restaurants posted a 0.8 percent increase in April sales as well, and drug store sales were up 1.2 percent.

Sales at gasoline services stations rose only a slight 0.1 percent in April, following a string of declines prompted by low fuel prices.