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Anna's Linens pushes into Atlanta

Value-oriented specialty retailer Anna's Linens has been putting the $25 million cash infusion it received last fall to work this year, with a stepped-up store opening schedule that included its market entry into Atlanta last week.

The 92-unit retailer also expects to launch its 100th store in late spring as it rolls out 30 new doors in 2003. Anna's in September sold a 25 percent stake to San Francisco-based Rosewood Capital for $25 million, part of its plan to accelerate expansion while maintaining a debt-free balance sheet. The goal: to become a 200-unit chain by year-end 2005.

The company began aggressively pushing east in the late 1990s, with market entries into Houston and then New Orleans. The Atlanta arrival puts Anna's one step closer to fulfilling its coast-to-coast strategy. The final piece will fall into place in spring 2004, when Anna's enters Florida, said chairman, president and ceo Alan Gladstone, who remains the company's majority investor.

"We're definitely going to hit the Atlantic Ocean next year," Gladstone told Home Textiles Today. "We're very excited about the Southeast."

Anna's caters to urban communities with large ethnic populations, focusing its soft lines-oriented assortment on the bed, bath and window categories. For 2001, the most recent year for which HTT has confirmed retail sales data, Anna's ranked as the country's fastest growing home textiles retailer, with category sales of $88.0 million.

Anna's bargain pricing position has helped sustain sales through the economic downturn, Gladstone said, adding that business so far this year is exceeding expectations.

"Anything that offers a value is flying off the shelves, whether it's $99.00 jacquard comforter sets or $19.99 embellished panels," he said. "If you have the right look and the right value, it's working today."

Anna's has always done well in Kmart markets, and the troubled discounter's wholesale retreat from Texas clears the way for Anna's to build out its presence in that state more rapidly, Gladstone said. Houston, where Anna's has 12 stores, is already the company's second largest market. Later this year, Anna's will enter San Antonio with four stores.

In the immediate term, however, the spotlight shines on Atlanta. The company opened three stores there last week and will add three more in May. Ultimately, Gladstone envisions 20 stores in the region.

Anna's also has been building its presence in Alabama, which it entered last year in Mobile. The company recently opened a 16,000-square-foot unit in Birmingham — the chain's largest — and will open two more this year. It will also add a second store in Montgomery.

As for Kohl's, which earlier this month made its first foray into Anna's core Southern California territory, Gladstone maintains that the mid-tier retailer's suburban strategy poses little threat to Anna's 59 urban neighborhood locations in the state.

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