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July Comp Sales Show Some Pop

Scorching hot temperatures that baked much of the nation lured consumers into the comfort of air-conditioned malls during July, where they presumably stocked up on bathing suits and shorts, giving most retailers an unexpected lift as they neared the end of the summer clearance cycle and prepared for back-to-school.

The Johnson Redbook Same-Store Flash Index, which tracks 63 major retailers, said its monthly index rose by 3.7%, improving on a 3.1% gain in June. But even with the largely unanticipated consumer turnout, sales still lagged the 4.7% increase recorded in May.

The biggest winner by far was Bon-Ton Stores as it knits together a growing store base, and sales raced ahead at a double-digit pace, jumping up by 12.2%.

Family Dollar, with its emphasis on low prices and its neighborhood locations, meaning consumers can walk and don't have to drive there, drove its comps up by 7.5%. Dollar General, similarly positioned, grew same-store sales by 4.6%. Kohl's, still on a roll after a merchandising overhaul, improved its same-store sales by 5.9%. Among department stores, JC Penney came out on top, up 4.9%, followed by the newly combined Federated/May, up 3.3%.

But the month was not without its disappointments. Target continued to stumble, its same-store sales rising a disappointing 3.1%, well off its former high-flying pace, and beneath Wall Street's expectations of 3.8% sales growth.

If Target did less than expected, Wal-Mart modestly bested estimates. Even though its low-income customer base has been hard hit by rising gas prices and credit card interest rates, Wal-Mart sales increased by 2.3%, a big improvement over the disappointing 1.2% increase in June.

Pier 1 was, well, Pier 1, and same-store sales continued to roll downhill, falling by 14.9%.

Winners and Losers

Winners
Bon-Ton 12.2%
Family Dollar 7.5
Costco 7.0
Kohl's 5.9
JC Penney 4.9
Losers
Pier 1 -14.9%
Jo-Ann Stores -6.6
Stein Mart -5.9
Dillard's -3.0
Saks Dept. Stores -1.5


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