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Up and down year baffles retailers

It's been a topsy-turvy year for home textiles and October sales followed the inconsistent pattern.

Sales on the West Coast are especially tough, retailers said, with metropolitan San Francisco still suffering from the dot-com meltdown coupled with a dramatic drop in tourism.

Across the country, sales reports are good one month, terrible the next or just holding their own. Looking ahead, a number of home textiles retailers have cut back plans for the fourth quarter.

On the positive side was JCPenney, whose comp-store sales increased 13.7 percent for October, with home cited as one of three especially powerful performers.

At Anna's Linens, "We're bucking the trend," said Kevin McLain, vp of merchandising. October was stronger than September; we've had double-digit increases for October and the year."

Citing an aggressive merchandising plan, Charles Domingue, vp, gmm, home decor for Jo- Ann Stores, reported that "business is good" and that the home sale was structured better than last year with good results.

"Top-of-bed continues strong, and we're having a very good year overall," said Steve Goldberg, president, Brylane Lifestyle Group. "Our home textiles business is up compared with last year, and we're pleased with our progress."

Goldberg added, "We're gaining in market share and continue to grow our base and file." What is driving the business, he added, "is really great value — not a giveaway coupled with unique, interesting, different items."

At Macy's West, "Business is really tough," reported Paul Fitzpatrick, senior vp, home. "It was a little better toward the end of October compared with earlier that month."

Business is tougher in northern California vs. the south, "but San Francisco is slowly coming around. Hawaii is good."

Leading the sales parade for Macy's West are Charter Club and Hotel collections as well as new introductions. "Our new readymade slipcover business is doing very well — unbelievable, great." One reason, he explained, "is that when people are pulling back from buying furniture, they'll buy a slipcover to redecorate."

Fitzpatrick also cited Americana and Heartland from Ralph Lauren Home as being strong sellers.

While getting as boost from its new stores in Orlando, FL, and Las Vegas, "business is getting better," said Joe Laneve, senior vp, home at Bloomingdale's. Nonetheless, the store is cutting back plans for the fourth quarter, he added.

"I'm optimistic, but guardedly so," said Mark Scheuer, owner of Scheuer's Linens in San Francisco. The year has been erratic, he noted, "with the first quarter down some, the second quarter the best in history, the third quarter okay and October has just fallen apart."

For Direct Marketing Services Inc., "business is okay; we ran into a wall in September, but since it has come back," said Steve Hujar, vp. "The good news is that we offer a wide product range, and that is working."

For Sue Fisher King, owner of her namesake store in San Francisco, "business slowed considerably about early October. The was fine until a few weeks ago. This is a liberal city and with the concern about world events, it casts a pall on the market."

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