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Class outshines mass in October same store sales

New York -- Sending out a signal that Santa may come late and leave early at this year's Christmas party, October same-stores were muted or worse for most big retailers.

Those who won mostly won big — notably department stores and those selling a strong value proposition, like JC Penney, TJX and Kohl's. Demonstrating that the rich are always with us and spending freely, the biggest winner last month was tony Saks Fifth Ave. with a hefty 9.2% increase. Coming in a strong second was JC Penney with a gain of 8.1%; Federated was not far behind at 7.7% despite persistent softness at its May division.

October's biggest loser -- ditto the past several months -- was Pier 1 Imports, where comps remained in freefall, dropping 13.7%. Nor were all department stores safe last month — Bon-Ton dropped by 9.7% as it knits together a growing store base, and the on-and-off Dillard’s fell by 5.0%.

While its comps were still trending up, another big loser — perhaps the biggest of them all simply because of its dominant position in world retailing, was Wal-Mart. With its low-income consumers under unrelenting pressure, same-store sales in its core U.S. Wal-Mart stores were little more than flat, edging up just 0.3%. Faring better was sibling Sam's warehouse clubs, where sales advanced 2.0%.

Several retailers complained about their home business during October. Bon-Ton said it "experienced weaker sales performance in soft home, cosmetics and dresses." Dollar General said gains in all other departments were offset by weakness in apparel and home products. Ditto Family Dollar, which said "sales of apparel and home products were weak." At Gottschalks, "Our trend in the home division continued to perform below the same period last year,” said Jim Famalette, ceo, noting that the chain is adding marketing for the division in the fourth quarter.

Only one of the retailers tracked each month by HTT reported a positive trend in home: Ross Stores, where comps were lifted by "ongoing strength in the home and shoe businesses."

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