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Retailers relish October chill

NEW YORK — Cooler weather across much of the country drove shoppers into the malls for winter clothing, and a number of key retailers reported substantially stronger sales during October, rebounding smartly from a lackluster performance in September.

Representative of the rapid turnaround was Kohl's, where same-store sales improved 6 percent, recovering from a 1.3 percent decline the month before. Ditto Ross Stores, up 5 percent, recovering from September's 4 percent decline. And Sears perked up 1.9 percent, in a strong rebound from a 3.2 percent slide in September. Saks Inc., helped by strength in its department store group, said same-store sales rose 4.4 percent, reversing a 4 percent drop the preceding month.

In a big switch, the more moderately priced Saks department stores outperformed their luxury retailing sibling, Saks Fifth Ave. , putting up a 5 percent same-store gain versus a smaller 3.6 percent increase at the marquis nameplate.

But even with the pick up in business, the retail picture remained deeply divided, and of the 30 home fashions retailers tracked each month by HTT, one of three — 20 out of 30 — reported a drop in same-store sales.

Turning in a notably lackluster performance was the cadre of deep-discount retailers that tend to attract the bottom third of the economic demographics, the lower-income consumers hit hardest by rising gas and heating-oil prices. Among those, Wal-Mart reported a disappointing 2.8 percent gain, less than analysts had been forecasting; ShopKo was off 3.1 percent; Value City Department Stores tumbled 5.5 percent; Dollar General edged up 3 percent; and Family Dollar was virtually flat, edging up 0.9 percent.

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