Another month, another drop in sales.
Joppa-based Merry-Go-Round Enterprises Inc. reported that September sales, drained by the closing of unprofitable stores, fell 23 percent to $56.5 million, compared with $73.2 million over the same period last year.
Back-to-school revenue did little to boost sales in stores open at least a year, an important measure of performance, which fell 10 percent.
Company officials could not be reached for comment, but analysts detected some potential upside in the latest figures for Merry-Go-Round, an apparel chain of 955 stores selling contemporary fashions for young men and women.
"They're not great, but they're better than they were before," said Mark A. Millman, president of Millman Search Group Inc., a leading retail consulting firm in Lutherville.
Same-store sales have not increased in nearly three years, but September's 10-percent drop was less severe than May's (13 percent), June's (15 percent) and July's (12 percent). The drop for August, however, was 7 percent.
"There's a silver lining," Mr. Millman said. "It appears that the trend in terms of the decline of comp-store sales is getting a little bit better It's softening a little bit, which can be the beginnings of the early stages of a turnaround."
Yet there is still much to be done: Last week, Merry-Go-Round announced the latest in a series of delays to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, under which the retailer has operated since January 1994. Recently hired Chief Executive Officer Richard P. Crystal needs more time, officials said.
Merry-Go-Round's prolonged struggle, analysts agree, has been exacerbated by an industry-wide malaise -- shoppers just aren't spending as much as in the past at specialty apparel stores, and few stores have been left unscathed. Same-store sales, for example, fell 10 percent in September at New York-based AnnTaylor Stores and dropped 3.3 percent at Talbots of Massachusetts.