Retail chains report a disappointing April Cool weather and early Easter are blamed

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Retailers reported disappointing April sales yesterday, blaming both the weather and an early Easter weekend for their marginal results.

For the second month in a row, department stores with moderately priced goods reported the best results, while the higher end stores saw some flat and decreasing sales.

The stores said cool weather had kept consumers from buying spring clothing and gardening supplies.

However, Kurt Barnard at Barnard's Retail Report in New York said there is another trend: "We are seeing a gradual shift of consumer spending away from the more upscale department store down to the modestly priced department store."

Same-store sales for May Department Stores Inc. rose 3 percent, Dillard Department Stores Inc.'s were flat and Dayton Hudson Corp.'s rose a mere 2.9 percent.

Barnard believes that the Baby Boomer generation, which represents much of the country's spending power, is growing old and less interested in being well dressed in the latest trends. "Their spending priorities are changing," he said.

Same-store sales -- sales at stores open at least one year -- are considered a key indicator of a retailer's health because it does not include store closings and openings.

Specialty retailers such as Gap Inc. and Limited also didn't see sales increasing. Both reported drops of 6 percent.

Wal-Mart, which sells moderately priced merchandise, reported that same-store sales were up 6.1 percent; Kohl's Corp. department stores' sales rose 9.5 percent; and Pier 1 Imports Inc.'s sales rose 21.8 percent.

Hechinger Co., the Largo-based home improvement retailer, said its same-store sales dropped 16 percent, despite an attempt to increase consumer interest with a customer-service program that opened in several markets, including Baltimore, in the past two months.

The company told analysts yesterday that sales at stores where it had begun the program were improving, but were still negative. Neal Kaplan, an analyst at Scott and Stringfellow in Richmond, said Hechinger has been hoping for same-store sales in the minus-3 percent to minus-4 percent range.

Hechinger said cool weather had kept customers from doing their spring home improvement chores.

Other Maryland retailers appeared to mirror their national counterparts, said Tom Saquella, president of the Maryland Retail Merchants Association.

"A lot of independents will say that they aren't doing well, but I think the larger chains are just stealing the business," Saquella said. "I think when the Fed raised the interest rates and then the stock market followed with a big drop, that made people nervous."

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Monthly retail sales

Company: Dayton Hudson

Monthly sales*: $1,769

Monthly same-store pct. change: +2.9%

YTD sales*: $5,737

YTD same-store pct. change: +2.9%

Company: Gap

Monthly sales*: $403

Monthly same-store pct. change: -6%

YTD sales*: $1,231

YTD same-store pct. change: -3%

Company: Hechinger

Monthly sales*: $186.4

Monthly same-store pct. change: -16%

YTD sales*: $508

YTD same-store pct. change: -9.4%

@Company: J. C. Penney

Monthly sales*: $2,020

Monthly same-store pct. change: +5.7%

YTD sales*: $3,332

YTD same-store pct. change: +4.5%

Company: Kmart

Monthly sales*: $2,268

Monthly same-store pct. change: +.8%

YTD sales*: $7,263

YTD same-store pct. change: +5.5%

Company: Limited

Monthly sales*: $403

Monthly same-store pct. change: -6%

YTD sales*: $1,231

YTD same-store pct. change: +3%

Company: Lowe's

Monthly sales*: $840.8

Monthly same-store pct. change: +2%

YTD sales*: $2,400

YTD same-store pct. change: +7%

Company: May Dept. Stores

Monthly sales*: $838.1

Monthly same-store pct. change: +3%

YTD sales*: $2,585

YTD same-store pct. change: +1.9%

Company: Sears

Monthly sales*: $2,190

Monthly same-store pct. change: +3.4%

YTD sales*: $2,960

YTD same-store pct. change: +2%

Company: Wal-Mart

Monthly sales*: $8,088

Monthly same-store pct. change: +6.1%

YTD sales*: $26,067

YTD same-store pct. change: +6.7%

* -- In millions

Pub Date: 5/09/97

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