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RETAILERS' MONTHLY SALES LAG

Finally, retailers have an excuse besides the weather for so-so sales. They blamed a lackluster September on the death of Princess Diana.

Retailers said Diana's death -- and the ensuing barrage of media coverage -- distracted consumers. They also said that unseasonably warm weather hurt sales.

Sales at Kmart Corp. were weak during the back-to-school season, as was the case with most department stores, discount stores and specialty retailers -- especially those in apparel.

Kmart's total sales decreased 1 percent for the five-week period ended Oct. 1, to $2.702 billion. But on a same-store basis, sales increased 3.1 percent.

Kmart Chairman Floyd Hall didn't make excuses though, saying the chain had weaker-than-expected apparel sales.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. said its same-store sales rose 1.5 percent, while total sales advanced 8.4 percent. Chairman Arthur Martinez said strong sales in appliances and electronics were offset by weak apparel sales.

Sales from stores open at least a year, known as same-store sales, are considered the most accurate measure of a retailer's strength. They exclude sales from stores that have been closed and from new stores, which often have disproportionately strong sales.

May Department Stores, which owns the Kaufmann's and Lord & Taylor stores, said its same-store sales rose 0.5 percent and total sales were up 2.8 percent.

The Bon-Ton Stores Inc., with nine stores in the Buffalo area, saw sales increase 8 percent to $61.6 million in September. Comparable store sales were up 10.2 percent. Bon-Ton stock rose $2.37 1/2 , or 19.6 percent, to $14.50 on that upbeat sales report, a six-month high for the York, Pa.-based retailer.

Dayton Hudson Corp. said same-store sales increased 3.1 percent and total sales rose 6.7 percent. The biggest gains came at the company's Target discount stores.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which reported its September sales Tuesday, said same store sales rose 4.3 percent from a year earlier, while total sales were up 11.8 percent.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. said its same-store sales fell 7.3 percent and total sales were up 29.5 percent, including sales figures from its Eckerd drugstores.

Limited said same-store sales fell 7 percent and total sales fell 2 percent.

Gap Inc. said its same-store sales rose 6 percent from a year ago, while total business was up 22 percent.

Ann Taylor said its same-store sales fell 13.9 percent, while total business fell 9.8 percent.

Saks Fifth Avenue said its same-store sales rose 5 percent from a year ago, while total sales increased 13.4 percent.

TJX Cos., which operates TJ Maxx stores, said same-store sales rose 5 percent and total sales were up 8 percent.

Woolworth Corp. saw its same-store sales fall 8.2 percent with total sales down 9.7 percent.

These figures are narrower than retail sales numbers released by the Commerce Department, which also reflect sales of restaurants and auto dealers. The government's retail sales figure will be released Oct. 15.

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