CHARLOTTE, NC-Lowe’s Companies Inc. says it will open fewer stores next year, in keeping with the prolonged slowdown in the national housing market. The nation’s second-largest home improvement retailer says it expects to open 75 to 85 new stores in 2009, reflecting square-footage growth of approximately 5%, while total store openings of 120 this year reflect total growth of up to 8%.

Gregory Bridgeford, executive vice president of business development with Mooresville, NC-based Lowe’s, says the chain is positioned to continue gaining market share in the highly fragmented industry. “While a pullback in the pace of our expansion is appropriate given the pressures in many markets, we continue to see opportunity for new store growth in the years ahead,” Bridgeford said in prepared remarks Wednesday for the company’s annual conference in Charlotte with analysts and investors.

Robert Niblock, Lowe’s chairman and CEO, notes that the company is trying to prudently manage expenses while looking for ways to drive efficiencies. “I am confident our heightened focus on the fundamentals, along with our ongoing investments, will continue to enable us to capitalize on opportunities both today and when the environment improves,” Niblock says.

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