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BROOKLYN PARK, MN-Wilsons The Leather Experts has dramatically scaled back the number of new stores it plans to open next year, in large part to a difficult retail environment that led to a worse than expected third-quarter loss. The specialty retailer of leather outerwear, apparel and accessories says it would open 20 new stores next year, down sharply from a previously expressed plan to open from 80 to 100 new locations.

However, the chain could end up with a net loss in stores because it also said it would close from 20 to30 stores next year — a move that had been previously announced.

Wilson’s operates 773 stores in 46 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Canada.

To offset the reduction in permanent locations, the company will ramp up its number of holiday stores in the fourth quarter of 2002. The company, which supplements its permanent mall stores with temporary holiday stores during its peak selling season from October through January, plans to operate about 270 stores this year, up from 239 holiday stores in 2000.

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