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HOUSTON-Nearly a year after emerging from a Chapter 11, Stage Stores Inc. is rolling out a store expansion with $16 million of a $45-million fund earmarked for a capital improvement plan. This year, there will be 13 openings, 14 remodels, four relocations and five expansions for the Houston-based retailer’s portfolio.

A real estate department source for Stage Stores was vague on specifics, but confirms to GlobeSt.com that the company is in a “growth mode” and will continue to expand within its current 13-state network. Thus far this year, Stage Stores has opened in the Texas towns of Longview, Baytown, Houston, Giddings and San Antonio as well as one store each in Louisiana and Arkansas. Another six locations will open in the third quarter, but the sites have yet to be nailed down.

Since emerging from bankruptcy, Stage Stores has gotten back on the Nasdaq listing and secured the financing for the capital improvement fund. Earnings in fiscal year 2001 reached $855.6 million.

The firm owns the brand names of Bealls, Palais Royal and Stage. The average retail location totals 17,000 sf. The company’s goal is earn $100 to $135 per sf in the first year, Bob Aronson, director of investor relations, tells GlobeSt.com. In 2001, the per sf average was $145. About 75% of the stores are in strip centers located at least 30 miles from the nearest regional mall.

The company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy was blamed on a rapid-growth program that took the portfolio from 315 stores in 19 states to 688 stores in 34 states in three years, starting in 1997. Other factors in the downfall were highly leveraged balance sheets, expansion beyond the firm’s geographic comfort zone, inconsistent and constantly changing merchandising philosophies and disruptions in merchandise flow from vendors.

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