SUFFERN, NY-Women’s specialty retailer Dress Barn signed a definitive agreement to acquire Maurices Inc. of Duluth, Minn., in a transaction valued at $320 million. Maurices is a “small town specialty store” that offers clothing and accessories catered to men and women aged 17 to 34. The firm, founded in 1931, currently has 464 stores in 38 states.

The company plans to open 20 new stores by July 30, 2005 and has expects to open 30 to 40 new locations a year over the next several years, company officials say. The firm’s new women’s only stores average approximately 3,500 sf, while the combined men’s and women’s locations total approximately 4,500 sf.

Company officials say that the firm’s real estate strategy is to target small town markets with low occupancy and operating costs. The firm also looks to locate new stores in strip malls near big-box retail outlets.

This month, Maurices will open a store in Perryville, MO, on Nov. 20 and will turn the key for the first time at four locations a week later in: Bluffton, IN; Chubbuck, ID; Florence, AL; and Mooresville, NC. In December, the company will open locations in: Detroit Lakes, MN; Gainesville, GA; Huntington, IN; Kenton, OH; Oswego, NY; Price, UT; and Schenectady, NY. A company spokesman had no details on whether there would be any store closings in connection with the purchase.

As of Oct. 30, Dress Barn operated 792 stores in 45 states. When the deal is finalized, the combined company will operate more than 1,200 stores with annual sales expected to be in excess of $1.1 billion. The transaction is expected to close in January 2005.

Dress Barn’s chairman Elliot S. Jaffe says of the deal, “This acquisition will diversify our business and provide an important new vehicle to accelerate our growth. The addition of the Maurices concept will also allow us to broaden our demographic reach and diversify our retail base.”

When the deal closes, Maurices will be run as a separate division of Dress Barn led by executive vice president and chief merchandising officer Lisa Rhodes and senior vice president and chief financial officer George Goldfarb. Both will report to David R. Jaffe, president and chief executive officer of Dress Barn.

Dress Barn officials say the purchase of Maurices will be financed through a combination of cash in-hand and new credit facilities. The firm plans to refinance a portion of the new credit facilities with funds raised through debt or equity-linked capital market offerings, they add. Banc of America Securities is acting as exclusive financial advisor to Dress Barn.

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