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MINNEAPOLIS-Apparel retailer Christopher & Banks Corp. reported a disappointing third fiscal quarter yesterday, with same-store sales declining 1% during the quarter (which ended Nov. 27), compared with Q3 2003. In line with the company’s recently revised expectations, net income was $7.8 million, or $0.22 per share, compared with $11.4 million, or $0.29 per share, in the same period last year.

Bill Prange, chairman and CEO of the retailer, put the best face on the situation by noting that “while sales results were disappointing for the quarter, we responded to the sluggish consumer demand by taking the markdowns necessary to keep our inventories on plan. We finished the quarter with total inventory per square foot being flat with last year.

“Based on month to date performance and our expectations for the balance of the month, we anticipate that December same-store sales will decline in the range of 6% to 7%,” he continued. “We do, however, anticipate that December merchandise margins will improve modestly over last year’s levels.”

Joseph E. Pennington, president and COO, noted that “there was a clear geographic break in comp-store performance. We saw comp-store increases throughout the West, with all the states west of the Mississippi comping positive during the quarter. Parts of the mid-Atlantic and southern tier states also were positive.” He added that the company recorded average transaction growth of about 2% over the quarter, compared with last year.

During the third quarter, the company completed its expansion for the fiscal year, opening 64 Christopher & Banks and 34 C.J. Banks stores. Christopher & Banks also finalized its purchase of 21 Acorn stores during the quarter, and so now operates 648 stores in 44 states: 472 Christopher & Banks stores, 155 C.J. Banks stores and 21 Acorn stores, though it plans to close four of the Christopher & Banks stores by the end of the this fiscal year.

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