CHICAGO-For the quarter ended April 30, 2005, specialty jeweler Whitehall Jewellers Inc. posted a net loss of $4.9 million or 35 cents per share compared to net loss of $3.7 million or 27 cents per share for the same period a year ago.

Net sales for the quarter decreased 2.8% to $71 million compared to $73 million in the first quarter last year. Comparable store sales decreased 3.8% in the first quarter compared to an increase of 3.3% last year, however executives were quick to note that comp stores sales improved from an 8.9% decrease in the fourth quarter of 2004.

“We acknowledge that our business performance is not what we would like it to be, but we are working hard to change the trend,” Lucinda Baier, chief executive officer told investors during a conference call Wednesday.

Whitehall plans to expand sales and gross margin dollars by focusing on five core issues including: Attracting new customers; improving capital structure; tightening operational execution and constancy of store performance; continuing to build a high-performance team; and developing and executing the company’s long-term strategy.

First quarter gross profit posted at 31.8% compared to 33.2% during the same time last year. John R. Desjardins, executive vice president and chief financial officer told investors that new items added to the store inventory sold strongly at higher margins and totaled 16% of total sales. First quarter margins were 51.8% compared to 50% the same time last year.

During the first quarter, Whitehall opened four new stores for a total inventory of 386 units. The company plans to open three more stores in the balance of the year. The jewelry retailer operates stores in regional and superregional shopping malls under the names Whitehall Co. Jewellers, Lundstrom Jewelers and Marks Bros. Jewelers.

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