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NEW YORK CITY-Longs Drugs is stepping up the renovation of its 501-store portfolio, executives revealed here at the Goldman Sachs 13th Annual Global Retailing Conference. About 28% of the store base is currently in the chain’s new format, and management hopes to increase that to 50% by the end of next year.

“We believe you have to update your format because the customer changes so much after a period of time,” says Warren F. Bryant, chairman, president and CEO of the Walnut Creek, CA-based company. The renovation program, the first of its kind for Longs, started about four years ago.

In addition to the remodels, Longs is also growing its West Coast store base more rapidly than it had in the past. Executives plan to open 20 to 25 new units this year and an equal number next year. This is up from a three-year hiatus on openings during which the company concentrated on improving financial results and renovating existing stores.

Bryant says one of the challenges facing Longs and other retailers is capturing the shopper in an uncertain economic climate. “Consumers appear to remain cautious, primarily because of high energy costs and lower home values,” he says. “We believe they will look for value in their purchases.”

During Long’s most recently reported financial quarter, which ended July 28, same-store sales rose 2.6% year over year, with a 6.4% jump in pharmacy and a 0.2% decline in front-end results. Sales between the two departments are split 50-50 in Longs stores, which average 16,000 sf and have sales per-sf of $592.

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