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(Ian Ritter is national online editor for GlobeSt.com/RETAIL.)

NEW YORK CITY-Even though home-improvement retailer Lowe’s has nearly 1,300 stores across the country, there are still some major markets the company has not yet penetrated. Long Island is one of those, and the company has plans to open “several” stores there next year said Robert Niblock, Lowe’s chairman, president and chief executive officer here at the Goldman Sachs Thirteenth Annual Global Retail Conference.

Mooresville, NC-based Lowe’s has three units on Long Island and plans to open a fourth by the end of the year. Niblock called the company’s current presence in the area “way under stored.”

He also mentioned the Metro Miami market as another area where Lowe’s needs more units. The chain currently has no stores in that city’s limits. The company is looking north of the border as well. It plans to open 10 stores in the Toronto area next year, and Niblock said that Canada could support about 100 units eventually.

Overall, Lowe’s management plans to open 150 to 160 stores in 2007on top of the 155 it is opening this year. Many of those units will be opening in major markets where the company does not have a large presence; about 29% of Lowe’s units are currently in the top 25 US markets, Niblock said. He also acknowledged that those areas are going to be more costly to enter because of higher real estate, payroll and other costs, but says higher sales volumes could protect the company’s margins.

Meanwhile, commenting on macroeconomic conditions, Niblock said consumers are feeling the push from high energy and gasoline prices, but said low unemployment rates are stabilizing the economy. “We’ve found that many times in a slowing economic environment there’s an opportunity to gain share,” he said. “There are some headwinds out there, but the majority of our customers are home owners, and there are 124 million homes.”

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