Troubled Gottschalks chain saw sales increase in January

Loyal customers worried about the future of Gottschalks Inc. helped the beleaguered retailer post an unusual sales increase despite a gloomy economy.

The Fresno-based department-store chain reported Thursday that its same-store sales in January increased 13.3 percent from a year ago, bucking a nationwide trend of declining sales among retailers. Along with Wal-Mart, it was one of the few to post a gain for the month.

Analysts say Gottschalks -- which filed for bankruptcy protection last month -- still faces steep challenges. The company reported that sales for fiscal 2008, which ended last month, were down more than 8.8 percent from 2007.

Same-store sales are a benchmark for retail health and reflect figures for stores that have been open for at least a year. The last time Gottschalks registered a monthly same-store sales increase was November 2007.

"We're very happy," Gottschalks Chairman James Famalette said. "We're very pleased to see this kind of support in our local markets."

Famalette said he believes customer loyalty and reduced competition are largely responsible for the spike in January sales. Heavy discounting was not likely a major factor because Gottschalks did not mark down merchandise in post-holiday specials as aggressively as last year, he said.

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