This Mall Is Dead, Dude

In George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, zombies attack humans seeking shelter in a shopping mall. I guess that must be a case of life imitating art, going by the way the walking dead have been trolling the suburban storefronts.

I looked at some of May's biggest retail winners yesterday, but the grim reality is that many of the mall-rat magnets didn't exert too much of a pull last month. The downturn was especially noticeable at specialty apparel retailers and mainstream department-store chains that lack the penny-pinching appeal of the discounters.

Company

May Comps

Chico's (NYSE: CHS  )

(17%)

Gap (NYSE: GPS  )

(14%)

Saks (NYSE: SKS  )

(9%)

American Eagle (NYSE: AEO  )

(9%)

Kohl's (NYSE: KSS  )

(7%)

Dillard's (NYSE: DDS  )

(7%)

J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  )

(4%)

Chico's led the losers, but what else is new? The company couldn't even turn a profit during the potent holiday season. Struggling with both its namesake and White House/Black Market stores, Chico's has posted double-digit sales declines at the store level for several months now.

Gap is another permanent fixture on the negative-comps list. The company behind Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic hasn't posted positive comps on an annual basis since 2003.

Operators of conventional department stores fared slightly better, but they won't be handing out any cigars for their May performances. Saks, Kohl's, Dillard's, and J.C. Penney all came up short at the individual store level when compared with May 2007.

The next few months of comps will bear watching. Now that the stimulus checks are going out, the local mall is hoping to be the beneficiary. If so, a lot of May's pessimism may turn give way to a bounce in June.

"Sounds like its time to go shopping," Alyce Lomax suggested yesterday, as she pointed out the bargains in the retail space.

I wholeheartedly agree. Just be wary of the zombies. They eat brains, you know.

Gap is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Gap and American Eagle Outfitters are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. The Fool owns shares of American Eagle Outfitters. Care to window-shop? Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz prefers to hang out at the food court and collect the free toothpick-skewered food samples. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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