Bon-Ton Stores (NASDAQ:BONT) just can't seem to create a buzz in the market. If you guessed that would mean a terrible quarter for the retailer, you may just win a prize. I just hope the prize wasn't a gift basket of Bon-Ton shares. The stock fell by 5% this morning.

The company lost $0.91 a share this quarter. I suppose that's better than the $1.20 it lost last year, but try to restrain yourself from throwing a party just yet. Total sales declined 5.1%, and same-store sales fell 5%.

Management has said this is a transitional year for the company, but I'm wondering what the final product will look like. Having added the Carson's chain, which hasn't exactly been shooting the lights out -- with a 0.2% decrease in comps so far this year -- sure doesn't seem like the answer. Over the same period, same-store sales at Bon-Ton stores fell a whopping 9%. Combining two struggling chains doesn't make much sense to me. Just look at Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD), which has had troubles ever since combining with Kmart stores.

The future doesn't look much brighter. Guidance was reduced to $2.75-$2.90 a share, from $3.40-$3.50. That is what happens when sales disappoint during every single month of the year.

Granted, there are economic headwinds holding consumers back. But other department stores are managing to get through this rough patch just fine. J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) reported a good quarter. Target (NYSE:TGT) had decent results. That tells me that getting the proper merchandise in the stores is the key to success. From my vantage point, it doesn't seem as though Bon-Ton is doing so.

The balance sheet is loaded with debt, so the company doesn't have much wiggle room. As of Aug. 4, Bon-Ton owed $1.2 billion. Until the company proves it can attract customers by stocking the right merchandise, I'd shop around a bit more.

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Fool contributor Lawrence Rothman is happy to receive feedback, and he promises to read it when he's not being wrestled by his three children. He doesn't have any positions in the companies mentioned.