Where the Sales Are

The shopping mall is dead? Not at these cobweb-free chains.

Rick Munarriz
Rick Munarriz
Jun 5, 2008 at 12:00AM

With gas prices surging and pocketbooks tightening, your local shopping mall must be a ghost town. Finding a parking spot must be a breeze. And speaking of breezes, watch out for tumbleweeds.

If that's how you think last month must have felt for the country's retailers, you would be only partly correct. Several chains actually had a very strong May, judging by some of the refreshingly positive comps they posted.


May Comps

The Buckle (NYSE:BKE)


BJ's Wholesale (NYSE:BJ)


Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN)


Ross Stores (NASDAQ:ROST)


Aeropostale (NYSE:ARO)


Mothers Work (NASDAQ:MWRK)


Specialty retailer The Buckle was the chain that turned the most heads with its 35% spurt, and it didn't sandbag its way to get there. The youthful-apparel chain's showing is stacked on top of a 9% gain in same-store sales during the same period a year earlier.

BJ's came in strong, though nearly half of the warehouse club's gains came from higher gasoline sales at its stores that have gas pumps out front.

Nordstrom was the standout in the department store space; it also stands alone. Most of its competitors posted a decline of 4% to 9% in comps during the same period.

Ross Stores fared well, but the discounter is positioned perfectly by selling marked-down apparel to penny-pinching shoppers who may be trading down on their duds and accessories to save a little money.

Aeropostale was no slouch with its 6% gain at the store level, but don't go thinking that the mall rats hit similar shops in droves. The success at Aeropostale and The Buckle is a sharp contrast to the other teen magnets, like American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE:AEO), which suffered a 9% decline in comps last month.

Maternity apparel specialist Mothers Work also had a beautiful, bouncy May, but it's important to put that report in its appropriate context. The company's 4.3% gain at the individual store level last month barely offsets a 3.6% decline in May 2007.

Yes, there seem to be a lot more minus signs than plus signs in the May comps that came out this morning. This isn't specialty retail's finest hour. However, investors can't make blanket assumptions that retail is dead. There is always a company or two bucking the trend, or, in this case, a Buckle or two.

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