What did the mall do to deserve this?

With way too many chains posting double-digit dips in same-store sales last month, one has to wonder whether the mall rats were exterminated.

What happened? Are you still not over that food-court incident, when you poked your tongue with the orange chicken sample on a toothpick? Did mall security look at you funny, because you were walking away from a store with a bag full of actual merchandise?

Either way, several of the country's chains put up some really ugly comps for September:


September Comps

Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF)


Chico's FAS (NYSE:CHS)




Stage Stores (NYSE:SSI)


Pier 1 Imports (NYSE:PIR)


Shoppers aren't on strike, of course. This is simply what empty pockets, foreclosure fears, and rock-bottom consumer confidence do to the once-bustling suburban shopping mall.

Not all of the deep divers are laying the blame on the economy, though. Houston-based Stage Stores can at least point the finger at Hurricane Ike, which took its toll on several of the chain's locations. Adjusted for the storm-related outages, comps would have come in just 7.7% lower. That's still bad, but not as bad as how the others on the list finished.

Another company that had better not lay all of its shortcomings on the economic malaise is Gap. Yes, the culprit was a mind-boggling 24% plunge in comps at its domestic Old Navy stores, but the weakness at the once-definitive specialty-apparel chain stretches all the way back to the turn of the millennium.

Fiscal Year


















For those scoring at home, fiscal 2008 is going to be another ugly year for the company.

This doesn't mean every mall haunt is a loser. Buckle (NYSE:BKE) is once again coming through with huge gains at the store level. Even alt-rock haven Hot Topic (NASDAQ:HOTT) -- the Model T of retail, in that you can have any apparel you want, as long as it's black -- posted just a 1.8% decline in comps last month. You can't spell "emo" without "mo," and Hot Topic has it.

So don't take your frustration out on the mall. It needs you now, more than ever. Mall security is mall security, and toothpick pokes heal.

Other ways to fall into the Gap:

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been shopping online for ages, but he still finds himself at the mall on an almost weekly basis. He owns no shares in any of the stocks 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.