By  on May 6, 1994

NEW YORK -- Apparel was again a strong contributor to many stores posting April sales gains, as the bestsellers included dresses, intimate apparel, handbags and swimwear.

Strong gainers in same-store sales were Spiegel's Eddie Bauer division, up 24 percent; Sears, Roebuck's Merchandise Group, 12.3 percent, and Wal-Mart Stores, 8 percent.

Losers in same-store sales comparisons included Clothestime Inc., down 23 percent; Limited Inc., 8 percent; Woolworth Corp. domestic stores, 8.9 percent; Mercantile Stores, 9.5 percent, and Venture Stores, 5.1 percent.

"We continue to see strengthening demand in women's apparel, with dresses performing particularly well across all our business units," said John J. Shea, Spiegel's vice chairman and chief executive officer. The company's overall sales rose 28 percent, to $168.6 million from $131.6 million.

Robert J. Ulrich, Dayton Hudson's ceo, noted continuing improvement in the women's wear-to-work and dress categories at the Mervyn's division, where same-store sales rose 1 percent. A spokesman said shorts, shorter lengths in dresses and skirts, knits and mix-and-match swimwear were all strong at the division.

In DH's department stores division, comparable-store sales were up 7 percent. Hot sellers included shorts at all price points, T-shirts and tank tops, textured knits, printed rayon separates and casual rompers. Linen was strong across all areas. In intimates, the Wonderbra was a hot seller. In dresses, Empire waistlines were popular, as were sheer fabrications and baby doll silhouettes.

At the Target division, comparable-store sales increased 1 percent.

Overall, Dayton Hudson's sales rose 7.6 percent, to $1.3 billion, from $1.23 billion, and comparable-store sales increased 2 percent. Federated Department Stores posted a 3.3 percent sales increase, to $523.8 million from $507.1 million, with comparable-store sales up 1.2 percent.

Allen I. Questrom, chairman and ceo, said the April sales were below expectations. He speculated that a higher tax rate and the early Easter hurt volume, but concluded, "We don't really know whether these factors actually were significant in depressing April sales." A spokeswoman for Federated cited strength in handbags and watches.

At the Neiman Marcus Group, sales rose 2.5 percent, to $151.6 million from $148 million, and same-store sales were also up 2.5 percent. Comparable-store sales at the Neiman Marcus division increased in the mid-single digits, and Bergdorf Goodman's were up in the high single digits. Contempo Casuals' comparable-store sales continued to be in the negative double digits, a spokesman said.

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