NEW YORK -- Tighter inventories helped Bon-Ton Stores Inc. reduce its first-quarter red ink.Net losses narrowed 12 percent to $4.4 million, or 29 cents a share, from $5 million, or 33 cents a year ago.Revenues for the period ended May 4 advanced to $151.1 million from $150.2 million a year ago. The 0.5 percent rise matched the gain in comparable-store sales.On a conference call, Bon-Ton's vice chairman and chief merchandising officer Frank Tworecke said the firm would continue to drive sales, but "be absolutely tenacious about the management of our key asset which is our inventory."Inventories at retail for the York, Pa.-based chain decreased 13.6 percent versus a year ago, while the firm's gross margin slid 75 basis points.Tworecke said the decreased gross margin "reflects a much higher standard and aggressive position that we have put on the currency of our inventory."Sales of women's ready-to-wear during the quarter were termed "very strong," while accessories, juniors and special sizes were robust as well. Men's wear, however, continued its negative trend.The regional department store is looking for losses of 15 to 20 cents for the second quarter, compared with the year-ago deficit of 21 cents."

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