NEW YORK — Chico’s FAS said July’s comparable-store sales rose a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent as boosts from advertising and a catalog mailer in the second half of the month offset same-store declines in the first half.

The company said it also plans to open its first New York City store, a 1,660-square-foot unit at 1310 Third Avenue, on the corner of 75th Street, on Sept. 17. Chico’s expects a high degree of success at the unit since the neighborhood has the highest concentration of membership in its Passport loyalty card program of any in the country.

The Fort Myers, Fla.-based operator of 336 specialty stores, which offers casual apparel and accessories to women over 35, said July comps were down in the low-single digits during the first two weeks of the month because of hot weather and deteriorating economic conditions. A shift in its catalog mailing to the last week of June this year, from the first week of July last year, also contributed to the dip.

Comps recovered in the second half of the month, up mid-single digits in the third week and mid-20s in the fourth, as Chico’s turned the heat on with TV commercials and the arrival of the August catalog during the month’s final week.

"July sales began slowly, due to unusually hot weather and the continuing sluggish economy," Marvin Gralnick, Chico’s chief executive, said in a statement. "We reacted with TV ads in seven markets in the third week. This coupled with our planned catalog drop in the fourth week resulted in positive same-store sales."

Total sales for the month increased 34.2 percent to $34.6 million from $25.8 million in July 2001. For the second quarter ended Aug. 3, total sales increased 39.8 percent to $125.1 million from $89.5 million and were up 11.6 percent on a comp basis.

July’s results came in lower than the 5 to 9 percent comp growth the company originally forecast and marked the first single-digit, rather than double-digit, comp increase, other than the two months following last Sept. 11, since November 1997, when comps extended 8.2 percent.

Charles Kleman, chief financial officer, said gloomy economic conditions of late have caused shoppers to need a reason to go out and shop. "That’s what it is doing to us," he said. "Until we turned on the TV commercials and dropped the catalog, there was little traffic. Once they were in the store, customers were shopping just as much."Gralnick said he is comfortable with Wall Street’s second-quarter EPS consensus estimate of 19 cents.

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