NEW YORK — The year ended on a high note for The Dress Barn’s 754 value-oriented specialty stores as it reported comparable-store increases in July, but earlier sluggishness took its toll on fourth-quarter and full-year sales.

Comps in July increased 2 percent on a total sales increase of 7.5 percent to $45.9 million from $42.7 million. Comps were flat for the fourth quarter ended July 27 on a 5.2 percent gain in total sales to $186.7 million from $177.4 million.

For the year, comps decreased 2 percent, but increased 3.2 percent on a total sales basis to $717.1 million from $695 million. DB is expected to report fourth quarter and year-end results Sept. 12.

"The Sept. 11 activity last fall really hurt us," David Jaffe, president and chief executive, said. "September and October were very tough months, down 5 percent for fall. But we slowly built it back and for spring comps improved 2 percent as we were well positioned in casual sportswear, particularly bottoms, woven tops and sweaters, offsetting weakness in ready-to-wear."

Jaffe said the Suffern, N.Y.-based retailer hopes the momentum from its casual merchandise will carry into the fall. He said the new look in casual wear sold better because it had been updated with more fashion and colors and was presented in coordinated looks.

"Trends are looking good for the fall business," he observed. "We are optimistic the easier comparisons as well as the trends and styles we saw in the spring will continue this fall."

Plans are under way to open 30 new stores this fall, with another 30 to 40 additional doors next spring.

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