NEW YORK — A weak retail environmentcut Loehmann’s Holdings Inc.’s first-quarter profits by a third, but the off-price retailer hopes to benefit from excess inventory in the marketplace in upcoming months.

Net income sank 34.5 percent to $2.8 million, or 37 cents a diluted share, from $4.2 million, or 60 cents, a year ago.

Sales for the 13 weeks ended May 3 dipped 3.2 percent to $90.4 million from $93.4 million a year ago. Comparable-store sales fell 7.7 percent.

Loehmann’s joined a chorus of other retailers who attributed poor first-quarter results to reduced traffic — a product of unseasonably cool weather, the war in Iraq and the weak economy.

“Loehmann’s does approximately 45 percent of its business in the Northeast corridor between Connecticut and Washington, D.C.,” noted chief executive Robert Friedman in a telephone interview. “So the weather had more of a negative impact on our sales [than it did with other retailers who do not share such exposure].”

The sluggish retail scene, though, has produced excess inventory across the sector, and Friedman said Loehmann’s is taking advantage of better buying opportunities this spring than were available a year ago.

Reflecting these opportunities and new stores, the firm’s inventories at the end of the quarter stood 25.8 percent above year-ago levels.

The 46-store chain opened three doors during the quarter, which have performed better than expected, and closed one. For the rest of the year, Loehmann’s is set to cut the ribbon on one more store and expand two others.

Costs related to the new stores contributed to the firm’s 310-basis-point rise in first-quarter selling, general and administrative expenses, as a percentage of sales, to $29.2 million.

Going forward, Friedman said, “We are obviously cautious about the economy and the retail business, especially in women’s apparel over the next two or three quarters, but we are buoyed by the fact that there have been terrific opportunities to take advantage of in the marketplace and hopefully the consumer will return, based on the quality and value of what will be in our inventory.”

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