NEW YORK -- Mercantile Stores Co. reported operating earnings in the quarter rose 4.3 percent, to $12 million, but special charges reduced the net to $7.9 million, or 21 cents a share.

In the quarter ended April 30, the company, which is based in Fairfield, Ohio, took a $3 million charge for the consolidation of the Joslins division into the Jones Store division. It also took a $1.1 million accounting charge.

A year ago, a $3.1 million gain from accounting changes boosted the net to $14.6 million, or 40 cents a share. Sales in the latest quarter rose 3.5 percent, to $592.5 million from $572.3 million, and comparable-store sales were up 1.1 percent. Mercantile also noted that after July 31, 1995, it will process its private label credit cards internally, terminating an agreement with a Citibank affiliate. Mercantile has a credit processing center in Louisiana that it acquired through its purchase of Maison Blanche in 1992.

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