NEW YORK — Tough economic times helped push Syms Corp. into the red for the first quarter.

The 40-door off-price chain, based in Secaucus, N.J., posted losses of $1.7 million, or 11 cents a share, for the three months ended May 31. This compared with year-ago profits of $700,000, or 4 cents a share.

Sales for the quarter sank 6.5 percent to $63.5 million from $68 million a year ago. Comparable-store sales slid 3.8 percent.

“While our sales performance for the first quarter reflects the general economic climate, our attention continues to be focused on the improvement of comparable-store sales and the reduction of our inventory and expenses,” said chief executive Marcy Syms in a statement.

Operating expenses rose 1.3 percent to $28.2 million during the first quarter. Inventories were 6.9 percent below year-ago levels at the end of the period.

Shares of Syms fell 5 cents, or 0.8 percent, to close at $6.50 on the New York Stock Exchange Friday.

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