NEW YORk — Stein Mart Inc., the Jacksonville, Fla.-based off-price retailer, said Gwen K. Manto has resigned as vice chairman and chief merchandising officer to pursue other interests.

She also stepped down from Stein Mart’s board of directors.

The search for a successor to lead Stein Mart’s merchandising organization will begin immediately. In the interim, the vice presidents in the merchandising, planning and marketing areas will report to Michael Fisher, president and chief executive officer.

“We would like to thank Gwen for her contributions to Stein Mart over the past three years and we wish her well in the future,” Fisher said in a statement.

The company reports its third-quarter results later this week, but the recent past has proven difficult for the chain. In the second quarter ended Aug. 2, Stein Mart reported a loss of $2.8 million, or 7 cents a diluted share, versus income of $2.8 million, or 7 cents, in the year-ago quarter. Sales were down 2.5 percent to $303.5 million from $311.4 million, while same-store sales fell 5.8 percent.

During the third quarter, comps dropped 7.6 percent in October, 3.3 percent in September and 7.1 percent in August.

Stein Mart, which operates 264 stores with moderate to designer brand-name apparel and accessories, said recently it has revamped its marketing program with the goal of improving sales. It is preparing a new advertising campaign that will be both image- and event-focused, using newspaper inserts, direct mail, radio and television. The retailer expects to roll out its first nationwide television campaigns in time for the 2003 holiday season.

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