Avenue Shuts Catalog; Stores, Web Site Intact

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United Retail Group Inc. is suspending its Avenue catalog operations with the final book to be mailed next month, the company said yesterday.


"The difficult outlook for the apparel catalog industry has led us to suspend the catalog operations for the foreseeable future," Raphael Benaroya, board chairman and president/CEO, said in a conference call. "[We will] use the Web site, avenue.com, functioning as an extension of the retail stores."


Avenue, a retailer of apparel for plus-size women, has 553 stores.


The company for the long term will focus less on "basic items available in the mass market retailers and more on distinctive fashions and coordinated assortments," he said.


He also cited ordinary cost inflation and unusual increases in healthcare benefits and insurance premiums as factors in suspending the catalog.


"We are going to focus all of our attention on the core retail business," said George R. Remeta, vice chairman of the board and chief administrative officer. "The uncertainty of future national events ... dictate a conservative approach to growth and fiscal management."


News of the catalog suspension came as part of the Rochelle Park, NJ, company's announcement of fourth-quarter and fiscal-year results ended Feb. 1.


Net sales in the quarter fell to $105.7 million from $114.3 million in the prior-year period. Comparable-store sales dropped 8 percent in the quarter, and the net loss for the quarter totaled $16.1 million compared with a net loss of $600,000 in the comparable quarter last year.


Net sales in the fiscal year rose 1.2 percent to $432 million from $427 million in the prior year. Comparable-store sales dropped 1 percent in the fiscal year, and the net loss for the year was $23.1 million compared with net income of $400,000 in fiscal 2001.


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