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    BJ's December Sales Edge Up by Single Digits

    Food comps were lower than expected, as a result of severe winter weather.

    BJ's Wholesale Club, Inc. said yesterday that total sales for December 2008 grew 3.2 percent to $1.06 billion, from $1.03 billion in the year-ago period. Comparable-club sales rose 1.6 percent for the month, including a negative impact from sales of gasoline of 4.3 percent. Excluding gas sales, merchandise comps rose 5.9 percent in December, although snow and ice storms in the second and third weeks of the month had an adverse effect on comps of about 1.5 percent.

    "We are very pleased with our 5.9 percent increase in merchandise comparable club sales, given that we experienced two major snow storms in the Northeast and an unprecedented level of seasonal price reductions across all retail channels during the month," noted outgoing chairman and c.e.o. Herb Zarkin. "Our 6 percent increase in customer traffic was consistent with our positive trend over the past few months."

    A comparable-club sales rise of about 9 percent in food was somewhat lower than planned, due to the impact of sales interruptions in the Northeast caused by the storms during key food-shopping periods. An approximately 2 percent increase in general merchandise sales -- above company expectations -- was caused by strong sales of low-margin televisions and other consumer electronics, and by a higher level of promotions and price reductions vs. last year, particularly in seasonal and toys.

    Despite weaker-than-expected comps in December, food is a still a star performer at BJ's. Merchandise categories with the strongest sales increases over last year included baking needs, breakfast foods, candy, seasonal, computer equipment, dairy, deli, frozen foods, health and beauty aids, meat, oils and shortenings, paper products, pet foods, prepared foods, produce, small appliances, televisions, and video games. Among the categories with the largest sales decreases vs. last year were cigarettes, domestics, jewelry, prerecorded video, and sporting goods.

    For January 2009 the retailer expects to post an increase in merchandise comps, excluding gasoline sales, of about 6 percent.

    Natick, Mass.-based BJ's operates 179 clubs in 15 states.

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