Saks CEO: Natchez McRae’s store not closing

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 31, 2002

NATCHEZ &045; Parent company Saks is holding on to Natchez’s McRae’s store like Winona Ryder clinging to a cashmere sweater.

Although he didn’t use those exact words, Saks CEO Brad Martin &045; who was in town Tuesday to meet with the staff of the Natchez McRae’s &045; said there are no plans to close the store or change its name.

That’s despite several weeks of rumors that the Birmingham, Ala.-based parent company would close the Natchez store due to slowing sales.

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&uot;We remain very committed to the Natchez market &045; it’s an important store, a profitable store,&uot; said Martin, who bought then Jackson-based McRae’s department stores in the mid-1990s.

A nationwide economic slowdown has taken its toll on sales nationwide, forcing department store executives to make tough choices to cut costs.

As recently as September, a &uot;Business Week&uot; article on Martin noted that such realities had forced him to curtail plans to expand even further into small-town retail markets.

&uot;We know this isn’t the easiest of economic times,&uot; Martin, whose company does not release sales numbers for individual stores, said Tuesday. &uot;But this is a very strong company with a commitment to the (Natchez) marketplace.&uot;

As far as store closings are concerned, &uot;we open some stores and close others as part of our ordinance course of business,&uot; but no such plans are in the works for the Natchez store, Martin said.

So what was Martin’s one-day trip to Natchez all about? According to the CEO, he spends his holidays each year touring stores throughout the country, from California to New York to Mississippi.

In fact, Martin said topics he discussed with staff in Natchez included plans to offer more brands and to expand the store’s women’s apparel, shoe and housewares departments in 2003.

&uot;There’ll be an upgrading of our merchandise mix&uot; in addition to ongoing physical improvements to the Natchez store, said Martin, although specifics were not available as of Tuesday.