Christopher & Banks to close about 100 stores

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Women's clothing retailer Christopher & Banks Corp. will close about 13 percent of its stores and has cut jobs as it tries to return to profitability.

The Minneapolis company said Friday that its board approved plans to close about 100 stores, nearly all of which it says are underperforming. The company currently operates 761 stores.

It laid off 7 percent of its corporate headquarters employees and 13 percent of its store operations field management team. Christopher & Banks did not immediately return phone calls seeking further comment on the layoffs.

The company said in a regulatory filing earlier this year that it had 1,700 full-time and 4,700 part-time employees as of April 22.

It said on Friday that the job cuts, effective on Oct. 28, will reduce annual expenses by about $2.2 million.

The company has posted net losses in five of the past eight quarters. It has struggled to sell new merchandise at full prices and has resorted to aggressive discounting, which has hurt margins.

Its "missy" or women's clothing segment was among the hardest hit during the recession and has been slow to recover.

Christopher & Banks aims to complete most of the store closings by the end of January. It also will speed up the conversion of a number of existing stores to a dual format that offers missy, petite and plus sizes, and it wants to restructure the occupancy costs at most of its remaining stores.

"We anticipate that these initiatives will help us to both improve overall store productivity and support our return to profitability," CEO Larry Barenbaum said in a statement.

Christopher & Banks will take a $2 million charge in its fiscal third quarter tied to its remaining store base and a charge of about a penny per share for the workforce reduction. The company will report earnings Dec. 22.

Charges tied to the store closings and the non-cash impairment charge for existing stores are expected to range between 39 cents and 49 cents per share, after taxes, over the next three fiscal quarters.

Company shares climbed 6 percent, or 17 cents, to $3.01 in midday trading. The stock price hit a 52-week high of $7.12 in July. The shares have lost about half their value this year, and are trading near 11-year lows.