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Stewart's Shops buck national trend, report increase in sales

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Stewart's Shops offered cheerful news relating to the upstate economy this week, releasing figures that indicate they are bucking the national economic slump.

Stewart's Stores announced Feb. 13 that it tallied $1.3 billion in sales during 2008 of products through its 326-store chain, a 5 percent increase over 2007.

"We're pleased to be doing well in these difficult times," Stewart's spokesman Tom Mailey said.

The chain experienced an even rosier bottom line, he said, citing a 7 percent increase of operating profit at Stewart's Shops.

"A lot of this has to do with a business model we structured years ago," he said. "We have the efficiency of vertical integration, proper pricing, and we stock what people want to buy - we've kept things affordable for families."

While Stewart's opened two stores last year, the resulting sales increase from that development only accounts for a percentage point or two of the overall year-to-year increase, Mailey said.

Also the dollar increase occurred in both gasoline and the Store's food and convenience-store inventory, he said.

Stewart's Shops President Gary Dake underscored the point.

"We have chosen to focus on food items like our award winning milk, ice cream and coffee, so we are more than a convenience store that is primarily selling cigarettes, beer and gasoline, which have seen declining sales," he said.

Dake said no layoffs are planned, and expansion plans are continuing. He also thanked Stewart's customers not only for their loyalty, but their contributions totalling more than $560,000 to the firm's annual Holiday Match program, which in turn caused $1.1 million to be distributed to local children's charities - many of which are facing increasing financial challenges.

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