It looks like the Hurricanes that were blamed for much of the retail sales weakness in September added to the fortunes of a number of retailers in October as people spent heavily to rebuild homes and replace lost items.

The boost in the Southeast, along with a brighter employment picture for the month, sent overall retail sales results up 4.1% in October. The increase, which is based on a survey of 75 chain stores by the International Council of Shopping Centers, came in a bit higher than the group’s forecast of 3% to 4% growth for the month and represented the biggest year-on-year gain since May of this year.

When Wal-Mart is excluded from the ICSC numbers, comps were shown to increase 4.9% for the month. Excluding Drug Stores, same-store sales grew 3.9% in October. Specialty Apparel Stores, Luxury Retail, and Wholesale Clubs outpaced the other retail sectors.

The Thomson First Call index of comp store sales, which is weighted by sales volume, increased 3.8% in October, compared with a forecast of 3.6% growth and a 3.1% gain in the same month last year.

RetailMetrics LLC said that overall same-store sales rose 3.8%, beating a 3.5% forecast, which was the highest level in six months, according to the research group.

Foot Locker, Inc. reported its sales figures for the quarter ended October 30, posting a 14.3% increase in total sales to $1.37 billion from $1.19 billion in the year-ago quarter. Excluding the effect of FX rate benefits, total sales increased 12.3%. Much of the balance of the increase was attributed to the inclusion of the 349 Footaction stores acquired in May, as well as increased store expansion in Europe. Comp store sales increased 1.2% for the period versus a 0.4% increase in Q3 last year.

The retailer said that the September hurricanes negatively impacted Q3 comps by roughly 0.6%, due primarily to disruptions at stores in Florida and Puerto Rico.

Foot Locker certainly benefited by the increased allocations from Nike, especially at Lady Foot, where Shox helped push comps up in the mid-singles range. Champs also posted a mid-single digit gain, while U.S. Foot Locker stores comped up in low-single-digits. Europe was again the drag in Q3, with same-store sales declining in the low-singles, while management called out Canada and Australia as positive markets in the International business. The DotCom business, which includes Eastbay and, saw sales increase in the low-singles.

At Fleet Feet, Inc., total third quarter sales were said to have increased 20.9% versus the comparable period last year. Comp store sales were up 14.3% for the period. Year-to-date overall sales increased 19.9%, with year-to-date comparative stores sales up 13.3%.

Five new Fleet Feet stores have opened for business since the end of the first quarter. Fleet Feet now has a substantial presence in Southern California with the opening of stores in Laguna Niguel and Santa Monica. Stores also opened in Vacaville, California; Rochester, New York; and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

The Specialty Apparel group rose 6.9% and was up 9.2% excluding The Gap. Among specialty apparel chains, American Eagle Outfitters posted 29.2%, its biggest gain of the year.

Pacific Sunwear, which is not in the Specialty Apparel group, reported that total sales for October increased 19.6% to $74.9 million, versus total sales of $62.6 million for October 2003. Total company same-store sales increased 8.5% on top of a 4.6% gain in October last year. Total transactions and average sales per comp store were both up mid-single-digits for the month. Third quarter comps were up 6.6% for the company.

PacSun same-store sales increased 8.3% on top of a 3.4% increase last year. The Guys and Girl’s businesses were both up high-single-digits on a comp basis for the month, with Woven Shirts, Fleece, Outerwear and T-Shirts driving the Guys business and T’s Knits, Denim, Skirts, Outerwear, and Sneakers driving the girl’s business.

d.e.m.o. moved back into double-digit increases again, with same-store sales increasing 10.0% on top of a very healthy 14.1% jump in October 2003. The Girls business here was up more than 20%, while the Guys business saw a low-single-digit increase for the month.

At The Buckle, total sales for October increased 12.7% to $35.7 million from sales of $31.7 million in the year-ago period. Comparable store sales increased 8.4% easily erasing the 2.3% decline in October last year.

Footwear Stores outpaced retail numbers as a whole, posting a 4.6% same-store sales increase in October that more than offset a 1.3% decrease in the same month last year.

October sales at Famous Footwear rose 5.7% to $74.3 million compared to $70.2 million for the same period last year. Same-store sales increased 2.3% versus a 4.9% decrease in October last year. Management said sales of Men’s, Women’s and Children’s Athletic Footwear were up mid-single digits on a comp basis. Children's Footwear was also up mid-single digits. Strong sales of Men's and Women's Dress shoes, were offset by “continued lackluster performance” of Casual.

Shoe Carnival sales increased 6.3% to $40.0 million in October, compared to sales of $37.7 million in the year-ago period. Comparable store sales inched up 1.0% for the month. Total Footwear comps were up 0.6%, while Accessories comp sales increased in the mid-teens. Men’s and Women’s Athletics were up mid-single-digits.

While November Outlook Holds Steady…

Shoe Carnival Children’s, which also includes Athletics for kids, was also up in mid-singles. The Women’s business was down low-singles and the Men’s business was down in mid-singles.

Inventories at month-end were reportedly down almost 3% on a per-store basis.

SCVL also announced the opening of an additional store during the month in Greenwood Village, CO in the Denver market. The company still sees ending the year with 255 stores.

DSW Shoe Warehouse reported that October sales increased 26.3% to $91.3 million from $72.3 million in the year-ago month. DSW now accounts for 39.4% of total sales at Retail Ventures, Inc., which also includes Value City Dept. Stores and Filene’s Basement, versus 33.8% of sales in October last year. Comp store sales at DSW were up 6.8% on top of a strong 9.1% increase last year.

RVI shares took a hit for the week after the company revised earning estimates downward, forecasting a loss of three cents to five cents per share for the third quarter, down significantly from a previous forecast of a profit in the 11 cents to 15 cents per share range. Full year EPS is now expected to in the 23 cents to 27 cents per share range, versus previous estimates in the range of 42 cents to 47 cents per share.

Payless ShoeSource reported that same-store sales increased 6.1% for October, while total sales for the company increase 5.6% to $219.1 million from $207.5 million in October last year.

Luxury Retailers also saw a 9.2% increase, with Neiman Marcus reporting a 13.6% increase and Nordstrom posting an 11.5% gain for the month. Total Department Stores saw October comps failed to erase a negative from last year, as comps rose 2.8% versus a 3.3% decline in October last year. Discount Stores were up 3.2%, led by MarMaxx with a 7.0% increase and Target, which posted a 6% rise. Wal-Mart grew just 2.4%. Wholesale Clubs increased 6.6% as a group. Costco again led the sector with an 8.0% gain, followed by Sam's Club, which posted a 5.0% increase.

The economy appears to be shedding some of the obstacles that contributed to weaker-than-expected retail sales gains over the last few months. Friday’s job figures that showed a 337,000 gain in jobs for October were more than double the most optimistic forecast on Wall Street.

Joining the employment picture was a sharp decline in oil prices that should lead to lower gasoline and heating oil prices over the next few months and a more stable – if not more optimistic – view of the economy and national security due to a decisive Presidential election.

For November, ICSC is again forecasting a same-store sales increase of 3% to 4% versus November 2003.