Department store doldrums delivering pain to big operators, and small

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Smaller department stores have at least one thing in common with their larger counterparts this quarter.

They're suffering.

A week after Macy's, Kohl's and Dillard's posted exceedingly weak second-quarter numbers, chains like Stage Stores Inc. and The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. followed up with some of their own.

Sears Holdings Corp. also reported Thursday and put up its first quarterly profit in three years, but only after it spun off real-estate assets. Its sales fell almost $2 billion compared with the same period last year.

Middle-class Americans are not spending more in department stores even though the employment and jobs picture continues to improve steadily. When they do spend they are demanding big discounts and they're shopping around online to find them.

It's not like Americans aren't spending more freely, it's just that they're spending elsewhere.

Travel spending is up, car sales are booming and people are buying homes again. The National Association of Realtors said that existing home sales climbed 2 percent in July to the fastest pace since early 2007. In addition, average long-term U.S. mortgage rates edged lower this week.

That showed up this week in another subset of the retail market.

Home Depot Inc. and Lowe's Corp. both posted strong quarterly sales. Their shares are up almost 9 percent over the past three months.

In that same period, the Standard & Poor's index for department stores has gone the opposite way, falling more than 8 percent.

Here's a look at how department stores are faring Thursday:

Stage Stores down $5.14, or 30.4 percent, to $11.76.

Bon-Ton Stores off 18 cents, or 4.6 percent, to $3.72.

Sears Holdings shed $1.14, or 4.9 percent, to $22.20.

Kohl's declined 88 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $53.86.

Macy's fell 51 cents, or less than 1 percent, to $61.88.