The Rich's/Lazarus/Goldsmith's division of Federated Department Stores Inc plans to close three under-performing Lazarus stores in early 2002 with the possible loss of 190 jobs.

The closings are part of a strategic refocus on markets and locations that have higher future growth potential for the company.

"It is always a difficult decision to close a store because of the years of history and the deep sense of community and customer involvement that go with it," said Ron Klein, chairman and chief executive officer of Rich's/Lazarus/Goldsmith's.

"But in a highly competitive and dynamic business such as retailing, we have to concentrate on servicing our customers in the very best way we can. That means occasionally making tough decisions about how we need to direct our resources and where we need to focus our attention to ensure the best results for the future."

Lazarus expects to begin liquidating the merchandise in these locations at the beginning of February with the actual store closings slated for early spring 2002.

Rich's/Lazarus/Goldsmith's currently operates 79 stores in nine states, employing more than 17,000 people. The division's 2000 annual sales exceeded $2.2 billion.