Wilsons The Leather Experts Inc is to close 135 unprofitable travel and luggage stores operating under the El Portal, Bentley's Luggage and California Luggage Outlet names.

The Brooklyn Park, Minn., company said sales at its travel stores fell 8.9 per cent in the third quarter, and aren't expected to rebound to a level that justifies the resources that the company needs to spend on them.

Joel Waller, chairman and chief executive officer, said: "We just acquired this business [Bentley's] two years ago; it was bad timing on our part."

He added that the inventory of the 135 travel stores will be liquidated in the next several months, after which the stores will be closed. The company anticipates an after-tax charge of approximately $28 to $32 million, or between $1.37 and $1.56 loss per diluted share.

Announcement of the closures came at the same time as the company reported a third quarter net loss of $17.0 million, or $0.84 per fully diluted share, versus a loss of $13.7 million, or $0.80 per fully diluted share, for last year's quarter.

Net sales for the three-month period ended 2 November 2002 fell 5.9 per cent to $132.6 million, compared to the year-ago quarter's result of $141.0 million. Consolidated comparable store sales decreased 7.2 per cent against a year-ago decline for the third quarter, which did not include the travel subsidiaries, of 14.3 per cent. Comparable store sales for the Wilsons Leather chain declined 6.8 per cent.