Who knew tiny little Kearney, Neb., was a fashion hub?

There's no denying that those Nebraskans know their blue jeans. Still, it's not every day that a "city" of about 27,000 people spawns a hidden retail gem like Buckle ( BKE). But that is where, in 1948, a small men's clothing store was born, and it's where it still resides: tucked on the outskirts of the town across the street from a farmer's field.

What began there as a men's apparel chain named Mills Clothing eventually expanded to include women's apparel in 1977 -- and the name was changed to Buckle in 1991. And although the retailer has always retained a focus in the Midwest, its performance is worthy of national attention.

Selling better-priced denim and casual apparel to fickle young women and men is never an easy endeavor -- throw in parents now looking to save a buck, and the job becomes even harder. But even with these hurdles, Buckle has managed to post some astonishing numbers of late:

* For the past 22 consecutive months, the company has achieved double-digit same-store sales growth.

* During the quarter that ended May 2, it posted a 44% increase in profit, earning $26.9 million, or 58 cents a share, compared with $18.7 million, or 40 cents, in the year-ago period.

* During the same period, the company's revenue jumped 25% to $199.7 million from $160.2 million, while its total same-store sales for the quarter grew 17.7%.

Buckle isn't about quirky, of-the-minute, fashion trends. Jeans, the crux of its business, are an American staple that will seemingly never go out of style -- proving that, even during an economic downturn, shoppers will spend if you give them newness and merchandise they want.

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