NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Bigger isn't always better, at least when it comes to investing in the retail sector.

While sheer size is always an attraction for investors (who can deny the power of Wal-Mart?) those retailers with growth potential can be just as an enticing an investment.

Even as the job market remains rocky, at best, and two consumer sentiment indexes revealed confidence remains stubbornly low, there still remain pockets of growth amid the retail sector.

The National Retail Federation, along with Kantar Retail, uncovered those public and private retailers that reported the greatest increase in domestic sales between 2008 and 2009 in the Stores Hot 100 Retailers list.

"The challenging retail landscape has undoubtedly opened up doors for some retailers who may not have been top-of-mind a few years back," Susan Redam editor of Stores Magazine, said in a statement. "The importance of brand recognition has never been more important, but consumer demand for value has never been more prevalent. The list this year celebrates those retailers that performed well because of hard times and those that continue to do well despite them."

To be eligible for the list, retailers must have more than $300 million in sales. International revenues, gasoline and other fuel sales and non-sale revenues such as credit card operations and membership fees are excluded from the tally.

Unsurprisingly, a significant chunk of those retailers that saw the most growth, are also some of the smallest companies. "It's not unusual to see smaller retailers atop lists of fast-growing companies because generating growth of a small base can be relatively easy for an appealing concept," Mary Brett Whitfield, senior vice president, Kantar Retail, said in a statement. "But given the economic challenges of the past year, making this list regardless of size is quite an accomplishment."

Read on for a look at the fastest-growing retailers....

10. Citi Trends

Citi Trends ( CTRN) comes in at No. 10, with its urban fashion apparel.

In its second-quarter, profit soared 60% to $12.4 million, or 86 cents a share, breezing by estimates of 67 cents a share. This compares with a profit of $7.8 million, or 54 cents, in the year-ago period. as sales increased.

Citi Trend's same-store sales grew 9.6% during the quarter, as total sales climbed 27% to $181.4 million.

As a result, management upped its full-year outlook by 5 cents to $1.80 a share, higher than forecasts of $1.66.

9. Buckle

It's hard to believe that a chain that sells premium denim would be a winner amid the economic downturn. Yet Buckle ( BKE) successfully bucked the odds, as the 9th fastest growing retailer in 2009.

During the year, the teen retailer reported a 13.4% spike in revenue to $898.3 million, as profit grew 23% to $199.5 million.

But this growth may be slowing, as Buckle reported a surprise 7.3% decline in June same-store sales. So far this year, comparable sales have fallen 0.7%, even as total revenue rose 4% to $344.3 million.

8. Aeropostale

Aeropostale ( ARO) has made the fastest-growing retailers list ever year since the list was created in 2006.

The teen retailer, which originally began as a proprietary brand of Macy's ( M), has become a go-to shopping destination for value-conscious parents and teens.

Aeropostale is known for its wallet-friendly prices, but even with attractive promotions, the company has still been able to grow margins -- a benefit of its clean inventory levels and ability to quickly replenish popular merchandise instead of over-stocking early in the season. As a result, Aeropostale doesn't have to resort to drastic unplanned markdowns like some of its competitors.

While Aeropostale ended 2009 with 890 stores, its new P.S. children's concepts ensures there are still plenty of growth opportunities left. There are currently 31 P.S. stores.

7. Netflix

Netflix ( NFLX) has changed the way consumers watch movies, in the process stealing business away from traditional movie rental chains.

In its second-quarter, Netflix once again reported record subscriber growth and profit. Netflix ended the quarter with 15 million subscribers, representing a 42% gain from a year ago and predicts it will end the year with 17.7 million to 18.5 million subscribers.

This huge market share gain has been one of the biggest blames for the deteriorating movie rental sector. Movie Gallery, for one, filed for bankruptcy earlier in the year and recently completed its liquidation, while Blockbuster is trying to figure out a way to stave off its on Chapter 11 filing.

Still, investors worry how long this momentum can continue. Netflix already showed its first sign of cracking, reporting weaker-than-expected sales in the second quarter, and forecasting disappointing revenue for the remainder of the year. Analysts say there are only so many potential households left untapped for Netflix to reach.

Netflix is also facing some competition of its own, as Hulu rolls out a subscription site, and Coinstar ( CSTR) grows its Redbox business.

At least for now, however, Netflix remains one of the fastest-growing retailrs.

6. Amazon

Online retailers saw a 6.3% gain in market share, though the overall dollar volume remains low and the segment is populated by companies too small to even be considered for the Hot 100 retailers. But with $12.8 billion in retail sales, this isn't the case for Amazon ( AMZN).

Internet retail was one of the few beneficiaries of the recession, as shoppers turned to the digital space to find bargains.

While Amazon is still succeeding in offering shoppers some of the best discounts, its biggest story is really with its Kindle e-reader. The company said Kindle sales more than tripled in its second-quarter, and sales of e-books outpaced that of hard covers for the first time ever.

But heated price wars, rising competition from Apple's ( AAPL) iPad, and potential issues with publishers could put the breaks on this growth.

5. Verizon Wireless

Verizon ( VZ), wasn't surprised that it made the fastest-growing retailers list, it told NRF.

The wireless provider, which placed No. 5, said its 29% jump in revenue in 2009 was primarily due to an increase in new customers and a uptick in the number of phones and upgrades to existing subscribers. Its acquisition of Alltel also contributed to the growth.

Still, Verizon has been aggressively laying off workers, as its traditional phone business shrinks. Costs associated with these job cuts ate into the company's second-quarter earnings, as Verizon swung to a loss.

4. Rue21

Teen retailer Rue21 ( RUE) places fourth, after completing its initial public offering in 2009.

The company has come a long way since filing for bankruptcy six years ago and being bought out by private-equity group Saunders, Karp & Megrue.

Rue21 completed its IPO in November, raking in $128.5 million, as shares priced above expectations at $19 a share.

In 2009, the company saw impressive sales growth, increasing 34.3% to $525.6 million, and bolstering its store count by 20%. Rue21 plans on opening another 100 stores in 2010, bringing its total store base to 635.

In its second-quarter, sales surged 28% to $137.8 million, with gross margins increasing 280 basis points to 37.9% and income nearly doubling.

3. O'Reilly Automotive

Cars weren't a hot purchase amid the recession, leaving consumers fixing their rides rather than buying a new one. This worked in the favor of O'Reilly Automotive ( ORLY), which sells aftermarket car parts.

The company saw a big boost in 2009 from its acquisition of CSK Auto.

O'Reilly boasts 17 straight years of same-store sales gains and doesn't expect that to slow any time soon. "Consumer concerns over high unemployment and a challenging macroeconomic environment as signs that our customers will continue to maintain their current vehicles and, therefore, drive demand in our industry," CEO and co-president Greg Henslee told NRF.

In its second-quarter, the company posted a 16% jump in profit, as sales rose more than expected.

O'Reilly has made the fastest-growing retailers list since the inception of the study in 2006.

2. Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market

U.K. grocery giant Tesco expanded into North America with its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market chain in 2008. In 2009, the company had 145 stores in the country, though it initially planned to roll out as many as 300 locations.

Still, Tesco continues to grow the concept in the U.S, with plans to open nine locations in California in September, after delaying entry into the state.

With Fresh & Easy, Tesco is taking on Wal-Mart ( WMT), which has aggressively expanding its grocery offerings and offers a significant discount to shoppers.

In 2009, Fresh & Easy lost nearly $2 million per store, partially because its infrastructure was designed to operate more than 160 stores. Its launch into the U.S. also came at one of the worst times possible -- the height of last year's economic collapse -- nonetheless, sales still grew 55% in 2009 to $556 million.

1. Syms

Syms ( SYMS) isn't the sexiest retailer in the conventional sense, yet the off-pricer ranks No. 1 as the fastest-growing chain.

Syms started out in 1958 as a menswear company, but in 2009, with the purchase of bankrupt Filene's Basement, expanded into women's apparel. It teamed up with Vornado Realty and added 20 Filene's locations to its portfolio.

This helped Syms grow sales more than 50% in 2009 to $377.3 million.

-- Reported by Jeanine Poggi in New York.

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