The curse of the economy now looms over the charmed life of eclectic retailer Urban Outfitters Inc.

The upscale purveyor of hip clothes and potted plants, with headquarters at the Navy Yard, had been bucking the trend of declining sales that afflicts nearly every nondiscount chain.

But a new word of warning about the holiday outlook at Urban was enough to send its shares - already off 31 percent for the year - down 20.57 percent yesterday. thu to $14.98

The company said in a regulatory filing late Wednesday that so-called same-store sales, which had continued to grow through the three months that ended Oct. 31, were flat in November, and "may further decelerate during the remainder of the holiday season."

Thud.

It was a month ago that Urban Outfitters' chief executive officer Glen Senk declared, after posting stellar quarterly results, that "challenging times present abundant opportunities." The company was convinced, Senk said, that "as we navigate through this period, we will emerge stronger, more disciplined, and with greater market share in each of our brands."

Analysts Holly Guthrie and William DiTullio at Boenning & Scattergood Inc. seemed to be taking off on those very comments in a note on Urban to investors yesterday. "Challenging times present opportunities . . . but the times keep getting more challenging," they wrote.

When Senk spoke, Urban had just reported a 31 percent gain in quarterly profit, and those same-store sales - results for its locations open at least a year - were up 10 percent for the quarter.

The company has 140 Urban Outfitters stores, 118 higher-priced Anthropologie stores, 27 Free People stores, and one "lifestyle home and garden" greenhouse store called Terrain, in Concordville.

But, while expectations are trimmed, Guthrie and DiTullio pointed out yesterday, Urban remains positioned to grow. With $199 million in cash and marketable securities, the retailer has "the capital to invest when opportunities arise as other retailers struggle."

Mike Armstrong is away. Contact Reid Kanaley at 215-854-5114 or rkanaley@phillynews.com.