While it’s no surprise that Wal-Mart is still the top U.S. retailer based on sales, other discount stores crept up the top 100 list for 2010 thanks to consumers who spent what little discretionary money they had on good deals last year.

While it’s no surprise that Wal-Mart is still the top U.S. retailer based on sales, other discount stores crept up the top 100 list for 2010 thanks to consumers who spent what little discretionary money they had on good deals last year.

Dollar General climbed seven spots to No. 28 on the STORES 2010 Top 100 Retailers list, featured in the July issue of STORES Magazine and compiled by Kantar Retail. Family Dollar rose from No. 56 to No. 45, and Dollar Tree rose 15 spots to No. 61.

Wal-Mart’s U.S. sales of $304.9 billion in 2009 is still more than the rest of the top five retailers combined and another sign that shoppers want value and the convenience of having food, apparel and other merchandise under one roof close to where they live.

“There’s no question that off-price and discount retailers were able to help consumers through the recession, and they fared better because of that,” said Susan Reda, editor of STORES Media. “Sometimes we forget that in the U.S., there’s a vast difference between those who are superwealthy and those who are just getting by. ... The lion’s share of business is much more at a middle-class level. A whole lot of folks are still unemployed. Thankfully there are retailers finding a way to serve those customers.”

Reda noted that STORES changed its methodology for its top retailer research this year, subtracting retailers’ fuel sales from the final numbers. Because fuel sales can be so volatile, removing them gives a clearer picture of actual sales, she said.

While companies like Wal-Mart and Walgreens have reined in the number of new stores, company officials instead are pouring money into renovating stores.

Reda said discount retailers have pumped more money into improving the customer experience, an all-important indicator of whether shoppers will return to stores.

“It’s like anything else — retailers need to continue to be innovative and keep customers happy,” Reda said. “Customers are looking for value, for stores that are clean and if they can get through the stores quickly. Keep the customer happy and keep them coming back.”

Reach Rockford Register Star staff writer Melissa Westphal at mwestpha@rrstar.com or 815-987-1341.