Growth in sales to money-rich customers at three major local department stores surged in September from a year ago despite the protracted economic downturn, the store chain operators said Monday. Lotte Department Store said the monthly average sales to one VIP customer reached 7,312,000 won (US$6,831) in September, up 2.8 percent from 7,115,000 won a year ago. Local department stores usually provide their VIP customers, who make up the top 1 or 2.5 percent of individual monthly sales, with perks like opportunities to partake in events including cultural ones. Lotte is stepping up its services for its VIP customers as consumer sentiment started growing in August. Hyundai Department Store, the country\'s third-largest retailer, said sales by its VIP customers grew 11.4 percent in September on-year, compared with a 4.2 percent rise in sales by ordinary customers. Hyundai is enhancing its services for its VIP customers by preparing to open exclusive sections at its stores, it said. Shinsegae Department Store said its monthly average sales growth by its VIP clients in August and September came to 12 percent from the cited period a year ago, far surpassing a 7.3 percent rise by ordinary clients.