SEATTLE (AP) _ Nordstrom Inc. says it's closing its remaining in-store fur salons to put the floor space to better use, but animal rights activists praised the apparel chain's announcement as a victory.

The Seattle-based retailer will close salons by Feb. 1 at its stores in downtown Seattle and suburban Bellevue, at Tyson's Corners and Pentagon City near Washington, D.C., in San Francisco and Walnut Creek, Calif., and in Anchorage, Alaska, spokeswoman Chris Bridenbaugh said Friday.

Fur industry officials said the decision was another sign of tough times for furriers, who have been hit by overproduction, a weak economy and warm weather on the West Coast.

''The decision to close the fur salons is simply due to the declining demand we have had for furs in the stores,'' Bridenbaugh said.

Nordstrom wants the space ''to put other products in that customers are requesting, to be able to utilize the space better,'' she said. Managers of the individual stores will decide how the space will be used, she said.

Fur salons have been closed at 12 other Nordstrom stores in the past three years, Bridenbaugh said. Nordstrom has 60 stores in seven states.

The salons are owned and operated by Evans Furs of Chicago, which leases floor space from Nordstrom.

Bridenbaugh said the decision to close the salons was Nordstrom's. But David Meltzer, chairman of Evans Furs, said his company made the decision to leave. He said the separation was amicable and Evans may lease space from Nordstrom in the future.

''We've run their fur departments for a number of years,'' Meltzer said in a telephone interview. ''We've been increasingly dissatisfied with the amount of volume we've been able to achieve.''

Meltzer said Nordstrom ''has tied one hand behind our back in terms of advertising of furs.'' Without more aggressive advertising, the salons haven't been able to generate enough business, he said.

Nordstrom's announcement was cheered by the Progressive Animal Welfare Society, a Lynnwood-based animal-rights organization that has long campaigned against the sale and wearing of furs.

''We know that fur is dead,'' PAWS spokesman Mitchell Fox said in a news release. ''This is verification that the fur industry is dying, too. We are very pleased with Nordstrom's trendsetting decision to go in this compassionate direction.''

PAWS held a rally Saturday outside Nordstrom's downtown store, to thank the chain and to kick off its anti-fur efforts for the Christmas season. About 60 demonstrators passed out leaflets and carried signs urging shoppers not to buy or wear furs.

Bridenbaugh said Nordstrom will continue to sell fur outside of the salons, such as fur-trimmed coats in other departments.

She said fur salons were possible in the future.

Meltzer called PAWS' position ''ridiculous,'' and noted that Nordstrom sells leather goods and other products made from animals. ''Their core business is shoes,'' he said.

Thomas Tashjian, an analyst with Seidler Amdec Securities Inc. in Los Angeles, said fur sales were strong in the mid-1980s ''as the working-class woman got more money in her wallet'' and furs were in fashion. But he said the market has been relatively flat since.

Tashjian said there was no way to measure what impact animal-rights activists might have had, ''but it's an issue of conversation that wasn't there five years ago when the industry was extremely robust.''

Bill Outlaw, spokesman for the Fur Information Council in Washington, D.C., downplayed the effects of animal protection groups. But he said the shaky economy has hurt the entire retail industry, especially luxury items such as furs and jewelry.

''When you get into difficult economic times, people certainly start looking at their expenses,'' he said.

Meltzer said economic jitters haven't affected furs any more than other retail segments. But both he and Outlaw said overproduction by fur ranchers in the past year hurt, as did the weather.

All outerwear sales have been slow on the West Coast for the past couple of years because the weather's been unseasonably warm, Meltzer said.

He said Evans Furs decided to pull out of Nordstrom stores in Southern California last year. ''We closed them up because the temperature never got below 80. It was beach day every day,'' he said.

Last year, Evans Furs, the nation's largest fur retailer, lost $4.6 million from operations on $140 million in sales, and wrote off $5.8 million, mostly for closing stores and shrinking its organization, Meltzer said.