Hutzler Brothers Co., trying to enhance its image and expand its business territory, has purchased a chain of boutiques that sells designer clothes in Florida and the Northeast.

The Baltimore retailer's acquisition of 10 Sara Fredericks stores "can add something to Hutzler's image," said David Forell, Hutzler's treasurer and vice president in charge of finance.

For one thing, Forell noted, Hutzler's soon plans to open a Sara Fredericks Salon in its Towson, Md., store to offer customers special designer clothes, including those made by Halston, Bill Blass, Trigere and Yves St. Laurent.

But even more significantly, he noted, the acquisition "gives us the opportunity to go beyond our current geographic boundaries . . . and the opportunity to jump into one of the fastest-growing retail areas in the country -- Florida."

Because the Sara Fredericks shops are far smaller than the traditional Hutzler's department stores, it will be cheaper and easier to open new boutiques along the East Coast than new Hutzler's stores, Forell noted. "Within five years, we are looking to have 25 to 35 Sara Fredericks stores, primarily across the East Coast," said Forell.

The Sara Fredericks acquisition comes less than two months after Hutzler Brothers announced it had purchased four Hochschild Kohn stores to enlarge its presence in the Baltimore area. Three of those stores have since been reopened under the Hutzler's name.

Forell said Hutzler's new owner and chief executive officer, Angelo Arena, had been working on the Sara Fredericks acquisition for more than a year. Arena has been trying to pump new life into the lackluster chain and turn it into a renowned national retailer since he took the company over more than a year ago.

The task is not a new one for Arena, who earned a reputation as one of the nation's top retailers when he helped transform Neiman-Marcus and Marshall Field & Co. from local retail businesses into prominent national chains.

Shortly after Arena arrived in Baltimore, he said he hoped to expand the chain to locations closer to Washington and ultimately make it "a major regional business" with stores scattered over a 200-mile radius.

However, with the acquisition of Sara Fredericks stores, Forell said it is more likely that these units, instead of the more costly Hutzler Brothers, will be the first ones Hutzler's builds in the Washington area.

The 10-store boutique chain will be divided into two groups. Its salons in Boston, New York, and Florida will be operated by Sara Fredericks, who will become president of the newly formed Sara Fredericks Salon Shops Inc.

Meanwhile, its five shops that cater to resort clients will be grouped in the new corporation, Sara Fredericks Hotel Shops Inc.