J.C. Penney said that its fourth-quarter sales rose slightly, its first gain since early 2011. A customer enters a J.C. Penney store in Daly City, Calif. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Retailer J.C. Penney said Tuesday that sales during the critical holiday period grew 3.1 percent, the first increase for the company in three years.

The rise is significant in the face of a slow holiday season that hit most retailers’ sales and J.C. Penney’s own struggle to revive its fortunes. Big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Target have warned of lower profits, while some department stores such as Sears have already posted weak holiday sales numbers.

“In spite of the significant headwinds facing all retailers this season, [...] we delivered on our promise to generate positive comparable store sales growth in the fourth quarter,” Myron ‘Mike’ Ullman, chief executive of J.C. Penney, said in a statement.

Last month, the Texas-based store said it would close 33 stores, eliminating 2,000 jobs. The retailer spent most of 2013 trying to rebuild its brand, bringing back in-house labels and reinstating its discount strategy. In Tuesday’s statement, J.C. Penney reported increased sales in the categories of beauty, apparel and luggage, among others.

The retailer posted a fourth-quarter growth rate of 2 percent and said online sales grew 26.3 percent from 2012.

J.C. Penney’s stock price was up 1 percent, trading at $5.73 at 10 a.m. The company’s stock dropped more than 60 percent last year.