Tuesday, September 30, 2008

True Religion Opens New Branded Retail Store on Walnut Street in Philadelphia, PA

True Religion Apparel, Inc. (Nasdaq: TRLG) today announced the opening of a new branded retail store in the Center City district of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Located at 1604 Walnut Street, the 1,600 square-foot branded store will offer shoppers the entire True Religion collection for men, women and kids, including its signature jean styles, its expanding denim and sportswear collection, and a full range of licensed product, such as footwear, swimwear, headwear and handbags.

Located in the heart of Philadelphia, Center City is the downtown and Central Business District of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Encompassing a population of approximately 90,000, Center City is the third most populous downtown in the United States. Additionally, the area is largely recognized as one of Philadelphias premiere tourist and shopping destinations and attracts an estimated 5 million visitors annually. Walnut Street in particular, offers a mix of national and local luxury businesses, including Polo, Tiffany & Co., MAC Cosmetics, Diesel, Coach, Cole Haan and Burberry. . . . more

Vacancies On Rise In Small Commercial Spaces

When the mortgage company in the storefront next to Michel Moran's framing shop in Cromwell went out of business, she thought there would be a new tenant in a month or two.It's now going on six months, there's still no new neighbor and Moran is starting to feel some ill effects.

Customers are no longer going in for mortgage business, noticing her shop and maybe coming back when they have a picture or mirror they need framed."That counts for something," Moran said.Over the past 20 months, there has been a rise in vacancies at small retail spaces in Greater Hartford, especially those of 10,000 square feet or less. That points to how the slowing economy is affecting "mom and pop" stores. Smaller locations like that account for nearly half of the region's retail space.

The trend has emerged even as the overall retail real estate market in the region remains relatively healthy when compared with other areas of the country.

According to a new report from KeyPoint Partners, a commercial real estate services firm, the biggest increase in vacancies over the past 20 months occurred in spaces of 5,000 to 10,000 square feet, which rose nearly two percentage points, to 9.7 percent. The report also found that vacancies among the smallest spaces — 2,500 square feet or less — rose nearly a full percentage point, to 10.7 percent. . . . more

Circuit City hires restructuring firm -- is bankruptcy on the horizon?

More bad news for Circuit City (NASDAQ: CC). After the resignation of its CEO followed by disappointing quarterly results and the company's decision to withdraw its guidance, the company has hired turnaround specialist FTI Consulting Inc. as an adviser on restructuring. Stifel Nicolaus & Co. analyst David Schick wrote that "The risks of bankruptcy are very real [...] Vendors will have to decide how they plan to do business at Circuit City.

''Reports of a company hiring a restructuring specialist are almost never good for shareholders, but it may be a sign that Circuit City is finally being realistic about just how dire its situation is. To date, the company has explored a bizarre strategy of opening new stores in the face of devastating sales declines as it loses traffic to better competitors like Best Buy (NASDAQ: BBY) and Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT). . . . more

Boston Home Prices May Have Bottomed

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Prices of U.S. single-family homes plunged a record 16.3 percent in July from a year earlier, extending declines that have plagued the housing market for two years, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller Home Price Indexes.

The S&P/Case Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas fell 0.9 percent in July from June, S&P said in a statement on Tuesday. Since the peak of the housing boom in July 2006, the index has dropped 19.5 percent, it said.

S&P said its composite index of 10 metropolitan areas declined 1.1 percent in July for a 17.5 percent year-over-year drop. From two years ago, the index is down 21.1 percent.

The pace of home price declines since May has slowed to about a third of the rate of the two previous three-month periods, however, S&P said. . . . more

Kohl's opens 1,000th store(s): Sizing up the shopper

Kohl's Corp. has opened its 1,000th store this week in Burlington. And in Manitowoc, and at 44 other locations around the country. You can take your pick. Like a good parent, Kohl's is refusing to play favorites by designating any one of the 46 stores to open as the official 1,000th in the Menomonee Falls-based chain.

Though the stores opened without fanfare Sunday, grand opening ceremonies are scheduled for Wednesday at all 46 stores. The new locations will put the company at 1,003 stores in 48 states. Another store will open in November.

"One thousand stores is generally kind of a marker for us," said chief executive officer Kevin Mansell. "What it says is that we have a concept that works." . . . more

Saladworks Reaches Milestone with Mount Laurel Opening on October 1

Twenty-two years after openingits first store in the Cherry Hill Mall, Saladworks will open its 100thlocation on October 1, just over seven miles away in Mount Laurel.
To celebrate their major milestone, Saladworks will offer $1 salads at theMount Laurel location throughout the day with 100 percent of the proceedsgoing to benefit Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation. This also marks the firstlocation with Saladworks' "fanatic'ly fresh" new store design.

The store is located in the newly-named Bank of America Plaza on Route 38and Larchmont Road in Mount Laurel.

"This is a landmark day in the history of Saladworks," said founder andCEO John Scardapane. "The formula has been a mix of fanatical customerexperience along with a remarkably fresh product. Saladworks will soon be ahousehold name across the country as we continue our turbo-charged growth to1,000 stores by 2012, but we'll always be true to our South Jersey roots." . . . more

Franchisers Sweeten Pot to Woo Buyers

Franchise companies, facing what many say is the toughest economic environment they've seen, are offering two-for-one deals, reduced fees and financing help to woo new buyers. They are also paying existing franchisees to help spread the word.

The economy has made many would-be franchisees wary of taking big financial risks, while others simply can't get the necessary loans. Meanwhile, competition among franchisers is growing, giving investors a lot more choices. There are now about 3,000 different franchise concepts, according to the International Franchise Association.

Emerald City Smoothie gives franchise buyers a kiosk in addition to a store.

In a survey released last week of some 150 franchise companies, respondents said their franchise sales were about 72% below their 2008 goals, with inquiries from prospective franchisees down about 48%, according to Franchise Update Media Group, San Jose, Calif.

But even as "closing deals is becoming more of a challenge," says Harold Kestenbaum, a franchise attorney in Uniondale, N.Y., franchise companies have to be careful not to alienate existing franchisees when they offer discounts and other incentives to new buyers. "How does it look for the guys who pay the higher price when they see the price is getting lowered?" he asks. Making the situation more sensitive, existing franchisees, especially in the retail and home-service sectors, are being hit by cutbacks in consumer spending. . . . more

Circuit City Halts 2010 Store Openings

RICHMOND, VA-Circuit City Stores plans zero growth beyond existing commitments for fiscal 2010 and is examining store openings for the second half of this year (fiscal 2009) as it looks to improve the performance of its current business, the company said at its second quarter conference call.

The company current plans between 45 and 55 domestic store openings in the current fiscal year, of which 24 have already opened.

“Our current store base doesn’t support the customer or associate experience we want to deliver," said James A. Marcum, vice chairman and acting president/CEO. "We expect to dramatically reduce our store openings, other than those fulfilling existing commitments, which are limited."

Previously, the company had announced a review of strategic alternatives. But the current market has made it prudent to focus on improving the existing business, Marcum said. . . . more

Monday, September 29, 2008

During an uncertain time, thrift stores doing brisk business

With the economy running on fumes, there is at least one industry reporting that business is thriving: thrift stores. Shoppers looking for bargains are shunning retail stores and heading to shops run by the Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries, store managers said.

“We’ve got a lot of customers coming in," said John Everett, manager of the Salvation Army store in Cambridge. "They can’t go to the stores and get the stuff they really wanted, and they come here and it’s cheaper.”

At the Salvation Army store in Hudson, manager Elaine Schwartz has seen a 20 percent increase in sales in the last few months. . . . more

Foot Locker to buy Delias brand for $102 mln

NEW YORK, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Athletic shoe and clothing chain Foot Locker Inc (FL.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) said on Monday it plans to buy Delias Inc's (DLIA.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) CCS business for $102 million, as it seeks to boost its appeal with teenage skateboarders.

Delias also said its core brands, dELiA*s and Alloy, should generate positive earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2009, helping to send its shares up 25 percent.

The all-cash deal for CCS is expected to close within 60 days.

CCS is a direct-to-consumer business that sells skateboard shoes, clothes and accessories through catalogs and the Internet. It is expected to have revenue of $80 million in 2009 and add to Foot Locker's earnings in the first full year of operation, the company said.

Barclays Capital advised Foot Locker while Financo advised Delias on the deal.

Delias, whose main customers are teenagers, said it will not decide how to use the proceeds from the sale until after the end of its fiscal year, in 2009.

Delias shares were up 63 cents, or 25 percent, at $3.13 on Nasdaq.

Source: Reuters

Personal income tops forecasts

Government report shows American incomes rose 0.5% last month, but personal spending weakened.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Personal income rose unexpectedly in August after a sharp decline in the previous month, while personal spending was sluggish, according to government figures released Monday.

The Commerce Department reported that personal income increased by 0.5% in August after a revised 0.6% decline in July. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com were expecting income to have grown by 0.2% last month.

After adjusting for taxes and certain price changes, however, real disposable income contracted 0.9%, according to the report.

Personal spending, meanwhile, was virtually unchanged in August. Economists had forecast a 0.2% increase in personal spending. Spending has not been this weak since February when it was also flat. . . . more

What's In The Bailout Deal

Key U.S. legislators released the compromise draft of the $700 billion bailout proposal early Sunday evening ahead of the opening of markets in Asia, and now have one final hurdle to clear: convincing the rank-and-file of their parties to support the legislation when it comes to a vote, likely on Monday.

In a press conference before meeting with House Democrats, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the bill was a bipartisan piece of legislation. "If we don't pass it we shouldn't be a Congress," said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who told reporters that he was confident the bill would pass without a further round of changes.

Under the legislation Treasury will be granted $700 billion in phases to acquire bad mortgage assets from financial institutions at a price it determines or through auction with a market price. If the Treasury decides to take the first option it will have some authority to determine the executive compensation structure of the firm.

If firms sell more than $300 million in assets in the auction, they will lose the ability to deduct the salaries of their top five individuals that have exceeded $500,000. For participating firms there will also be a surtax of 20% on retirement packages of top executives who are involuntarily terminated from their firms, or lose their jobs as a result of the firm's failure. . . . more

AutoZone buying back $500M in common stock

AutoZone Inc. is buying back $500 million of its common stock, the company announced Sept. 24.

The repurchase is part of an aggressive repurchase program by the Memphis-based auto parts retailer that now totals $6.9 billion in share repurchases since 1998.

Repurchasing stock is a common strategy for well-capitalized companies and is a way to boost the company’s earnings per share by reducing the number of outstanding shares.

The company also announced the election of Luis P. Nieto to the company’s board of directors. Nieto is president of consumer foods for ConAgra Foods Inc., one of the largest packaged foods companies in North America.

Also, board members N. Gerry House and Charles M. Elson have said they will not stand for re-election at the company's annual stockholders meeting on Dec. 17.

Circuit City loss widens; company reviews business

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Electronics retailer Circuit City Stores Inc. said Monday that its quarterly loss widened, hurt by charges to write down the value of its fixed assets and a significant decline in traffic that led to worse than expected sales.

The company withdrew its previous fiscal 2009 outlook as it said it's reviewing all aspects of the business ahead of the holiday season, its biggest selling period.

Circuit City shares fell 11% in pre-market trading.

Net loss widened to $239.2 million, or $1.45 a share, from $62.8 million, or 38 cents, a year earlier. Sales in the quarter ended Aug. 31 fell 9.6% to $2.39 billion from $2.64 billion, the Richmond, Va.-based company said in statement. The decline was worse than expected by analysts. Same-store sales dropped 13%, led by a drop in the U.S. . . . more

Friday, September 26, 2008

TJX, Costco best positioned to buy competitors

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Discount retailers, including TJX Companies Inc (TJX.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), are best positioned to buy distressed competitors, assume leases or expand into new concepts as the weakening economy takes its toll on several troubled retail companies, said Hilco's Nina Kampler on Wednesday.

"TJX is great, Burlington Coat is great, Costco Wholesale Corp (COST.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz)is great," said Kampler, an executive vice president in liquidator Hilco's real estate division. "These retailers that I'm naming are an example of the value retailers who are in a position to assume some of these more distressed, troubled retailers and perhaps they become part of their different concepts.". . . more

Toys'R'Us Announces 2008 Hot Toy List for the Holiday Season

The Toy Authority Reveals 36 New Toys Guaranteed to Top Christmas Wish Lists and Selects the "Fabulous 15" Representing the Best of the Season

WAYNE, N.J., Sept. 25 /PRNewswire/ -- With the official start of the holiday shopping season only weeks away, today Toys"R"Us announced its 2008 Hot Toy list, representing the definitive selection of toys that will top kids' wish lists this holiday season. The company's predicted list of the biggest holiday "must-haves" features 36 new toys that are sure to delight and excite kids across the country when they open their Christmas presents. Carefully selected after a comprehensive review process, items on the list are organized by age from "Baby's First Christmas" to "Big Kids" and serve as a starting point to help parents, friends and family find the perfect gift for any child. From the overall list, the "Fabulous 15" were selected to represent the very best toys of the season. All items featured on the list are available at Toys"R"Us stores nationwide and at www.Toysrus.com/HotToys

"After a thorough evaluation of all new toy introductions throughout the year, and consultations with our global merchandising team in 34 countries, Toys"R"Us has the unique ability to provide our guests with THE ultimate list of items certain to bring big smiles to kids' faces - the Toys"R"Us Hot Toy list," said Karen Dodge, Senior Vice President, Chief Merchandising Officer, Toys"R"Us, U.S. "With new toy shipments arriving in our stores daily, customers will have a better chance of finding the hottest toys, in stock, at Toys"R"Us than anywhere else."
. . . more

Rite Aid 2Q loss doubles on Eckerd struggles

Drugstore operator Rite Aid shook up its management ranks Thursday after posting a higher second-quarter loss because of disappointing results at stores acquired from Brooks Eckerd and heavy promotional spending.

The company hired two former Pathmark Stores Inc. executives, including rehiring John T. Standley as president and chief operating officer, and three top Rite Aid executives left the company.

The company also cut its expectations for full-year results.
Rite Aid, the third-largest U.S. drugstore chain, said its loss swelled to $222 million, or 27 cents per share, compared with $78.2 million, or 10 cents per share, a year ago. Revenue slipped 1 percent to $6.5 billion from $6.57 billion.. . . more

Memo To Retail Execs: Load Up On Tums

Times are tough for CFOs everywhere, but those in the retail industry are really suffering. A new survey from BDO Seidman reports that they are worried about how everything will affect holiday sales this year.

Some 57% of the executives at leading retailers included in the survey say that while high fuel costs have done the most to hurt consumer confidence so far this year, going forward they see the main threats to consumer spending in the critical months ahead as being gas prices (47%), the housing market (28%), the pending Presidential election (13%) and inflation (11%).

The poll, which included executives at chains with sales greater than $100 million, found balance sheets are in bad shape: Only 36% say sales increased when comparing the first halves of 2008 to 2007, which is down from the 56% who cited an increase last year. And 44% say comparable-store sales in that period declined.

"Overall, the CFOs estimate that the average comparable-store sales growth for 2008 will be virtually flat, averaging 0.72% growth," it says in its analysis of the poll results. "Retailers may remain wary for the rest of the year." . . . more

Dillard's shareholders seek new stock structure

Dillard's Inc. shareholders Clinton Group Inc. and Barington Capital Group LP are asking the department store chain's board to repurchase all of its outstanding Class B shares and leave the company with only one class of stock.
Little Rock-based Dillard's should hold a special meeting as soon as possible to authorize a repurchase, which would help improve its corporate governance and create "significant value" for shareholders, the two investors said in a letter to the board filed Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The filing suggests that shareholders may still be dissatisfied with Dillard's family control of the board and the company's share performance. The chain avoided a proxy fight in April by nominating four candidates to its 12-member board, including one proposed by Clinton and Barington.

"The public equity markets in general justifiably reward companies where management teams do not have effective control," Clinton CEO George Hall and Barington CEO James Mitarotonda wrote in the letter. "In the case of Dillard's, however, it is clear to us that the company and its public shareholders are being penalized because of its A/B share-class structure." . . . more

Finish Line posts 2Q profit, reversing loss

Indianapolis-based sporting goods retailer The Finish Line Inc. said it swung to a second-quarter profit as growing sales helped the company post better-than-expected results.

For the three months ending Aug. 30, the well-known mall retailer earned $13.1 million, or 24 cents per share. That compares with a loss of $1.8 million, or 4 cents per share, during the same period last year.

Revenue climbed nearly 4 percent, to $353.3 million, up from year-ago sales of $340 million. . . . more

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Blockbuster sticks to the bricks

The instant gratification of video-on-demand and the novelty of movies by snail mail may get many a consumer more excited than an old-fashioned trip to the corner store, but for Blockbuster Inc., the store is still the thing.

The Dallas-based video rental and retail chain, which closed hundreds of stores over the last year, plans to revamp many of its remaining outlets, expand its movie and game offerings, and add more rental and download kiosks.

But it’s still keeping an eye toward increasing Internet-based downloads through Movielink, the digital movie site it acquired last year, and attracting more movie-thru-mail subscribers. Critics say stores are passé, but Blockbuster notes that its mail customers also have the convenience of returning or trading-in their mail-ordered movie at stores — something which Netflix can't do because it doesn't have brick-and-morter outlets (just in case an Ingmar Bergman flick showed up in the mail when you were more in the mood for "Sex and the City").. . . more

Commercial-Property Players Find Their Pressures Growing

As Crisis Spreads, Market Seizes Up; Capital Preservation

For the commercial-real-estate players that were in hot water before the capital-markets crisis of the past two weeks, the temperature is rising.

Retail giant Centro Properties Group, New York developer Macklowe Properties, office-building investor Broadway Real Estate Partners LLC and others are now facing an even rougher ride in the wake of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.'s bankruptcy, the collapse of American International Group Inc. and the buyout of Merrill Lynch & Co. by Bank of America Corp.

After these and other market crises, cash-flow projections for properties are being scaled back in anticipation of a greater economic slowdown. The sales market -- long considered the last hope of many distressed players -- has virtually ground to a halt.

Even creditors that were willing to make real-estate loans before the upheaval are pulling back, having witnessed the spectacle of some of the biggest names in finance and banking vanishing in a period of days. . . . more

General Growth Among 9 Added to Short-Sale Ban List

U.S. regulators added nine companies including General Growth Properties Inc. and the government-sponsored enterprise known as Farmer Mac to the list of stocks temporarily protected against short sales.

The additions today bring to 926 the number of protected companies, exchange data show. General Growth is the second- largest owner of U.S. malls, and Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corp. provides financing to farmers, ranchers and rural homeowners. At least two companies, Diamond Hill Investment Group and "boutique'' investment bank JMP Group Inc., have opted off the list. . . . more

Trader Joe’s Readies New Stores in New York, Virginia

MONROVIA, Calif. — Trader Joe’s this week will open doors to new locations in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Richmond, Va.; and Williamsburg, Va., the company said. The stores, all of which are scheduled to open Friday, represent the first Trader Joe’s stores in their immediate markets, although the Brooklyn store follows other New York City locations in Queens and Manhattan. The Brooklyn store, at 14,000 square feet, is located in a landmark former bank building in the Cobble Hill neighborhood.

Source: Supermarket News

Rite Aid replaces chief financial, chief operating officers

Rite Aid Corp. today announced a corporate shake-up that will replace the drugstore company's chief financial and chief operating officers.

The company said John T. Standley is returning to the East Pennsboro Twp.-based company to serve as president and chief operating officer, effective immediately.

He is replacing Robert J. Easley, who the company said is leaving to pursue other interests.
Frank G. Vitrano was named today as chief financial officer and chief administrative officer, effective immediately. He takes over positions held by Kevin Twomey and Pierre Legault. . . . more

Soaring prices force women to tighten budgets

If royalty was based on frugality, Helen Braun would be Jackson's reigning queen. The 78-year-old "blond bomber," as friends call her, can sniff out a sale quicker than a bloodhound and separate treasure from trash at garage sales with uncanny ease.

These days, Braun is more than a model of frugality. She and others like her may hold the key to surviving the economic downturn. Between the sagging economy and soaring food and gas prices, Americans are increasingly feeling financially squeezed.

"I'm Dutch, so saving money comes naturally to me," says Braun with a twinkle in her blue eyes. "But with gas around $4 a gallon and rising, I have extra incentive to get the most mileage possible out of every dollar." So she switched to generic medical prescriptions, targets movie matinees at discount prices, and occasionally checks out garage sales. Most importantly, she remains faithful to her No. 1 rule: "Never buy anything unless it's on sale!"

Braun's example reflects an interesting national trend. Moody's Economy.com, an independent provider of economic analysis, reports that although consumer spending has not risen as much as hoped, it has risen a little every month this year, thanks in part to the $50 billion in economic stimulus checks from the federal government. Even though our economy is in a downturn, shoppers — 80 percent of whom are women — have not stopped spending money: They're just spending it differently. . . . more

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bargain Hunting: Luxury Retailers Find an Outlet

With sales at their main locations sagging, Saks, Nordstrom, and others are tapping budget-conscious shoppers by expanding their outlet stores

On a recent morning at the Woodbury Commons Outlet mall an hour north of New York City, Carissa Nava is looking over a red wraparound dress by Diane Von Furstenberg at the Saks Fifth Avenue Off Fifth store. The dress retails for $365 at Saks' main store on in New York, but here it is selling for $126.99.

Nava, a pharmaceutical sales rep who lives in Manhattan, makes regular trips to Saks' flagship store on Fifth Avenue—sometimes to buy, but often just to check out the selection of big-name apparel. Then, at the earliest chance, she drives up to the Saks outlet to pick those items up at a significant discount. "I only wear Seven or True Religion jeans, and I get them here for $149," she says. "Why would I pay $216 for the same exact ones at the main store?"

There's a certain snob appeal that attaches to luxury retailers like Neiman Marcus, Saks (SKS), or Nordstrom (JWN). Which is why, even though almost all of them have operated discount outlet stores for years, they never talked much about them. Saks went to the extent of keeping its name off the outlets, calling them "Off Fifth."

Out of the Shadows

But today, with the economy stalled and consumer spending in free fall, snobbery is a bit harder to pull off. Even the most upscale shoppers are hunting for bargains. So luxury retail executives are taking their off-price operations out of the shadows and launching their most aggressive expansion plans in years. Increasingly, the outlets also are offering not just discontinued or leftover inventory from a previous season, but many items currently available at the mainline stores.

"Only stores that scream value are getting consumers in," says Erin Armendinger, managing director of the Jay H. Baker Retailing Initiative at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. . . . more

Lehman, Merrill Assets Expected To Be Sold

With the credit markets seized, the avalanche of bad news surrounding investment banking giants Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch and insurance provider AIG has caused a state of panic in the commercial real estate industry.

Merrill was exposed to about $18 billion between whole loans, conduits and direct real estate investments. Lehman, meanwhile, continues to hold $32.6 billion in commercial real estate between whole loans and CMBS bonds. About 11 percent of its portfolio is devoted to retail. AIG’s exposure is harder to pin down. The company built up a $60 billion position in the credit default swaps market—some of which is tied to CMBS. The company also has $16 billion in international real estate assets.

The question now is, with Lehman in bankruptcy, Merrill Lynch in the process of being acquired by Bank of America and AIG sold off in parts by the government, what’s going to happen to all those holdings?

In the case of Lehman and Merrill Lynch, their commercial real estate assets will likely end up on the auction block, according to David Akeman, director in the capital markets group of Stan Johnson Company, a Tulsa, Okla.-based commercial real estate investment firm. Before filing for bankruptcy last week, Lehman had planned to spin off its commercial real estate portfolio into a stand-alone, publicly-traded entity, Real Estate Investments Global, which would allow the bank to avoid a forced fire sale. But after its September 14 bankruptcy filing, Lehman will not likely be allowed to spin off one of its divisions, says Adam B. Weissburg, partner with Cox Castle Nicholson LLP, a Los Angeles-based real estate law firm. . . . more

Cabela's plans to open smaller stores

CHICAGO - Executives at outdoor supercenter Cabela's Inc. told investors Tuesday that they plan to open slightly smaller retail locations in the future.

Speaking at the Thomas Weisel Partners Consumer Conference in New York, Cabela's Chief Executive Dennis Highby said new stores being developed by the Sidney, Neb.-based chain will follow three size formats ranging from 80,000 square feet to 125,000 square feet.

Cabela's current stores average about 140,000 square feet, although its largest location is a massive 245,000 square foot store.. . . more

Mohegan Sun's Expansion Put on Hold

UNCASVILLE, CT-The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority is planning to delay a large capital spending component in the Project Horizon expansion of Mohegan Sun. A statement cites the ongoing economic recession affects on regional gaming markets as the cause of the interruption.

The components that will be suspended are the Earth Expansion and the adjacent parking garage. The complex consists of Casino of the Earth, Casino of the Sky, Casino of the Wind, Sunrise Square, the Shops at Mohegan Sun, along with a 10,000-seat arena, a 350-seat cabaret theatre and 100,000 sf of meeting and convention space. There is also a 1,200-room Sky Hotel Tower. The Project Horizon project included costs spent on different parts of the complex with $17 million to Sunrise Square, $116 million for Casino of the Wind, $58 million for Property Infrastructure and $75 million has already been spent on Earth Expansion and $5 million on the parking garage. By halting the expansion now, the project will save $734 million. . . . more

Real estate investor shoring up purchase of former Yoken's site

PORTSMOUTH, NH — A local real estate investor is in the process of finalizing a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy the former site of Yoken's restaurant on Route 1 from Shaw's Supermarkets Inc.

Anthony DiLorenzo, owner of several commercial properties in Portsmouth, entered into an agreement with Shaw's on April 21, according to a published report in the Portsmouth Herald.

DiLorenzo is the owner of the former Meadowbrook Inn, which was recently demolished to make room for a large multipurpose development on the Route 1 Bypass. He is president of Portsmouth Chevrolet, as well as principal of Key Auto Group.. . . more

Will change at top jolt Circuit City?

RICHMOND, Va. — A change at the top may not be enough to jump-start Circuit City Stores Inc., after the head of the nation's No. 2 consumer electronics retailer abruptly resigned amid plummeting stock prices and calls for his ouster.

Four months ago, Chief Executive Philip J. Schoonover asked shareholders for more time to turn around the company amid talks of a possible sale, despite some acknowledged missteps. This week, Circuit City's board decided more needed to be done.

But the move did little to inspire investors or analysts, and the company's shares dropped more than 4 percent.

Circuit City, which has seen only one profitable quarter since the second quarter of 2007, "still faces a mountain of challenges," JPMorgan analyst Chris Horvers told investors in a report following the change of command.

Schoonover stepped down Monday as chief executive, chairman and president of the Richmond, Va.-based company. Schoonover had joined the company in 2004 from rival Best Buy Co., where he was executive vice president of customer segments. . . . more

Lowe's cuts store growth plan for 2009

ATLANTA — Lowe's Cos. Inc. backed its 2008 full-year profit forecast Wednesday, but said it would open fewer stores next year as the soft U.S. economy and housing slump hampers demand.

The second-largest home improvement retailer behind Home Depot said it would open 75 to 85 new stores in 2009, down from about 120 it expects this year.

“While a pullback in the pace of our expansion is appropriate given the pressures in many markets, we continue to see opportunity for new store growth in the years ahead,” Gregory Bridgeford, Lowe's executive vice president for business development, said in a statement.

Lowe's, which is holding an analyst meeting Wednesday, reiterated an August forecast calling for profit of $1.48 to $1.56 (U.S.) a share for this year. That would be down from $1.86 a year earlier.

For 2009, Lowe's forecast profit of $1.40 to $1.65 a share.
Analysts currently expect profit of $1.53 a share for 2008 and $1.57 a share for 2009, according to Reuters Estimates.. . . more

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lowe's Drops Plan For Canton, CT Site

Lowe's has pulled the plug on its plan to build a store and garden center on a 24-acre parcel just off Route 44 near the Avon and Simsbury lines.

Lowe's won approval earlier this year to build a 119,328-square-foot store with an attached 27,265-square-foot garden center and a 437-space parking lot.

A combination of the deteriorating economy and a challenging building site appear to have killed the plan, said Tom Sevigny, president of Canton Advocates for Responsible Expansion, which fought the project.

Maureen Rich, a spokeswoman for Lowe's, said Monday night that a variety of factors led to the company's decision. "After further evaluation, Lowe's has decided not to move forward with the project," Rich said. . . . more

'The C-Store of Tomorrow'?

Drug stores faring well in changing economy thanks in part to convenience factor

CHICAGO -- Consumers are changing their shopping patterns to cut costs
and save gasoline, reported Beverage Industry. As a result, total shopping trips are down nearly 3%, trips are shifting across channels and trip missions within all channels are evolving, according to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc.'s "Times & Trends: Snapshot of Trends Shaping the CPG & Retail Industries."

While total trips are down, drug stores are expanding their role as a fill-in trip destination and are securing major share gains across healthcare categories. Beverage sales play a smaller role in drug stores compared to other channels, but they benefit from the convenience aspect of the channel, said the report. In 2007, drug stores accounted for 3% of beverages sales, compared to supermarkets' 61% share, according to IRI's Consumer Network for the 52 weeks ending May 19, 2007. But beverages should expect to profit from drug stores' new fill-in trip role and the major drug store chains' focus on front-end sales.

Because of their ability to meet consumer needs as a fill-in trip destination, drug stores have a tremendous opportunity to rethink what they offer to the shopper for those fill-in trips, Thorn Blischok, president of IRI Innovation & Consulting, told the publication. Changes may range from offering new beverages, alcohol or even fruit and other perishables, he said. "We're seeing a little bit of emergence from the center store category in drug stores, and that's a very good strategy."

He added, "The drug store itself is the new convenience store of tomorrow."
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Wall Street Pain Expected to Spread to Luxury Retailers

With New York City at the epicenter of America’s woes, troubles on Wall Street may spread uptown to Fifth and Madison Avenues as the important holiday season nears.

Saks Inc. (SKS) and Tiffany & Co. (TIF) may be among the luxury retailers hit worst given that their flagship stores on Fifth Ave. account for 20% and 10% of total sales, respectively. But others linked to high-end spending such as Coach Inc. (COH), Nordstrom Inc. (JWN) and Polo
Ralph Lauren Corp. (RL) could also be shrunk in the dryer.

Even Saks chairman and CEO, Steve Sadove, has pointed out that equity markets are the most important leading indicator of spending at his stores, according to Goldman Sachs analyst Adrianne Shapira.
. . . more

Circuit City CEO resigns amid troubles

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- The chief executive at Circuit City Stores Inc. stepped down Monday and was replaced by a board member appointed to defuse a fierce proxy battle as the struggling electronics retailer steps up its turnaround effort.

Philip J. Schoonover, Circuit City's chief executive, chairman and president, had joined the company in 2004 from rival Best Buy Co., where he was executive vice president of customer segments.

The 48-year-old will be replaced by board member James A. Marcum, who will stand in as the chain's interim president and chief executive. Meanwhile, former tobacco executive Allen B. King will become Circuit City's new chairman.

. . . more

Lifetime Brands Latest Retail Casualty; Plans to Close All Stores, Distribution Center

Lifetime Brands Inc., a nationally branded kitchenware, tabletop and home decor products company, is the latest casualty among retailers to announce the closing of stores. The company plans to close all of its remaining 53 outlet retail stores as well as its York, Pa., distribution center in 2009.

The stores being closed by Lifetime include 39 Pfaltzgraff factory stores, eight Farberware outlet retail stores and six clearance stores. The company will continue to operate its Internet and mail order catalog businesses. Clearance sales at the stores will start Tuesday and should be completed by Dec. 31.

The company has entered into an agreement with a joint venture between Gordon Brothers Retail Partners and Hilco Merchant Resources L.L.C. to manage and operate the inventory clearance sales at the stores. . . . more

J. Crew's CEO, Mickey Drexler, doubles down

J.Crew's CEO says that this is the worst retail environment he's seen in 40 years in the business. His strategy? Take J.Crew upscale and launch a new brand called Madewell.

Is now the time for a retailer to go upscale? The guru behind clothier J. Crew thinks that's the right strategy.

J. Crew is relatively small - its entire retail square footage would fit into the space of just 13 Sam's Clubs - but CEO Mickey Drexler, the man who made Gap (GPS, Fortune 500) into a pop-culture phenomenon and reinvented retailing icon J.Crew, is closely watched in his industry. He says that the current retail environment is the worst he's seen during his 40 years in the business, and he's making a risky bet on upscale clothes and an edgy new brand. (This is an excerpt from a story in the Sept. 1 issue of Fortune. Read the full story.)

Part of what makes Drexler influential is his ability to predict not only what will sell but also how shopping habits are changing. What does Drexler's trend-spotting instinct tell him now? He thinks the dominance of the big-name designer is played out. He's stacking his chips on quality goods at a fair price, repositioning J. Crew (JCG) as a luxury-for-less alternative. . . . more

Gap to buy Athleta for $150 million

Gap Inc. is investing in the activewear market with its $150 million cash purchase of Athleta Inc., a Petaluma company that makes women's sports apparel, the San Francisco retailer said Monday.

The deal will give Gap, which has made previous forays into the segment, a ready-made player in the $31 billion women's athletic clothing market, which includes such brands as Vancouver, British Columbia, sportswear retailer Lululemon Athletica Inc.; Lucy, headquartered in Portland, Ore.; and Title Nine, which is based in Emeryville.

"This is a strategic acquisition that makes sense for both Gap and Athleta. Both brands complement each other, so we see many opportunities for growth," said Gap spokeswoman Louise Callagy. Callagy described the privately held Athleta as profitable but declined to reveal the company's annual revenue.

Gap plans to add Athleta to its online brands, which include Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy and Piperlime. It also might consider giving the brand space in its retail outlets. . . . more

Trumbull, CT getting 2nd Target store

TRUMBULL -- Even as she arrived at the north side of the Westfield Trumbull Mall last week, Irene Soboeiro knew she'd soon have reason to head to the other end.

"I like Target," she said of the chain slated to open on the south side next month. "I like everything in there."

Nearly two years after it won Planning and Zoning approval, the town's second Target plans its official opening Oct. 12, though the doors will actually open more quietly a few days earlier. It's one of 45 stores the Minneapolis-based chain is opening in October, bringing the total number of stores to 1,685. . . . more

NJ: Rockaway Plaza Sells for $16.1mm

ROCKAWAY, NJ-Rockaway Plaza, a 104,549-sf shopping center at 295 Route 46 here, has a new owner. The seller, identified only as a regional development company, sold the property for just more than $16.1 million, or about $154 per sf.

The buyer was similarly not identified, but described as a regional investment group. The property was originally listed with an asking price of $18 million, and then reduced to $17 million before subsequently trading for the $16.1-million number.

Brokers from Marcus & Millichap’s New Jersey office in Elmwood Park represented both sides in the transaction. Senior associate Seth Pollack and investment specialist Michael Kestin represented the seller; investment specialist Kevin McCrann spoke for the buyer.

Situated on a seven-acre lot, Rockaway Plaza is anchored by Ace Hardware, Drug Fair, Kiddie Academy and Party Fair. A number of regional and local tenants round out the roster, and the center itself recently underwent a renovation. . . . more

Monday, September 22, 2008

General Growth reviews alternatives after stock plunge

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Debt-laden mall operator General Growth Properties Inc. (GGP:
General Growth Properties, Inc. said Monday it is considering asset sales and mergers after its stock price received a serious bruising last week.

Fretful about the fate of highly-leveraged companies, investors frowned on the news, causing General Growth's shares to tumble 19% in recent trading.

General Growth, the second-largest U.S. mall owner and operator by market value, said it should be able to offer long-term fixed-rate portfolio mortgage financing to lenders in November and is pursuing other financing for debt maturing soon. In addition, various capital-raising efforts are being explored - including divestitures, preferred-stock sales and mergers.

The move comes after the real-estate investment trust's share price slumped 34% on Thursday, forcing General Growth executives to sell more than 2.4 million shares to cover margin calls. The stock slide was prompted by disclosures that it granted a concession in a $1.5 billion loan it will use to replace other debt. . . . more

Developer hopes for hit at Fenway

Retail residential complex proposed for area between Park Drive, Yawkey Way

A developer is proposing his third retail and residential complex outside Fenway Park - a project that would be aided by a new street the city wants to build to spur fresh development in the neighborhood. The plan disclosed by Steve Samuels and city officials yesterday is the next step in transforming the gritty triangle between Park Drive and Yawkey Way, where residents and neighborhood planners have long sought to create an "urban village" in the shadows of the ballpark. Mayor Thomas M. Menino said plans for the new quarter-mile-long street, to run parallel to Yawkey Way, would ease traffic congestion and lay the groundwork for a shopping district where Fenway sausage vendors would intermingle with high-end boutiques.

"What we want to do is have a balance between residential, retail, and some office space," Menino said. "It will be a more walkable area, a more friendly area. Now all you see is auto repair shops and sub shops. That's not the future, that's the past." . . . more

Burlington: Forest sale is scratched

Scope of project too large for town

After much hoopla in town and beyond, Burlington officials are putting the brakes on an ambitious development proposal to turn a large swath of forest land into the state's largest life sciences complex, senior housing, and playing fields.

The Board of Selectmen has decided against selling the 247-acre landlocked parcel near Route 3, saying the community is not ready to let go of the property.

"The land is not for sale," said Sonia Rollins, chairwoman of the panel.

But Patriot Partners, the development group that holds an option to buy the land if the town does decide to sell, is not giving up on its vision for the site bounded by Route 3, Interstate 95, and the towns of Lexington and Bedford. . . . more

Future IKEA Somerville Advances as Developer Begins Demolition on Site of Swedish Retailer's 2nd Boston-Area Store

SOMERVILLE, MA, Sep 19, 2008 (MARKET WIRE via COMTEX) -- With company representatives, local officials and community leaders on-hand, IKEA, the world's leading home furnishings retailer, joined Assembly Square Mall owner Federal Realty Investment Trust (NYSE: FRT) as the developer initiated demolition at the site of the future IKEA Somerville store. Demolition of buildings within the Assembly Square area will allow for construction of Federal Realty's 145-acre planned 'Assembly on the Mystic' development, including the IKEA Somerville store. Until IKEA Somerville opens in 2011 as the 2nd IKEA store in the Boston area and 38th in the United States, customers can shop at IKEA Stoughton or www.IKEA-USA.com.

The 340,000-square-foot future IKEA Somerville, with 1,350 parking spaces comprising two levels of parking below the store, will be built on 12 acres previously occupied by buildings within Assembly Square, southeast of the Assembly Square Mall, east of Assembly Square Drive and the MBTA's Orange Line. Federal Realty and IKEA also will be contributing towards the creation of a T-station along the Orange Line. IKEA Somerville will reflect the unique architectural design for which IKEA stores are known worldwide, and will employ approximately 500 coworkers.

"Today's demolition event is the result of collaboration and hard work by Mayor Curtatone, Federal Realty and key interest groups in Somerville who have worked towards the common goal of opening IKEA Somerville as part of a vibrant, transit-oriented mixed-use development," said Doug Greenholz, U.S. real estate manager for IKEA. "We now look forward to closing on the purchase of the land next year and then beginning construction so we can open IKEA Somerville in 2011, and grow our Boston-area presence that began two years ago with the opening of IKEA Stoughton." . . . more

Retailers Assess U.S. Banking Crisis

Although inventories and expenses have already been slashed in response to the slowing economy, the current Wall Street crisis is apparently causing many retailers to re-examine their pricing, promotions and inventory plans for the holiday season. Even marketing messages may need to be softened as consumers grapple not only with shrinking 401Ks and home values but a loss of faith in the financial system.

"This is like watching a car crash, but the two vehicles haven't hit yet," Marian Salzman, chief marketing officer for public relations agency Porter Novelli, told the Associated Press last week before the U.S. government's bailout plan was announced. "Is this the worst week, or are we waiting for the other shoe to drop?

The bailout of financial institutions announced on Friday is designed to free up credit for consumers as well as companies albeit with tighter restrictions. But, as the Washington Post noted, "the economy remains fragile with consumer confidence flagging, spending down and unemployment at its highest level in five years. The turmoil on Wall Street could further slow spending, the economy's key engine." . . . more

Home Depot's total rehab

First the customers revolted. Then housing went into a free fall. Time to slash and burn - unless you're CEO Frank Blake, who thinks an army of orange aprons will save the day.

(Fortune magazine) -- The Home Depot's Francis S. (Frank) Blake has one of the biggest jobs in corporate America but one of its least famous faces. Which is what the CEO is counting on one weekday morning when he goes on an undercover mission in Riverside, N.J.: a secret walkthrough at one of his company's 1,970 U.S. stores. He's been taking the walks an average of four times a week, all around the U.S., since January 2007, when he took over as CEO after Bob Nardelli's abrupt and painful departure. Blake wants to see for himself the way regular folks are treated when they shop at the big orange box. And he's not sure what to expect. "This is going to be like a Cracker Jack box," he says, a bit nervously. "You don't know what you'll get."

Things get off to a promising start: Barely are we in the door when an orange-aproned associate asks brightly, "Can I help you find something?" A small smile plays across Blake's poker face. "That's always good," he says, stooping to pick up some pink flower petals that have fallen to the ground. As he makes his way to the carpet section, which has been redesigned so that women customers can actually reach the rugs, the level of service begins to border on obsessive. "You need help with anything?" "How you doing today?" "Folks, you sure you don't need any help?"

It should be a gratifying moment for Blake, who has bet the ranch on Home Depot (HD, Fortune 500)'s quest to reclaim the $77.3 billion retailer's once-vaunted edge in customer service. Instead he looks uncomfortable. He's accustomed to walking freely through most stores; with his preppy clothes, thinning hairline, and lack of entourage, he resembles a suburban accountant who gets his jollies riding his power mower. Not this time. "You've been outed," I tell him. And sure enough, the manager of store No. 919, Mike Pleskach, comes bounding over to say hello. (Blake says he should have worn a baseball cap; his bald head is too distinctive.) . . . more

Lowe's to slow openings?

Lowe's Cos. this week could announce it is slashing new-store growth in light of the tough business environment, calling into question whether the home-improvement retailer can achieve its long-term targets.

As the slump in housing markets and economic pressures weigh on profitability of new stores, Lowe's could cut next year's square-footage growth by as much as 50% from recent targets, according to several analysts tracking the company.

Citigroup analyst Deborah Weinswig expects Lowe's will open 75 new stores next year for 4.5% growth in retail-square footage, down from 120 stores opening this year to generate about 8% growth. . . . more

Stores Plan for Weak Holiday Sales

Retailers Respond to Shaky Economy With Earlier Ads, Fewer Seasonal Workers

As economists predict the worst holiday sales season since the recession of 1991, retailers are fighting back with an arsenal of new selling strategies, staff cutbacks and more emphasis than ever on low prices.

Retailers are planning bigger, bolder and earlier ad campaigns to lure shoppers as early as possible, racing to make the most of the shorter holiday season this year-five fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than in 2007. Some chains, including Macy's Inc. and Costco Wholesale Inc. already have put out holiday merchandise.

Stores are expected to hire fewer part-time staffers during the holidays, to control labor costs. Gift cards will be fancier, and companies, such as Target Corp. say they'll be emphasizing affordability with a range of gifts under $25. . . . more

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fitch Cuts Sears Ratings On Sales, Strategy

SAN FRANCISCO -- Fitch Ratings said Friday it downgraded ratings of Sears Holdings Corp. because of negative same-store sales and an unclear long-term retail strategy. Fitch cut Sears' long-term issuer default rating to B+ from BB, and its secured bank facility rating to BB+/RR1 from BBB-. About $3.6 billion of total debt is affected. The outlook is stable. "The rating actions reflect significant pressure on operating margins on negative comparable store sales trends and continued share repurchases in the current challenging operating environment leading to weaker credit metrics," Fitch said in a statement.

Source: Fox Business

Boscov's will sell assets to equity firm

READING, Pa. -- Financially struggling Boscov's Department Store LLC announced Thursday evening it plans to sell "substantially all of its assets" to a Philadelphia-based private equity investment firm.

Boscov's, which recently declared bankruptcy, said investor Versa Capital Management Inc. intends to keep the chain open after the sale is complete.

The deal "will result in Boscov's being well capitalized and allow us to move quickly toward completion of our restructuring," Boscov's CEO Ken Lakin said in a news release. "Versa appreciates Boscov's commitment to its customers, co-workers and the communities we serve, and is well positioned to provide the resources to ensure that we build upon our nearly 100-year tradition of providing a friendly, local place to shop with brand names, great values and service." . . . more

Friday, September 19, 2008

Retail is a rewarding business

Customer Service; Loyalty programs give stores more bang, more bucks

National Post Retailers and consumers have been loyal to customer loyalty programs for more than half a century.

In Canada, Canadian Tire was the first chain to introduce the concept of rewarding customer loyalty. Muriel Billes, the wife of Canadian Tire's co-founder and first president, A. J. Billes, was the inspiration for Canadian Tire money, introduced as "cash bonus coupons" at the company's first gas bar in Toronto in 1958.

Originally given for gas purchases only, after 1961 the coupons were presented with purchases at Canadian Tire stores as well.

Today, Canadian Tire Money can be used to buy in-store products and automotive service, but not gas.

In the United States, Niemen-Marcus was the first department store to institute a loyalty program. The company's InCircle program, inspired by Stanley Marcus, has been in operation since 1984 and is considered the father of retail loyalty programs in the United States.

Across the continent, retailers operate on the principle that rewarding return customers pays dividends to them as well as to the clients.

From coffee bars that offer a free cup after a set number of purchases to major department and specialty stores that offer merchandise, cash discounts and special events through elaborate rewards programs, customers are given tangible reasons for loyalty. . . . more

Supervalu goes small for big spenders in Chicago

CHICAGO, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Supervalu Inc (SVU.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), best known for supermarkets such as Jewel-Osco, is testing a small-store format again to attract upscale professionals who don't want to dine out, but don't want to cook much either.

Supermarkets have followed in the steps of chains such as Whole Foods Market Inc (WFMI.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) by offering more prepared foods in their large stores in recent years.

Now they're trying out smaller locations with ready-to-go entrees, as well as produce and basics like milk, so that shoppers can skip the hassles of a big store when they only want a few items.
"I don't think that anybody has got it yet where they've got the exact format that they could run with and know exactly why it works," said Jim Hertel, managing partner at Willard Bishop LLC, a grocery consulting firm.

Supervalu's newest store, Urban Fresh by Jewel, opens in Chicago on Thursday. It is clearly targeted toward shoppers who want to get in and out of the store quickly with pre-made meals and items that don't take much time to prepare.. . . more

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Linens 'n Things could sell itself

Sept 17 (Reuters) - Home furnishings retailer Linens 'n Things may take liquidation bids as soon as mid-October after missing a recent chance to sell itself, the New York Post said on Wednesday, citing unnamed sources.

Private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management [CBS.UL] had been weighing a deal for six weeks but last week decided not to go ahead with the buyout of the retailer, which has been marred by falling sales and steep losses, the Post said.

Linens 'n Things, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May, may take liquidation bids as soon as mid-October and this could lead to chain-wide clearances in November and December, the newspaper said, citing sources.
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Retail's Bah Humbug

As retailers wrap up a lackluster back-to-school season, grim forecasts for the holidays have already begun to trickle in. The Christmas shopping season will be the worst in 17 years, according to a survey by TNS Retail Forward. The Columbus, Ohio-based research firm predicts holiday retail sales this year will rise just 1.5 percent - their smallest gain since 1991, when they inched up a paltry 1.2 percent. Furniture and home-furnishings stores will be hit hardest, collectively posting a slight decline in holiday business as the stumbling housing market continues to victimize consumers, said Frank Badillo, senior economist at TNS Retail Forward.

"Unfortunately, the trends in economic conditions offer no sign of an impending recovery," he said.

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The final yard for Fabric Place

Economy, lifestyles tear at family business

Annie Isaacson and her twin sister were children of the Great Depression. As early as age 11, they picked blueberries in the woods around Framingham and sold them door to door, carefully guarding every penny earned. Their childhoods were spent moving from one foster home to another, and working, always working: babysitting, housecleaning, and, eventually, sewing.
The lessons they learned helped them create Fabric Place, which became a beloved institution in downtown Framingham before spreading across the region. At its peak, the family-owned company had seven New England stores earning $33 million in annual revenue, with 550 employees. But that was a few years ago, before the economy started to slide.

Now, much to the dismay of its loyal customers, the original store, which opened in Framingham in 1946, will be the last to close, sometime in the next month or two.

"I can't believe it," said Isaacson, now 90, in an interview last week in her Framingham home. "It makes me very sad.". . . more

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Harris Teeter set to open in North Bethesda

A Harris Teeter grocery store will open Sept. 23 at North Bethesda Center, marking the first retail tenant to open in the development.

The two-story , 63,000-square-foot store is the largest Harris Teeter outpost in Maryland, according to the company. The building also has a 17,500-square-foot green roof. It will be open 24 hours a day.

The 32-acre, $850 million North Bethesda Center is being developed by Berwyn, Pa.-based LCOR. It’s a mixed-use development with office space, retail and four apartment buildings, and is a joint development with Metro. The White Flint Metro station is adjacent to the project. . . . more

Airport Retailing Takes Off

After the internet, the fastest growing channel at retail is the often-maligned airport terminal. The growth is being driven by a number of new airport terminals opening in major foreign markets as well as aggressive efforts by luxury brands to reach the jet set.

According to Generation DataBank, global travel retail revenues jumped 17.2 percent to $34 billion in 2007 from $29 billion in 2006, and are nearly double the levels reached in 2002. (In local currencies, airport retail revenues were ahead 11.8 percent last year.)

Sales are set to continue to grow strongly over the next five years, particularly in emerging markets, driven by the rapid increase in air travel and major investment in new airports and retail facilities. New terminals opening in London, Beijing and Paris have recently boosted airport retail's appeal, but India, the Middle East and Russia are also building terminals and expected to become much bigger markets in the future. . . . more

Employment in MA still relatively robust

As the nation struggles with an economic downturn, you can at least say one thing for Massachusetts: There are a lot of worse places to be looking for a job.

The economy here is slowing, but unlike many other states, Massachusetts is still adding jobs. The state gained about 12,000 jobs over the past year even as the nation shed 125,000.

The job market here has been buoyed by traditionally strong sectors, including technology, scientific research, healthcare, and education. Employment in professional, scientific, and technical services rose 3.1 percent over the past year; healthcare, 2.5 percent; education, 1.4 percent; and information, which includes software makers, 1.2 percent, according to the state Department of Workforce Development.

That compares to the less than a half-percent growth in total Massachusetts employment, and one-tenth percent decline nationally in employment.

"The outlook really depends on what field you're in," said Alan Clayton-Matthews, a professor and economic forecaster at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

The Massachusetts economy has performed better than the na tion's in large part because it was less exposed to the deep downturn in housing. While local housing markets were hard hit, the state avoided much of the speculative building that has helped push states like Florida, California, and Nevada into recession. Massachusetts also has a relatively small construction sector.

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After Lehman, Banks Jettison Commercial Real Estate Debt

The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. is adding pressure on banks and other financial institutions to sell off their holdings of commercial real-estate debt, as they try to stay out ahead of the Wall Street firm's expected liquidation of its $30 billion portfolio.

The likely rush to sell is driving down the already battered market, forcing financial firms to take additional losses on the estimated $150 billion worth of commercial real-estate debt on their books as the once relatively resilient pocket of the property sector now comes under heavy fire.

"As a result of Lehman's bankruptcy, other financial institutions will feel more pressure to sell assets at deeper discounts sought by investors," said Spencer Garfield, a managing director of Hudson Realty Capital, a New York-based real-estate fund manager.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. on Tuesday said it had reduced its portfolio of commercial mortgages and securities by about $2 billion to $14.7 billion as of the end of its third quarter, which ended Aug. 29, taking a $325 million loss.

"It sure doesn't feel like the real-estate markets are improving anytime soon, and we will reduce that class going forward even if we think they are good assets," said Goldman Sachs Chief Financial Officer David Viniar. "Those assets are marked where they can be sold."

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First retail clinic opens at Medway CVS

Massachusetts joined the retail medical clinic revolution in primary care today when the state's first MinuteClinic opened in a CVS store in Medway.

The limited-service clinics, staffed by board-certified nurse practitioners, offer treatment for minor illnesses and vaccinations for common diseases, including flu shots starting next month. The model of care is designed to offer convenient access for patients with sore throats or rashes who may not be able to make an appointment with their primary care doctors, or who may not have a regular healthcare provider. The clinics will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends. A visit costs $59.

By late morning two patients had already been seen for minor illnesses, MinuteClinic chief nursing officer Donna Haugland said in a phone interview from the store in the town southwest of Boston. One patient came in after seeing television reports about the clinic's opening day and another person working across the street came in when her boss urged her to get help, Haugland said, declining to be more specific about their conditions.

"My experience working in these clinics is patients are very excited to have access and convenience for minor acute illnesses," said Haugland, a nurse practitioner who staffed a Minneapolis MinuteClinic for 18 months. "Sometimes they can't wait for an appointment with their primary care physician or there are long waits in urgent care or the emergency room."

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How Lehman Hurts Commercial Real Estate

I’m still trying to get my head around the implications that Lehman’s collapse has on the commercial real estate sector. As I see it, there are a handful of ways this is negative or potentially negative for the sector. If you’ve got any feedback or disagreements, let me know in the comments section.

I. Values: Lehman’s sitting on $32.6 billion in commercial real estate investments in the form of loans and equities. It was a big investor in commercial mortgage-backed securities. What’s it going to do with that? Will it still roll those holdings into the bank it talked about last week? Or will it try to sell this stuff on the market. Right now, investors are so skittish about any kind of securitized debt, Lehman may have to sell at deep losses. That, in turn, will force other holders of CMBS bonds to “mark to market” based on Lehman’s precedent. So we’re looking at a real potential drop in perceived values of CMBS bonds. That could also have effects on determining the value of actual real estate. If the CMBS valuations are to be believed, it would imply deep discounts on actual property values. The industry, I think, had been hoping that the correction in prices would be something like 10 to 15 percent. Now it’s looking like it may be a steeper drop than that.

A perceived drop in values of real estate is also going to hurt retail REITs. The correction in REIT stock prices had settled in at a 10 percent to 20 percent drop from 52-week highs. Now it’s looking like REITs are going head lower again. . . . more

Merrimack NH outlet mall gets go-ahead

MERRIMACK – Before a packed room last night, the planning board approved a site plan with conditions for an estimated $100 million, 135-store outlet mall project that would generate a combined 1,400 full- and part-time jobs and more than $800,000 in property taxes.

The planning board voted 6-1 to approve the retail project, with Nelson Disco, Pete Gagnon, Alastair Millns, Stan Bonislawski, Tom Koenig and Tom Mahon in support. John Segedy served as the lone voice of opposition.

Segedy said he voted against the mall because he perceives it as unfair to the residents living near the retail project. He also said it would put a considerable burden on town staff and may be too much for them to handle.

Meanwhile, Koenig said he has put "a level of trust in Chelsea" Property Group despite some concerns he has about the plan. He added that there is no legal reason to deny the project, which could be justified in a court of law.

Millns said he's all for Chelsea coming in for the tax advantages related to the project, but reiterated his previous concerns on the traffic impact.

Gagnon described the project as "the most complex plan" he's ever seen, even more so than when Digital came to Merrimack years ago.

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Steve & Barry's store plans announced

Steve & Barry’s has announced its go-forward plan for existing stores, following its acquisition last month by BH S&B Holdings LLC, a newly formed affiliate of investment firms Bay Harbour Management and York Capital Management. Steve & Barry’s will operate with a smaller base of 173 stores, better positioning the company to reach its profitability goals.

Final liquidation sales have begun at 103 closing Steve & Barry's locations. The last sales day for 24 of these stores will be Wednesday, Sept. 24. The other locations will close soon, although there is no set final sales date, the company reported.

Regarding new store openings, the company said it will move forward with previously announced plans to open a Steve & Barry's store in the next few months at 692 Broadway in New York City. No other new store decisions have been finalized at this time. . . . more

Radio Shack to Upgrade Stores

RadioShack Corp. (RSH) plans to change the look of two-thirds of its 6,000 stores as the consumer-electronics retailer undertakes the next step of its turnaround.

The costs to upgrade merchandise presentations at some 4,000 stores will fall under the current fiscal year's capital-spending plan of $80 million to $100 million. Most of the stores will have the work done in time for the holidays.

Merchandising chief Peter Whitsett said the changes will result in more organized and easier-to-navigate stores that will help customers more easily compare products. Many of its locations are smaller in size, unlike many big-box retailers. . . . more