Tuesday, November 30, 2004

malls, the men who hate them and the winning loser

Usually I'd divide this into three posts, but it's interesting to place these articles together:

Wallflower Mall
aka love for the mid-market shopping center

It's difficult to know the complete history of an old mall, because who among us ever loves the place enough to write it all down? The mall lives or the mall dies or the mall lingers, and some malls seem to have a bigger destiny than others.

The Washington Post sent a reporter to the most under-rated, averege mall in Northern Virginia, Manassas Mall, to check out what things were like. Strangely enough, that place used to be my friend Angie's local mall and it used to house a Leggett department store, the same company my mom worked at for eight years, albeit at a different location.

Side notes: Contrary to what this guy says, I love malls enough to write down what happens. Now if I could just get that book started...Also, the article is partially wrong: the original anchors at Manassas were Montgomery Ward and W.T. Grant, not Sears and Grant as he suggested.

Better not mix man and mall
aka stereotypes and the columnists that milk them

You haven't seen true misery until you've looked into the face of some poor schlub forced to shop with his wife in a crowded mall. Stuffy stores, long lines, price tags and Christmas carols combine to suck the life right out of some boys.

True, but if malls provided something for averege men to do, or had stores that appealed to men, the problems would subside substantially. Instead, they chase after the same imaginary 35 year old middle income white women with kids while Rome falls and people spend their money out at Wal-Mart. Frustrating! Which leads me to...

The Bleeding Beast of Bentonville
aka die, Wal-Mart, die!

This is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year—for Wal-Mart. During the frenzied Christmas shopping season, the world's largest retailer's low prices and logistical might ought to crush the competition. Not this Yuletide. Last Saturday, Wal-Mart shocked the public and investors by announcing that because of a poor early Christmas, same-stores sales for November would rise by only 0.7 percent, instead of the 2 percent to 4 percent forecast.

Theories abound, but consumers make their decisions based on what they want and not what the investment community wants. The fact is this: Wal-Mart is still quite powerful and the dropoff in sales could be linked to unsureness about the economy, an overexpansion in certain geographic areas, a lack of product diversity from one Wal-Mart to another and the fact that they're not stocking very interesting merchandise right now. But that's just my opinion.

kmart and sears memories from chattanooga

Ah tyhe memories of Sears and kmart before they were dinosaurs! You've heard from me here in metro Roanoke, from Charlotte, and recently from the Quad Cities in the Midwest, now it's Chattanooga's turn courtesy of Harmon Jolley at The Chattanoogan:

Sears, Roebuck and Co.’s first retail outlet in Chattanooga opened in 1927 at the corner of Sixth and Broad streets. Initially, the store carried only sporting goods and automobile items such as its Allstate brand of car tires that had been introduced in 1926. However, after a 1928 expansion into adjoining buildings, Sears added a complete line of merchandise.

On Feb. 27, 1969, the first K-Mart in the Chattanooga area opened at 4121 Hixson Pike. The site was selected because of the rapid change of the Hixson/Red Bank area from rural to suburban. Highland Plaza had opened nearby just a few years earlier.

Note: I sent him a response to his article. Here are some excerpts:
[Sears] was fondly remembered by Roanokers as “Sears-Town:” a combination Sears and Kroger grocery store with a P.H. Rose variety store and Peoples Drug store adjacent. It was the talk of the city when it opened in 1957, and it lasted basically intact for 28 years until the store at Valley View Mall opened. Many people, including myself, bought our first toys and clothes there while our parents shopped for furniture tools and appliances. The snack bar and candy counter with its hot nuts and popcorn were a hit with everyone.

Our first local Kmart predated the ones in your area by a few years, but the experience was similar. The old store on Melrose Avenue was built in 1964 and sported both a freestanding Kmart Auto Center and a Kmart Foods (which I don’t remember well as I was very young when that part of the store closed). Kmart eventually opened two more Roanoke stores and all featured those famous Blue Light Specials and a delicatessen with subs and popcorn my dad would buy for us every time we went. We also bought appliances for our home at that original store, which closed in 1983 and relocated to a former Woolco at Crossroads Mall.

Monday, November 29, 2004

"There's no such thing as a mall anymore"

The boxy, 1980s Sherman Oaks Galleria captured in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" is as fossilized these days as the stone-washed jeans Spicoli wore in the classic teenage flick.

The walls and roof of the landmark birthplace of the so-called Valley girl have since been torn down to create a vibrant open-air promenade, one of the first of a new breed of shopping centers that has designers and operators rethinking the whole concept of shopping.

Read more at Meet you at the mall

melo 1.5 a sell-out in denver

The new Air Jordan Carmelo 1.5 sneakers went on sale Friday nationwide...Carmelo Anthony, a [Denver] Nuggets star, is the first basketball player besides hoops legend Michael Jordan to get a signature shoe in the Air Jordan line.

Forty-six people stood in line before the Denver Niketown's special 7 a.m. opening...

A Nike official said almost half the sneakers at the store had been sold by 4 p.m. and that it might sell all of them by the end of the weekend...

Read more at Fans give hoop-hoop hurray for Melo shoes

the best explanation of interstate numbering i've read thus far

For those who've wondered why the interstates are numbered like they are, here's an explanytion from writer Harmon Jolley in Tennessee:

Most of the routes of the Interstate Highway System were assigned two-digit codes ending in zero (east-west highways) and five (north-south). Roads that run diagonally were given the other numbers. The higher-numbered Interstate routes are in the east and north, to avoid confusion with the U.S. Highway numbering scheme. The connecting routes into cities were given a three-digit code beginning with “one.” Bypass routes around cities were given other three-digit numbers that usually include the route being bypassed (such as I-285 around Atlanta). Interstate 24 runs diagonally, so it was given a diagonal route number.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

the prince street rule

This was funny. I didn't make this up; it appeared in the New Haven Advocate.

Dear Dexter: If I'm not remotely old-school, or even particularly a fan of hip-hop, can I wear old-school hip-hop style sneakers without looking like a berk? (A berk is English slang meaning a plonker, a wanker, or, as you say over here, a loser.)

Dear Britisher, The rules for appropriation of hip-hop culture by white people are certainly complex, but I can give you some guidelines to help. For instance, there's what I call the Prince Street Rule. It states that once a hip-hop clothing line opens a store on Prince Street in Manhattan's SoHo district, as Phat Farm did, white people can wear the clothes (Sean John, once it opens its store on Fifth Avenue in midtown, will qualify under the Prince Street Rule). A corollary to the Prince Street Rule is the Hamptons Proviso--also known as the Hilton Sisters Corollary--which states that once a rapper buys or rents a house in the Hamptons, or parties with one or both of the Hilton Sisters, white people are allowed to listen to and make knowing references to his music.

On the shoe issue, the answer, my cricket-watching, crumpet-eating friend, is easier. Most hip-hop shoes are, as you write, simply "old-school." Once upon a time, old Filas or Adidas were simply sneakers. They only became hip-hop in the context of matching tracksuits and big gold jewelry. Now they're hip-hop by virtue of their nostalgic reference to the days of spontaneous breakdancing battles.

They're retro, and white people, according to the Retro Exception, are allowed to wear all things retro. (The Retro Exception was codified in the '90s when it became apparent, after the death of Kurt Cobain, that white culture had exhausted itself and would have to rely on the styles, sounds and vernacular of past eras to keep up the façade of vigor.)

Finally, British people, like really rich people, can get away with pretty much anything in America because we're awed and intimidated by you.

Friday, November 26, 2004


Nike will introduce a new Carmelo Anthony signature shoe on Friday, the Jordan Carmelo 1.5.

It's part of Nike's Brand Jordan line, named for basketball icon Michael Jordan.

Using the young Denver Nuggets star under the Jordan brand is a way for Nike to compete with a trend toward older styles of shoes now popular in the hip-hop culture and with urban youths.

Read more at Nike's newest shoe bears Melo's name

Thursday, November 25, 2004

thanksgiving surprise

True to their word, The Roanoke Times published my shopping tips. Thought they didn't post it online, it did show up in the Thanksgiving edtion, which is undobtedly the highest circulation weekday paper of the year. I can't complain.

VIEW THE ARTICLE: I'd love for my direct links to work to my other website, but they don't. So please paste the following address into your browser address window:
Tripod sucks, by the way.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

music of the moment, November 24, 2004

These songs have been on my mind lately, in no particular order. Selections will open with Windows Media Player.

Jon B.— Az U
The smoothest track from a remarkably good album. Who’d have guessed? Listen

Total – Trippin’
A forgotten gem, to be sure. Whatever happened to them? Listen

U2 – Vertigo
The guys from Dublin learned how to rock again! Listen

Chaka Khan – Spoon
This is one awesome song. Listen

Maysa – Soul Child
It’s an instant classic. Reminds me of Earth Wind & Fire. Listen

Skepticism Persists on Kmart-Sears Merger

CHICAGO (AP) - It didn't take long for skepticism to set in after Kmart Holding Corp. and Sears, Roebuck and Co. announced their $11 billion takeover - Kmart's stock has fallen nearly 16 percent amid growing doubts that the marriage of two laggard retailers can succeed.

But one statistic stands out as evidence why the deal may prove to be a masterstroke for Kmart chairman Edward Lampert, the 42-year-old hedge fund manager who engineered the merger: 48 percent of Americans who shop at Sears and other mall retailers never set foot in the stores of discount retailers like Kmart, Wal-Mart or Target.

That means merchandise with strong brand equity now sold exclusively at Kmart - including Joe Boxer and Jaclyn Smith clothing and the Martha Stewart line of linens and kitchenware - can easily be marketed to a whole new audience of potential customers in Sears stores, according to analyst Marshal Cohen of the market-research firm NPD Group

Similarly, sales of Sears' Craftsman tools and other branded goods may soar if the number of customers grows at remodeled Kmart stores where those products are introduced and at Kmarts that are converted to Sears' new off-mall format called Sears Grand, which also offers grocery and convenience items.

The number of these stores was scheduled to jump from three to 60 next year, and now should accelerate into the hundreds after the takeover, which is expected to close in March.

Marni Murphy, 33, of Bryn Mawr, Pa., would appear to be exactly the target customer for these changes.

``It might make it easier if they bring some of the things at Sears to Kmart and vice versa. Make it one-stop shopping,'' she said. ``You're running around - I have two kids - you just want to go to one place.''

But Amy Crooks, 31 of Newton, Iowa, was more puzzled about the combination.

``I was really surprised about the merger,'' she said. ``I didn't put the two together. I kind of think of them as dinosaurs. They have been around so long.''

Ultimately, the fate of the two struggling chains will depend on how successfully they expand their base of consumers, who have plenty of alternative choices on where to shop.

True, the combination is expected to generate $500 million a year in cost savings within three years. But to survive in the long term, the new giant called Sears Holdings Corp., with $55 billion in sales and 3,500 stores, will have to come up with a merchandising formula that will woo customers away from competitors like Target Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation's largest retailer, which generated $256.3 billion in sales last year at more than 4,800 stores.

Burt Flickinger III, managing partner at Strategic Resource Group, a New York-based industry consulting group, estimates it will take three years for the new merchandising strategy to be executed.

But he said, ``They don't have three years,'' given the fierce competition.

Both retail brands are broken in different ways. Kmart has had a hard time keeping its shelves stocked with essential items, suffers from messy stores and is caught between cheap chic discounter Target and everyday low-price operator Wal-Mart. Sears' biggest problem is that it still struggles with a lack of a unified marketing and merchandising strategy for its appliances and apparel.

Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, based in Charleston, S.C., expects poor-performing brands and labels that cannibalize each other to be eliminated. At the same time, he expects the new company will keep both Lucy Pereda clothing, named after a Latina fashion designer and lifestyle expert that's exclusive to Sears, and Kmart's Thalia Sodi label, named after the Hispanic pop star, since they target the fast-growing Hispanic market.

Tim Calkins, a former marketing manager at Kraft and now a clinical professor of marketing at the Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, sees problems ahead for Lands' End, a brand Sears bought in 2002 in the hopes it would become the marquee clothing offering at its 870 mall stores. Analysts say the price of Lands End products make it a bad fit for Kmart.

``Lands End doesn't make a lot of sense for either Sears or Kmart,'' Calkins said, noting the brand has a reputation of exceptional customer service, friendly and helpful. ``You don't get that at either Sears or Kmart.''

Consumers haven't gone out of their way to buy Lands' Ends at Sears stores. Sold through catalogs before and after its purchase by Sears, mall shoppers accustomed to buying Lands' End seem unwilling to change.

That could mean big changes for Lands' End and several other tough calls for Lampert and Sears CEO Alan Lacy if the combined company is to achieve Lampert's goal of a 10 percent operating profit margin, a level generated by such retailers as Gap Inc.

Another question is how Lampert and his team will react to Whirlpool Corp.'s plan to raise its wholesale prices effective Jan. 2 because of higher costs of steel and other raw materials.

Whirlpool, a Sears supplier since 1916, got more than $2 billion, or 18 percent of its revenue last year, from its sales to Sears of clothes washers, dryers and major kitchen appliances under the Kenmore brand. Kmart does not carry Whirlpool products.

``I think the retailers understand the increases in prices in raw materials that all manufacturers are facing and I think these retailers realize that modest 5 to 10 percent increases won't have a significant impact on sales,'' said Whirlpool spokesman Stephen Duthie.

Shares of Sears and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. also have pulled back since the announcement of the takeover. But not all analysts are downbeat about their prospects.

``For Martha Stewart, it's got to be the best thing that ever happened to them,'' said George Whalin, president and founding partner of Retail Management Consultants, a San Marcos, Calif.-based firm that offers services for retailers and consumer-products manufacturers. ``It just gives them dramatically more distribution and far more store fronts and a much more credible retailer. When you put a brand like that at Sears, you give it instant credibility.''

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

what's hot: american apparel

Fast outgrowing its status as an under-the-radar phenomenon, American Apparel is seen as a new model for the marketing of hip.

Read more at Building a Brand by Not Being a Brand

Rather to leave anchor desk in March

NEW YORK (AP) -- Dan Rather, embattled anchor of the "CBS Evening News," announced Tuesday that he will step down in March, on the 24th anniversary of taking over the job from Walter Cronkite.

Read more at Rather to leave anchor desk in March

bling & booty

In the pages of King, a bimonthly men's magazine for the rims, bling and sneakers set, one thing is prized more than a taut waistline and a pretty face, shapely legs or a perky bosom: a large behind.

"That's what our readers have come to expect from us," says Datwon Thomas, King's editor since it began publishing three years ago. "They want to see the thick girls, the girls with . . ." Thomas, a 29-year-old married father of two, searches for a description that would work in the pages of a family newspaper, ". . . with, you know, a big backside."

Read more at Black magazines redefine pinup

keeping it a little too real

David Stern's NBA may have panicked a few years ago just as the Dream Team generation was leaving the game, and the great sports czar's biggest failing is now being exposed. In its haste to keep a firm grip on its fading Dream Team popularity, Stern's marketing team decided to present pro basketball as an extension of the hip-hop culture - even if most of his marketing suits and ties didn't know the difference between Snoop Dogg and Deputy Dog.

...But while selling their sport's edginess, they were playing with a loaded gun. They embraced hip-hop and hip-hop is now embarrassing them, because they had no idea what they were messing with.

They thought they were getting Will Smith and LL Cool J. But now they're discovering the dark side of hip-hop also has infiltrated their game, with its "bling-bling" ostentatiousness, its unrepentant "I-gotta-get-paid" ruthlessness, its unregulated culture of posses and Muppies (men of unspecified purpose) and that constant underlying thread of violence, too.

Read more at The NBA is hip-hopping its way out of the mainstream

we [heart] mike

[Athletic] shoes have become a rapidly-growing niche among sports-related collectible items, with people paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars for certain models...

Read more at Jordan shoes keep going up in value

fao's next chapter begins on turkey day

FAO Schwarz is unveiling its redesigned flagship store on Fifth Avenue at 58th Street in New York. City. The store is scheduled to open its doors at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25. Its launch follows the Oct. 22 reopening of FAO Schwarz's Las Vegas store, located within The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.

"We are building on the store's 142-year legacy, preserving the tradition of exceptional quality and service that has always defined FAO Schwarz while enhancing the store experience for a new generation," said Jerry Welch, FAO Schwarz's CEO. "At the same time, our new Web site and the FAO Schwarz catalog give us additional channels to reach customers across the globe."

The store, which was redesigned in collaboration with the Rockwell Group, features a breathtaking Grand Hall adorned with more than 20,000 computer-controlled colored lights, a giant dance-on piano keyboard, and "FAO Schweetz," a classic New York ice-cream parlor serving desserts.

FAO Schwarz was founded by Frederick August Otto Schwarz, who opened his first store in Baltimore in 1862 and relocated to lower Manhattan in 1870. The New York City flagship store moved to its current location in 1986.

Monday, November 22, 2004

joe's 'apartment'

Joseph Abboud's new New York store rocks.

triumph of the cutsey downtowns

Check out new mixed use projects in Chicago and Atlanta.

update: they're the nationals...for now

There's hope for the "Beltway Series," though one of the teams will have a lame name. See below.

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Montreal Expos would be renamed the Washington Nationals if the proposed move of the franchise is approved by baseball owners.

The team's new colors would be red, white and blue, club president Tony Tavares said Monday during a news conference at Union Station to announce the name change. Caps will have a script ``W'' and the team's secondary logo will feature an interlocking ``DC.''

The move of the team is subject to the approval of baseball owners, which is expected, and the District of Columbia Council must act by Dec. 31 to put a financing plan in place for a new ballpark. Baseball owners and the council have both delayed their votes, but the Council is expected to vote by Nov. 30 and owners by Dec. 6.

The Expos are owned by the other 29 teams, who plan to sell the franchise in 2005. The new owners may choose to rename the team again.

The Nationals was the official original name of the Senators franchise that played in Washington from 1901-60, although the team was known by both names for several decades. Owner Calvin Griffith officially changed the name to Senators in 1957.

Commissioner Bud Selig preferred the name Senators for Washington's new team, but the mayor objected because the District of Columbia does not have representation in the U.S. Senate. [DC Mayor Anthony] Williams preferred the Grays, a tribute to the Homestead Grays Negro League team that played in Washington in the 1930s and 1940s.

The team unveiled a red, white and blue logo with the word ``Washington'' on a red ribbon and ``Nationals'' on a blue field, then immediately began selling caps, T-shirts and pennants at a nearby kiosk. The uniform will be unveiled later.

Nordstrom declares policy of Christmas decorating restraint

Nordstrom took out full-page ads in newspapers around the country over the weekend to announce that “at Nordstrom, you won’t find any holiday decorations in our stores until after Thanksgiving Day.”

While many retailers got an earlier-than-usual jump on in-store Christmas display this year to help accelerate all-important holiday sales, Nordstrom said in its ad: “We just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time. With that in mind, we hope you have the opportunity to share the [Thanksgiving] day with those near and dear.”

pump it up!

Reebok's The Pump "Bringback" has sneakerheads scrambling to to pick up a pair while they can. The new run of the classic (if a little ugly) 1989 version of sneaker technology was produced in very limited numbers (reportedly only 1989 pairs were made for the re-issue) and is selling for $175.00 a pair, the same price as back in the day.

The Pump, in theory, provides a personalized custom fit and support via an air bladder in the ankle area of the high-top. Wearers can press a basketball-shaped button on the tongue and inflate the ankle area to the desired firmness. Pressure is released via a valve at the back of the shoe. Nike sold a shoe endorsed by NBA player David Robinson with similar technology, but the Reebok still stands as the premier "pump" shoe of its time.

I didn't get these sneakers back then because my parents wouldn't buy them and I was 14 at the time with no job. The inner middle-schooler in me still wants them though, even though I'd likely never wear them in public (they're quite dated). No matter. The limited run sold out so quickly that the only sizes left are either too big or too small for me.

kenney's: gone but not forgotten

Kenney's was a fast-food chain that sold hamburgers and fried chicken at conveient locations all over Southwest Virginia. Started by Canadian William Kenney in 1958 after parting ways with the Biff-Burger chain, Kenney's dominated the region during the '60s and '70s when national chains were few and far between.

Kenney's specialty was the Kenney Burger, broiled and dipped in a secret ketchup-based sauce, based on the original Biff-Burger. My favorite items there were the fried chicken, french fries and the special deep-fried biscuits.

Can't you just feel your arteries closing?

Anyway, as chains like McDonald's and KFC grew, Kenney's market share shrunk. It was all but gone by the mid-'80s, save for a handful of restaurants in Lynchburg and Rockbridge County. Other than the diner chain Famous Anthony's, there have been few, if any, strong regional restaurant chains in Southwest Virginia since.

Kenney's was strongest in the Roanoke Valley in its heyday and many of the old mansard-roofed reataurants that beccame Kenney's signature are still standing. Along with the old buildings, still strong are the memories of the food, as was evidenced when Mr. Kenney fried up his famous burgers and sold jars of his sauce for charity in 2002. The proceeds went to Habitat for Humanity and it turned into one of their most popular events ever.

click here for the history via the Biff-Burger site.

the Capital Room is back...sort of

If you've been reading this blog for very long, you know about the closing of Hudson Belk department store's cafeteria, The Capital Room, in Crabtree Valley Mall. As you may recall, it was closed so that the store could expand its selection of women's clothing. A petition drive to stop the closing failed miserably. Now we hear this news from the Raleigh News & Observer:
The next Capital Room won't be a cafeteria, and it won't be in Belk department store. Instead, it will be a full-service restaurant in a Ramada Inn a few miles away.

But it will preserve such popular Capital Room features as seven-layer salad and San Francisco chicken, says Karl Hudson III, a former Belk executive and now part-owner of the Ramada at 1520 Blue Ridge Road.

Hudson is taking the Capital Room's name, menu and some of its employees in an effort to revive the restaurant that operated for 32 years in Belk's Crabtree Valley Mall store, until it closed last month.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

the plastic trap

Something similar to this story happened to me. If you have credit cards and carry a balance, you need to read below:

When Ed Schwebel was whittling down his mound of credit card debt at an interest rate of 9.2 percent, the MBNA Corporation had a happy and profitable customer. But this summer, when MBNA suddenly doubled the rate on his account, Mr. Schwebel joined the growing ranks of irate cardholders stunned by lenders' harsh tactics.

Mr. Schwebel, 58, a semiretired software engineer in Gilbert, Ariz., was not pleased that his minimum monthly payment jumped from $502 in June to $895 in July. But what really made him angry, he said, was the sense that he was being punished despite having held up his end of the bargain with MBNA.

"I paid the bills the minute the envelope hit the desk," said Mr. Schwebel, who had accumulated $69,000 in debt over five years before the rate increase. "All of a sudden in July, they swapped it to 18 percent. No warning. No reason. It was like I was blindsided."

Mr. Schwebel had stumbled into the new era of consumer credit, in which thousands of Americans are paying millions of dollars each month in fees that they did not expect and that strike them as unreasonable. Invoking clauses tucked into the fine print of their contract agreements, lenders are doubling or tripling interest rates with little warning or explanation.

Read more at Soaring Interest Compounds Credit Card Pain for Millions

"Secret History of the Credit Card," produced in conjunction with this article, will be shown Tuesday on "Frontline" (PBS, 9 p.m. in most cities). Watch a clip from the program

fun with dick and steve

I took an unexpected trip to SouthPark Saturday and got a chance to see one of the first Dick's Sportinng Goods opened since the merger with Galyan's. I went in with high expectations.

To put it lightly, I was not impressed.

The store was constructed to the Galyan's prototype and even had Galyan's signs on it until September, when Dick's intercepted it and modified the store to fit the current Dick's design. The end result was bastardized merger of two seeming similar, but so very diffferent chains. Many of the walls and much of the store signage was the upscale and elegant Galyan's style. But the displays are pure big-box Dick's. Not a good blend.

Don't get me wrong, I love Dick's Sporting Goods usually, especially their Greensboro and Short Pump stores. And I loved Galyan's at Stony Point Fashion Park the times I visited. In fact, I just posted a positive story on Dick's. The issue is that the two stores were two different in retail philosophy to be combined, and the end result was muddled and boring. The whole store had a 'dead' feeling, highly unusual in a mall packed with people on a Saturday afternoon.

Take for example the sneaker section. Galyan's tended to stock more and better kicks, while Dick's only stocked the really sweet stuff at their most upscale locations. Thinking a mall as nice as SouthPark would get the upmarket kicks, considering the circumstances, I was heavily disappointed to find a sub-par selection of shoes with multiples of the same sneaker on the walls to simulate variety.

And in some kind of last minute stroke of idiocy, hiking shoes and hunting boots were placed on a blue neon background meant for high performance sneakers. It wasn't even ironically cool; it was just wrong. Hunting boots at SouthPark? Come on, that's just wrong. You don't see Prada shoes at looking for a new store in Charlotte and SouthPark's history of kicking out unproductive retailers (Sears left in 2002 after 32 years when it was suffering from similar problems), things had better improve...and soon.

I don't want you to think I'm sounding the postmortem for Dick's stores everywhere. Just that one. A really bad one.

sporting goods chain plays hardball and wins

To prove my respect and continued faith in the Dick's Sporting Goods franchise (though not at SouthPark), here's a great article on them from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In 2001, brokers for the new Mall at Robinson had a lead on a sporting goods chain interested in opening a state-of-the-art, two-level store. Trouble was, the potential tenant was Indiana-based Galyan's Trading Co. Officials at rival Dick's Sporting Goods, headquartered in neighboring Findlay, were not amused.

Dick's staff intercepted the lease, much as they did a few years earlier when Galyan's was close to taking a spot at the Waterfront shopping center in Homestead. "We defended our turf," said Dick's Chairman Ed Stack. "We wrestled both of those deals away from them."

Sometimes it takes a little grandstanding, a little adversity to get this company moving. Indeed, Dick's was founded in Binghamton, N.Y., by Ed Stack's father more than 50 years ago after an employer told him he would never be a good merchant. This summer, the retailer bought out the competitor that kept trying to encroach on its turf, speeding its ascension toward the top of the specialty sporting goods ranks.

Read more at Ed's way stacks up well for Dick's Sporting Goods

crossroads at the crossroads

I'm all over this story from the Roanoke Times:

An Alabama company known for reviving shopping centers wants to breathe fresh air into a declining mall in Roanoke.

Crossroads Center LLC, operated by Southeast Real Estate Investment Corp. of Mobile, Ala., recently purchased Crossroads Mall for $18 million from Zamias Services of Johnstown, Pa.

You may remember Crossroads from one of my first posts:
Crossroads Mall was only one of a handful of enclosed suburban shopping centers and the first of its kind in Virginia when it opened three miles north of Roanoke in 1961 at the intersection of Williamson Road (US 11), Hershberger Road (Route 101) and Airport Road. Developer T.D. Steele and his designers created a unique and popular shopping experience for an eager public. Throngs of shoppers left the long-dominant downtown to stroll through a grand two-story interior shopping hall reminiscent of Southdale Shopping Center in Edina, Minnesota. Crossroads was the first suburban shopping area in Roanoke that maintained night hours (until 9 PM) from Monday to Saturday.

Read more about the new life for the mall at Firm buys Crossroads Mall for $18 million

Saturday, November 20, 2004

nostalgia: the roebuck comes full circle

More people are bringing up their old Sears memories like me.
OH, what memories of Sears, Roebuck when they first became glamorous, free-standing stores. Sears in Davenport was a super-exciting place because it had the first escalator in the Quad-Cities. Those were pre-shopping center days, before Sears stores ran away to the malls.
Bill Wundram

Read more at Once, Sears, Roebuck anchored our downtowns from the Quad City Times.

vanessa and the future of sears holdings

The folks at CFO.com favor Vanessa Castagna as the new leader of the new Sears Holdings, too:

The [Sears-Kmart] merger also poses another possible issue for J.C. Penney. In selecting [Allen] Questrom's successor, the company bypassed former Wal-Mart merchandiser Vanessa Castagna for the CEO slot. Castagna, who was instrumental in fixing J.C. Penney's merchandising systems during the turnaround, quit last week. At the press conference announcing the Sears-Kmart merger, two different analysts alluded to her availability, asking whether the newly formed giant would be hiring any big guns, one of them noting that "some very important talent has come on the market recently."

Sears executives didn't respond, noting merely that they had the funds to hire anyone they needed. But merchandising could be an issue. Despite plans for some rapid conversions to Sears, both store nameplates are expected to survive. Both also have significant brands, such as Kmart's Martha Stewart collection and Sears's Lands End clothing and Craftsman tools, that now are likely to be shared to some degree by the two stores. Combined, noted Kmart chairman Edward Lampert, Sears and Kmart purchase $40 billion worth of goods. That, he said, will give the new company "the ability to work with our supplier base to drive their business and help them save money, so we can save money for our customers." That certainly sounds like a job for a Wal-Mart veteran.

The writing's on the wall. Raed the full article from CFO.com, here

Friday, November 19, 2004

'yes' to a mall in blacksburg

When I attended college at Virginia Tech in the mid-'90s, I got a good education, made a lot of friends, and had a generally good time. Still for all the positive aspects that Blacksburg had, its shopping options were severely limited.

There were a handful of nice local shops that I frequented, a small mall in nearby Chrisitansburg, and a Wal-Mart. For all we had, it was still not relevant to typical college students, most of which came from less rural areas of the country whre there were trendy, affordable national retailers on every corner. Not so in the New River Valley. Merchandise in local stores was either quite upscale or bare-bones, with almost no in-between.

After the Hokies started winning bowl games, the overall retail landsacpe improved in Montgomery County, but the actual number of retailers began to drop in Blacksburg proper, replaced by more bars and reataurants.

I'm not against bars or reataurants, but sometimes you want a good pair of sneakers to wear to the bar, too.

The editorial writer at the Collegiate Times brings the issue up-to-date:

Since September, the Blacksburg Town Council and the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors have been holding multiple sessions, mainly closed to the public, to discuss the future of the former Blacksburg Middle School on North Main Street. To date, a Virginia Beach-based consulting and development firm, Branwick Associates, has proposed to build a $160 million shopping mall on the property. Other alternatives include a luxury housing development or an overflow property for the Virginia Tech YMCA as a place to have its thrift store and other programs.

While there are certain concerns to take into consideration, including traffic, surrounding neighborhood infringement, the Sigma Phi Epsilon house and various other nearby buildings, the development of commercial property on the outskirts of downtown Blacksburg can only bring good things to our community.

Although Tech students can’t decide on what should be developed, the town would be wise to understand that the development of this property into a commercial area would be a potential goldmine, benefiting specifically from student spending redirected into town and away from Christiansburg.

While the students enjoy the local retailers and will continue to frequent them with or without improved commercial development, there is a very visible lack of easily accessible mainstream retailers in the Blacksburg area. Currently, consumers must travel to Christiansburg to find something as simple as socks or a pair of men’s jeans. Attracting merchandisers such as GAP, J. Crew or any of a number of popular merchants would provide a valuable commercial service to the city. It is a concept understood by Council Member Al Leighton, who recognizes that we do not have a department store in town, and we sorely need one.

Well said. Read the full commentary

UPDATE: Even longtime Blacksburg Mayor Roger Hedgepeth agrees with me.

the 'puffy shirt' as american history

Jerry Seinfeld walked into the National Museum of American History, looking good, fit and youthful, sharply dressed, but his eyes glanced around warily, as though he wasn't sure how this gig was going to play. He came last night for a ceremony, not a stand-up routine. He made a donation. He gave the museum the Puffy Shirt.

forbes on footwear?

While shoe shopping may not mean the same for a man as for a woman, it would behoove many men to spend a little more time weighing their options the next time they need to stock up on footwear.

Contrary to what many people might think, there is a considerable difference between makes and styles, even if it is not always apparent to the untutored eye. The result, too often, is that men end up buying cheap, uncomfortable or overly trendy shoes when, with a little bit of extra thought, they could have spent their money on a shoe that would have lasted them happily for years. In other words, a wingtip is not a wingtip is not a wingtip.

And that's from Forbes magazine! Read on at The Best Men's Shoes.

end of an era: Nike Co-Founder Knight Steps Down as CEO

Nike Inc. co-founder Philip Knight, who helped transform a small-start up business into the world's biggest athletic shoe company, will step down as chief executive officer, the company said on Thursday.

Beaverton, Oregon-based Nike named William Perez, who ran privately-held consumer products company S.C. Johnson & Son Inc., as CEO and president effective Dec. 28. Knight, who will also give up his title of president, plans to remain chairman of the board.

Read more at Knight Steps Down as CEO

ODB's funeral

They gathered to celebrate the short, clamorous life of one of rap's most eccentric talents, here at a church in Harlem. Russell Jones, better known to hip-hop lovers as Ol' Dirty Bastard (see previous post), was mourned Wednesday by fans and family still coping with the shock of his fatal collapse in a recording studio on Saturday, two days shy of his 36th birthday. The cause of his death is not yet known.

Read more at Feeling the Absence of a Rapper With Presence

no sweat

The No Sweat brand is the creation of a young Massachusetts-based company. No Sweat Apparel uses the same outsourcing model the big brands use–with a twist. All their clothes and sneakers are produced in union shops, in the U.S., Canada and the developing world. They are pioneers in a burgeoning global movement that is determined to make treatment of workers a factor in consumer purchasing decisions, not just in trade agreements.

Click here to read more about No Sweat

underground sneaks and clothing

from the Winston-Salem Journal with an additon by yours truly.

If you're sick of the same old sneakers, there are some underground brands you won't find at Foot Locker.

JB Classics
Running his designer sneaker operation under the moniker "The Modern Day Cobbler," JB's independent sneaker line is wearable art. These are stylish, unique, limited-edition kicks you won't see on many other feet.

Ice Cream
Superstar musician/producer Pharrell Williams, in partnership with Reebok, has his own line of sneaks called Ice Cream that you won't find at the mall - or Baskin Robbins, for that matter. The skate-influenced brand is designed by Nigo of cult Japanese label A Bathing Ape. Someday you'll be paying top eBay dollar for these.
(press release and sales locations)

AcQUIRED Clothing
AcQUIRED is the new line from the founders of Freshness magazine. The line is now available in select shops in New York, California and Paris, France, with more stores to come.

'vanessa' goes to the big city

I must be insane.

I submitted my Vanessa post to the New York Times and Chicago Tribune for publication in their respective Op-Ed sections. I don't know if it'll get published, but I think that my commentary is good enough for publication.

Thursday, November 18, 2004


Deadstock is a term for sneakers that have never been worn and that are still in the box with their original laces. These shoes are the most valuable to collectors. Garret Louie, of new sneaker retailer Livestock (239 Abbott Street, Vancouver, British Columbia) and his company decided that they wanted to emphasize enjoyment.

"We said, 'Screw keeping them in the box, even though they could be worth $500 down the road,' " he explains, interviewed recently at the shop. "We said, 'Let's call it Livestock. Let's wear the shoes: skateboard in them, b-boy in them, wear them to the club.' "

Read more at Sneaker Freaks Find a Livestock Footwear Fix

commentary: call vanessa

It was all over the news this week: Kmart Holdings purchased Sears, Roebuck & Company, creating a new company called Sears Holdings, based in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. The deal between the former retail rivals has been called everything from a brilliant move to fight Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. to a big, big mistake.

It is a marriage of two similar, but still very different companies. Both retailers have been among the top ten largest in America for years. Both are proven leaders in providing good value to the American consumer. Both have key locations all over the U.S. Both embraced a successful “all things to all people” merchandise strategy during their respective heydays.

Sears is known for its Big Book catalog, massive mall stores, and its unwavering stance on customer satisfaction. Kmart is known as the first discount department store to succeed nationally, for its Blue Light Specials, and as of late, for its connection to Martha Stewart: lifestyle guru turned Federal inmate.

But, in another similarity, neither chain’s recent history has been worth bragging about. Sears has retrenched, sold numerous divisions, and is muddled and unproductive, despite exclusive, popular brands and universal name recognition. Kmart has stumbled as well, closing nearly one-third of its store base and shedding departments, and seems unable to shake its reputation for cheap and shoddy merchandise, dirty stores, and poor customer service despite numerous revival efforts.

Both companies lost their leadership role in the industry in the 1980s, when specialty retail grew stronger and more responsive, luxury stores traded down to get more customers and category-killer retailers like Toys “R” Us and Lowe’s chipped away at key businesses for both Sears and Kmart. Add to this the increased presence of Wal-Mart nationally and a general misunderstanding of its core customer by both retailers and it soon became the worst possible scenario for success.

As a single corporation, the new Sears Holdings combines over two centuries of retail experience, 3,500 stores and nearly $56 billion in combined sales into the third-largest American retailer. Iconic brands Kenmore and Craftsman will combine with exclusive brands Lands’ End, Martha Stewart Everyday and Sesame Street. Prized real estate from California’s chic South Coast Plaza to Manhattan’s Penn Station will share a common owner.

But it also merges Sears’ struggle to reach customers increasingly turned off by the enclosed malls where a majority of its stores are located with Kmart’s inability to remain relevant to shoppers who now frequent discount peers Target and Wal-Mart. The new company is also saddled with Kmart’s failing supercenter division and Sears wavering Great Indoors home improvement chain.

Even with Sears Grand supercenters slowly opening across the country and record earnings at Kmart since its emergence from bankruptcy, many retail analysts see this marriage as a brief delay from the liquidation of a massive and profitable real estate portfolio.

Is there any light at the end of tunnel? Could there be a white knight in the distance? Someone who could lead Sears Holdings to the promised land of relevance and profitability? No one’s saying, but I have a nomination, and it’s a good one.

Vanessa Castagna, former chairman and CEO of JCPenney stores, catalog, and Internet.

Castagna, formerly with Wal-Mart during that retailer’s largest growth period, was hired by Penney’s in 1999 to help revive a seriously fractured retail empire. Primarily through her leadership, Penney’s was rescued from near-bankruptcy with more efficient purchasing, fresher fashions and marketing, and more frequent and relevant promotions. To reach customers fleeing to the similar Kohl’s chain, Castagna oversaw a move towards freestanding JCPenney stores in power centers and new suburbs that lacked the company’s typical mall-based real estate.

Today, Penney’s has returned to growth and relevance as a retailer and is poised to give the recently sputtering Kohl’s a run for the hearts and wallets of Middle America. Castagna was a prime candidate for the chief executive position at J.C. Penney Co. vacated by retail veteran Allen Questrom, but was passed over for former Macy’s president Myron Ullman, who had more executive experience. Castagna subsequently left the company at the end of her employment contract.

Considering Sears plans to amplify its off the mall presence over the next few years and the aforementioned real estate prospects of the combined company, Castagna could be the missing link to help Sears prosper and grow. Castagna’s discount store experience plus her knowledge of the inner workings of Wal-Mart could lead to a leaner, more efficient Kmart organization that can compete with Wal-Mart on a more level playing field.

Vanessa Castagna is certainly not the only person capable of saving Sears Holdings. Current Kmart Holdings CEO Edward Lampert has created a strong company from the ruins of bankruptcy. Current Sears CEO Alan Lacy has not had a particularly distinguished run, but did oversee the purchase of specialty retailer Lands’ End, the development of Sears Grand and the spin-off of the company’s credit card portfolio to Citigroup. But Castagna has a demonstrated flair for merchandising and reaching middle market consumers that Lampert and Lacy clearly lack.

What does the future hold for the combined empire of Sears Holdings? In the short tem, it seems that Sears will grow its off-the-mall efforts as Kmart shrinks in scope. There will be store closings in both divisions, and some layoffs are inevitable. Whether any of this will lead to a strong concern created from two weak companies that poses serious competition for Wal-Mart, JCPenney, Target and the like remains to be seen.

But one thing is for sure: securing the right leadership for the new Sears Holdings will help things along considerably. In this writer’s eye, that leader is a woman with a proven track record of success: Vanessa Castagna. If she will accept the challenge, I think that it could be the key in creating a new empire instead of writing a sad final chapter for two former American retail legends.

old-school Roanoke

Here's a look at the Roanoke area before (and during) my lifetime:

History of WROV-AM
WROV-AM set the standard for Roanoke rock radio in the 1960s. The site is comprehensive, cool, and filled with all the minutiae any radio guy could want to read.

This one is a little disorganized, but it chart’s the old Lendy’s restaurant chain from birth to death, but there’s no explanation of the death. Oh well.

Old Roanoke
A completely random, but interesting set of vintage Roanoke photographs.

hyperbole and penney's

This was the newspaper coverage of a JCPenney opening in Eastland Mall in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, circa 1964, long closed but fondly remembered on the Western Pennsylvania nostalgia site Tube City Online

It's really funny to think how much attention was paid by the newspapers of the day to the minutae of store openings, and how much personal information was printed about store officials. They'd never do that today.

It's a creally cool look back at the past and I hope you check it out.

barneys changes the game

In the 1980s, as the rest of America's high fashion was typified by stiff and uncomfortable puritan clothes, a new class of young vibrant designers was turning New York City upside down with cutting-edge styles and evocative images. It was the art of fashion imitating the fabulous life of young city dwellers.

At the forefront of the new fashion movement was Barneys New York, still one of the most stylish stores in the city.

Writer Lynn Darling came of age in this new fashion movement and writes about Barneys and the fashion revolution in New York, circa 1986 in the article Dress for Excess.

the stores that changed the way we shop

There's no question why I love New York City! The city’s favorite sport? Shopping!

New York Magazine did a check-list of some of the most influential stores of the last 40 years for their 35th Anniversary edition. From Paraphernalia to Century 21, they've hit several of the numerous high points of retail excellence that define modern New York. The ripple effects from these stores gravitated all over North America.

Read more at Stores That Changed the Way We Shop

the future of Belk

Belk, the nation's largest privately held chain of department stores, approaches the six-month mark in its transition from the leadership of CEO John Belk after nearly a half-century.

John's nephew Tim Belk, 49, became CEO. Tim's brothers McKay Belk, 47, and Johnny Belk, 45, are co-presidents who report to him.

In their first interview since assuming their new titles, the brothers sat down at the company's Charlotte headquarters to talk about the company's strategies and future.

Click here to read the interview.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

holy crap! sears and kmart are merging

Two of the nation's biggest retailers announced plans to merge Wednesday, with Sears Roebuck & Co. and Kmart Holding Corp. teaming up in a deal valued at $11 billion.

The merger will give rise to a company named Sears Holdings Corp., which the parties said will rank as the No. 3 U.S. retailer -- after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. -- with approximately $55 billion in annual revenue as well as a national footprint of nearly 3,500 retail stores.

Read more at Sears, Kmart set $11 billion retailing merger.

blue light special (faq's and timelines)

You've got Sears & Kmart questions, I've got answers!

What's next for Sears, Kmart (FAQ)
Key dates in the history of Kmart
Key dates in the hstory of Sears, Roebuck
Merger Story from International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC)

short pump is pumpin'

Short Pump Town Center's sales during its first year of operation surpassed those of any other Richmond-area mall on an annual basis.

The shopping center, which opened in September 2003, had $225.15 million in revenue in its first 12 months, according to sales-tax data compiled by Henrico County. Its merchants rang up about $20 million more than in the best year at any other area mall.

Click here to learn more

buffalo wild wings

This is the fairest review of the restaurant-sports bar chain Buffalo Wild Wings, of which I'm a fan, I've read so far.

Check it out at It's loud, frenetic, but wings place not just wild - it's good.

keeping the menswear tradition alive in winston-salem

In a world that is increasingly devoid of true menswear retailers, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is home to two: Norman Stockton and Cahill & Swain.

Norman Stockton, open since 1909, is the better store, though I have a soft spot for Cahill & Swain; no guess why. I remember when both stores were prominent merchants at Hanes Mall.

Esquire magazine put Norman Stockton on their top 100 men’s stores list and Daily News Record named us one of the 20 greatest men’s stores in the country. Company president Hill Stockton attributes its success to quality menswear and excellent customer service.

"Most men aren't shoppers, and they're not going to go in 10 different stores looking for the latest in fashion," Stockton said. "They want to feel comfortable with a guy and come in and that guy knows what his likes and dislikes are and what he looks good in and what he doesn't look good in."

Cahill & Swain, opened in 1949, is decidely less upscale, but no less distinguished. Cahill & Swain has always tried to build close, honest relationships with its customers and tried to give them the best possible service and quality to ensure loyalty, says Michael Swain, who is the company's president.

Read more at Dressed for Success from the Winston-Salem Journal

guys like me are programming cable?

It's times like this I wish I had cable. From goTriad.com:

At 11 p.m. on the Cartoon Network, it’s time for kiddies to get out of the pool. "Adult Swim" — a late-night lineup nearly drowning in hip irreverence and pop culture jokes — has college-age adults raised on "The Simpsons" and "South Park" going gaga.

One of their signature shows on Adult Swim is "Family Guy," possibly one of the funniest smartest cartoons i've ver seen. I've got all the original episodes on DVD!

Read more at Cartoon Network pulls adults back into its pool of viewers

update: they found another tree

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

A white pine to replace the original Rich's-Macy's holiday tree that snapped in half two days ago has been located.

The new 70-foot soon-to-be Christmas decoration comes from Lithia Springs and will arrive at Rich's-Macy's Lenox Square store on Wednesday morning, according to the department store.

For more on what happened to the first tree, click here

shout out: josh rubin: cool hunting

I did a Google search about Reebok Pumps (the old kind, not the new ones) the other day and encountered one of the coolest blogs I've ever seen. The author's name is Josh Rubin and he is a self-described "cool hunter."

What's a cool hunter? Josh gives the best description:

Cool Hunting is all about finding things that impress, excite or inspire me. This site is a place to catalog those things for myself and the rest of the world.

And catalog he does! Josh Rubin: Cool Hunting is a dazzling array of what's new and what's hot in the world of art, design sneakers, t-shirts, and so much more. Tere's also a discussion board and and you can even get an rss/xml feed. Plus, it's updated regurally. That's a challenge sometimes.

Check it out here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

I got published...again

My near obsessive shopping and browsing is paying off…in print!

Last Thursday, I answered a call for shopping tips by some writers at The Roanoke Times for their Thursday Inside/Out entertainment magazine. It’s for a new shopping column they’re running periodically. I got called by Beth Macy at the paper today and she said she wanted to use my tips and publish a picture of me in the I/O shopping column on Thanksgiving.

No money, but it is a little notoriety. I’m glad I can use my powers for good instead of evil! LOL

Keep a look out for me in the Thanksgiving Inside/Out!

could SouthPark get Saks?

This was an interesting tidbit in The Charlotte Observer

Saks Fifth Avenue ended plans to open a store in a long-stalled south Charlotte project Monday, touching off speculation among local developers about whether the luxury retailer might commit to another area site.

This was an even more interesting paragraph from the same article.

Another possibility is SouthPark. The mall itself doesn't have room for another department store -- Saks rival Neiman Marcus nabbed the last spot and plans to open a store there in fall 2006. But SouthPark has long planned a development of shops, restaurants and housing at the corner of Sharon and Morrison roads that could be redrawn to include Saks, said SouthPark manager Randy Thomas.

That in itself made my day. I didn't think the mall could get ay better, and then the possibility of THIS could make it even better than ever.

Read more at Saks abandons deal at Seven Eagles

more free shoes...and the ball players who love them

We should all be like Fred Jones...

Indiana Pacers guard Fred Jones comes by his shoe fetish honestly. He inherited it from his mother. Traces of his compulsion were evident at an early age.

"I remember in fourth grade, I just had to have (Air Jordans)," said Jones, an Arkansas native who was raised in the Pacific Northwest. "I was blessed enough to be in a family where we could afford them. My mom really understood. She's shoe crazy, too."

Jones doesn't pay for his sneakers anymore. Not the shoes he plays in for the Pacers or the ones he wears for leisure...

Find out more at Just for kicks

wal-mart's next victims

The world's largest retailing machine is always looking for new worlds to conquer. Here are 5 that look particularly vulnerable, including banking and electronics.

Click on the link above.

Monday, November 15, 2004

rich's-macy's tree snaps on site

Could this be the work of the ghost of founder Morris Rich, displeased that the company he worked so hard to build has been homogenized and turned into just another store?

Could it be a sign that retailers are putting up Christmas decorations too early?

Probably not. But this is a little weird. From WXIA-TV, NBC affiliate in Atlanta

Rich's-Macy's Tree Snaps on Site

A 72-foot Christmas tree snapped Saturday as it was hoisted atop the Rich’s-Macy’s department store at Lenox Square mall in Buckhead.

“We had a beautiful 72-foot white pine all tied and ready to hoist up to get it ready for Thanksgiving night and we heard the sound we never want to hear – crack!,” said Rich’s-Macy’s spokesperson Ellen Fruchtman.“We’re regrouping to get a new tree up in time for Thanksgiving,” she said.

Rich’s-Macy’s spokesperson Ellen Fruchtman says the white pine was being lifted to the store’s roof for the company’s 57th annual Christmas tree lighting in Atlanta when it snapped.

“There was a weak spot in the trunk of the tree, apparently,” Fruchtman said.“We never expect this to happen, but we do plan for this contingency so we always have other trees on tap,” she said.

“What we’ll do is go tie and cut a new tree and have it up here.”

She says the last time the Macy’s tree broke in Atlanta was in the late-70s at the company’s downtown location.

a new feature (RSS)

You may have noticed a new icon on the sidebar of the index page. You now have the option to syndicate information from steve's blog onto another website or onto a desktop program. The service is called RSS.

RSS is a standard for publishing regular updates to web-based content. Using this standard, Web publishers provide updates, such as the latest news headlines or weblog postings. Meanwhile, consumers use RSS reader applications (or one of a growing number of online services) to collect and monitor their favorite feeds in one place (RSS content from a publisher, viewed in one of these readers, is often called a "feed").

RSS is based on XML, a widely used standard for information exchange between applications on the Internet. RSS feeds can be viewed by human users as plain text, but they're really designed for computer-to-computer communication. RSS is just one standard for expressing feeds as XML.

It's a cool feature and you may read more about it here.

shout-out: chris harrie

I recently recieved a positive and helpful email from Chris Harrie

As he says at his site, Chris is a consultant to the Independent Research industry. He previously worked as a senior analyst at Retail Intelligence Group (RIG), an independent research firm that provides custom research and analysis on retailers and restaurants to the buy side.

Chris has also held the position of Senior Analyst at WorldCom and several executive positions in New York with Beaulieu N.V., a manufacturer of home textiles & furnishings based in Belgium. He was responsible for sales and marketing efforts covering the North American market. This led to extensive experience building relationships with merchants at major retail and wholesale companies, including Wal-Mart, Target, and Home Depot.

Chris received his BS from the University of Maine (his home state) and is currently pursuing his MBA at the University of Tampa. Chris holds a Series 65 Registered Investment Advisor license.

I found his blog, Independent Research, to be one of the more informative I've read on subjestcs related to how and whay we buy. It's worth the visit.

shoe design imitates architectural practice

Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony will appear in a new Nike campaign to unveil his first signature sneaker, the Jordan Carmelo 1.5. Anthony hopes consumers like the shoe, but if not, they should blame his friend the designer.


Sunday, November 14, 2004

speculation surrounds Sears' fate

Action by investors known for their real estate prowess spurs talk that the retailer's most valuable merchandise may be the property it sits on

By Michael Oneal and Thomas A. Corfman
Chicago Tribune staff reporters, November 14, 2004

It may seem far-fetched that a retailer as massive as Sears, Roebuck and Co. could ever be dismantled to tap the underlying value of its real estate.

After all, the Hoffman Estates-based company is an American icon. It has $9.5 billion in market value, $31 billion in 2003 merchandise sales and $2.7 billion in cash on hand to play with.

But on Nov. 5, when a voracious real estate outfit called Vornado Realty Trust revealed that it had quietly amassed control of 4.3 percent of the company's stock, it highlighted a fundamental shift in the way the market values retailers. The move puts heavy pressure on Sears Chairman Alan Lacy to justify the company's weak profits and outmoded merchandizing strategies.

According to interviews with retail and real estate experts, opportunistic investors like Vornado Chairman Steven Roth and Edward S. Lampert, who separately owns 15 percent of Sears stock, might be able to make more money by selling many of Sears' poorly performing but well-located stores to more successful retailers. And Sears itself might be more viable as a smaller chain with a tighter focus.

While Lacy is intent on making Sears grow, Roth or Lampert may see more profit in forcing it to shrink. Sears is unlikely to disappear altogether, but many experts believe this could catalyze a major restructuring.

"If you can make the retail company work, and unlock a lot of the value in the real estate at the same time, there's money to be made," said George Good, a senior vice president with real estate firm CB Richard Ellis Inc.

Lacy's inability to turn Sears around after four years of trying has run smack into a powerful real estate trend that has created heavy demand for just the kinds of properties that Sears has in abundance.

That's why Sears' stock soared 23 percent after the Vornado announcement on Nov. 5 and another 5 percent on Thursday when Robert Ulrich, chairman of Target Corp., told analysts his company is open to the idea of buying prime mall-based properties.

Over the last few years, new mall construction has slowed to a crawl, about 1 percent growth annually versus 5 percent a year in the 1980s. Growing retailers like Target and Nordstrom Inc. can't find enough space for new stores, especially in urban and suburban markets where property is at a premium.

Older, ailing retailers like Sears, Kmart Holding Corp. and Mervyn's LLC have lots of stores in attractive locations that might be used more profitably by some of these potent competitors. That has created a value vacuum that is beginning to make investors question whether sluggish stores could be sold for a rich profit.

"A retailer will keep an underperforming store open," said Louis Taylor, a real estate analyst at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. in New York. "A real estate guy will say. `Hey, look, if you're doing $100 a square foot [in sales], I'll buy it from you and lease it to a tenant that's doing $300 to $400 a square foot.' Until now there's been no pressure on retailers to change."

Pressure started building on Lacy in 2002 when Lampert, the 42-year-old chairman of a Connecticut hedge fund called ESL Investments Inc., began collecting a 15 percent stake in the retailer. Lampert has so far been a passive voice among Sears' major shareholders. But he has proven already how hot the market is for recycled retail real estate by selling more than $1 billion worth of assets at Kmart.

Lampert took control of Kmart out of bankruptcy in early 2003 and began spinning out properties. Earlier this year, he sold 50 stores to Sears for $576 million and 18 others to Home Depot for $271 million. Some observers have questioned the wisdom of downsizing the huge retailer, but others note that Lampert has already raised more money than anyone else had thought possible.

"People are looking at what happened at Kmart and thinking, `Oh, my God!'" said one investor in similar deals who has worked closely with Sears. "A lot of people misunderstood the asset values. Lampert didn't."

Because Roth, Vornado's hard-nosed chairman, has also made a career out of acquiring distressed real estate and spinning it into gold, few industry experts expect him to sit still. Neither Roth nor Lampert have signaled their intentions regarding Sears, and both declined requests for comment for this article. But they are known as aggressive investors, and together their investments represent almost 20 percent of Sears' stock. That alone would give them a firm platform from which to pressure Lacy together if they chose.

Lacy also declined a request for an interview. A Sears spokesman issued a statement saying, "We are pleased that Vornado sees value in our stock." In late October, Sears shares were down 29 percent from a year earlier.

A source close to the board said Lampert "has been very supportive of what Alan has been doing." The source added that the board is not yet aware of whether ESL is working with Vornado, or what their plans are.

Mervyn's deal offers hints
Vornado's intentions, however, may be revealed by a deal it didn't do: the $1.2 billion purchase of Mervyn's, a 257-department store chain based in Hayward, Calif., that was previously owned by Target. Vornado was outbid by a group that included Florida retail investment firm Sun Capital Partners Inc., New York hedge fund Cerberus Capital Management LP, and a joint venture of Chicago's Klaff Realty LP and Philadelphia-based investment fund Lubert-Adler Management Inc.

Mervyn's, with a real estate portfolio of more than 20 million square feet, is less than one-seventh the size of Sears. But common strategies may be at work in both deals, say investors who specialize in buying and reselling sluggish retail stores.

Like Sears, Mervyn's had struggled for years to find a lucrative place in a retail environment increasingly dominated by discounters and high-concept specialty stores. While the Sun group plans keep the chain open, one executive familiar with the group's strategy said it will evaluate every store individually to decide whether it would generate more profit to operate the store or to sell the underlying real estate. The group is already considering spinning off 40 of the stores to J.C. Penney Co., according to published reports.

A typical analysis would work this way: Suppose Mervyn's has an 80,000-square-foot store on a prime corner in the San Francisco Bay area that pulls in a profit of around $2 million a year. Over 10 years that would add up to $20 million in profits for the store's investors. But in some cases, a major reason for that profit is that Mervyn's has an especially low occupancy cost because it built or leased the store years ago when a mall owner wanted to lure it in as a tenant. In that kind of scenario, the store could make money, even though Mervyn's average sales of $165 a square foot lag the industry.

For a traditional retailer, the analysis would end there and the store would stay open. But an investor like Roth or Lampert would measure the store's value more rigorously.

If the site was attractive enough, a rival retailer with sales per square foot of $250 or $300 would likely be willing to pay a much higher lease rate, sometimes 50 percent or more. That presents an opportunity to sublease the space or negotiate a deal under which the mall owner would pay Mervyn's to buy out the lease. If that creates a profit in excess of the $20 million investors would earn from keeping the store open, then it probably makes sense to take the cash and close the store.

At the same time, preserving Mervyn's as an operating company serves two purposes. Stores that are profitable enough to be kept open can be packaged into a new company, fixed up and resold later. More important, if a store buyer thought Mervyn's was liquidating, it would reduce the seller's leverage in any negotiation.

This is an oversimplification of the strategy. There are all sorts of other considerations that go into the calculation, from common area maintenance charges to closure costs to the net effect on the chain's distribution system. But in the end it comes down to this question: If you keep the store open--even a profitable one--are you missing the chance to sell it for an even greater profit?

Sears, of course, would be much more difficult to analyze and restructure than Mervyn's. Sears has more than 141 million square feet of retail space, according to its annual report. It owns almost 60 percent of its 871 full-line stores, which are primarily located in large shopping centers. Those stores alone total 128 million square feet. Sears also has 345 specialty stores, including 245 hardware stores and 18 focused on home decorating and remodeling.

But the real estate Sears owns is uniquely valuable in several respects. First, analysts say, many of its stores are in prime locations that have become congested over the years. The sites are often next to desirable corners and have special features like big parking lots with easy access from the street. They are also big enough to split. A Sears store at SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, for instance, is being redeveloped by Simon Property Group Inc. into a Dick's Sporting Goods Inc. and a Joseph Beth Booksellers.

One key is that Sears' lease and ownership costs are low. According to Deutsche Bank's Taylor, Sears' average rent is about $2 a square foot, versus $7.49 for Kohl's or $5.21 for Nordstrom. That helps it afford sales per gross square foot that average $179 in its department stores versus $225 at the average Target discount store or $345 at Nordstrom, Taylor said.

Both men familiar with Sears
While all of this provides a road map to better profits, it is less clear how Roth or Lampert might persuade Sears to begin the journey. Several observers of both men, however, expect they are unlikely to stay passive investors for long. Lampert, for instance, has been highly active in all aspects of the Kmart investment, from dealmaking to fixing the stores.
"In a control position," Lampert told BusinessWeek magazine recently, "our ability to create value goes up exponentially."

As far as Roth is concerned, Stephen G. Tomlinson, a partner with Chicago-based law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP, thinks the investor has two possible strategies. Vornado could agitate for shareholders to force Lacy to re-evaluate his stores. If that fails, Roth could battle for outright control, a more costly, time-consuming effort.

Vornado certainly knows Sears well. Its president, Michael Fascitelli, advised the company as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs Group Inc. when Sears sold its Homart real estate unit for $2.3 billion in 1995.

Investment bankers in the business insist that Roth and Lampert could attract financing for a buyout, especially if they acted together. It helps that their mere presence has added $1.8 billion to Sears' market value over the last week. The two have probably already caught the imagination of other Sears investors, putting the onus on Lacy to explain why spinning off real estate isn't a good idea.

Tomlinson sums up the situation this way: "Every institution that holds Sears is thinking, `Well, gee, these guys are really smart in the real estate business and think this should happen. Shouldn't I think this should happen?'"

the man from macy's

As the chairman and chief executive of Macy's West, Robert Mettler supervises 146 stores in California and six other states plus Guam, with more than $4 billion in combined annual sales.

He's based in San Francisco, while Macy's parent company, Federated Department Stores Inc., has headquarters in Cincinnati and New York. Companywide, Federated posted $15.3 billion in sales last year.

Mettler sat down with The San Fransisco Chronicle this month to talk about that as well as department-store history, current economic trends, consumer tastes and more.

Read more by clicking here

big brother wears a blue vest

Wal-Mart amasses more data about the products it sells and its shoppers' buying habits than any other company.

With 3,600 stores in the United States and roughly 100 million customers walking through the doors each week, Wal-Mart has access to information about a broad slice of America - from individual Social Security and driver's license numbers to geographic proclivities for Mallomars, or lipsticks, or jugs of antifreeze. The data are gathered item by item at the checkout aisle, then recorded, mapped and updated by store, by state, by region.

By its own count, Wal-Mart has 460 terabytes of data stored on Teradata mainframes, made by NCR, at its Bentonville headquarters. To put that in perspective, the Internet has less than half as much data, according to experts.

Sacred? Curious? Read this.

the sad passing of Ol' Dirty Bastard

This guy was cool, though just a little fractured, some would say a lot fractured. In any event, he was a personality. May he rest in peace.

Rapper ODB Found Dead in Studio
The Associated Press, Saturday, November 13, 2004; 9:19 PM

NEW YORK - The rap artist O.D.B., who lived a life as wild as his lyrics, collapsed and died inside a recording studio Saturday, his record label said. He was 35.

O.D.B. had complained of chest pains before collapsing at the Manhattan studio, according to a statement from Roc-a-Fella records.

O.D.B., also known as Ol' Dirty Bastard, Dirt McGirt or his legal name of Russell Jones, was a founding member of the hit rap group the Wu-Tang Clan in the early 1990s. With his offbeat, unorthodox delivery, he segued into a successful solo career and released several hit singles.

But he was frequently in trouble with the law, mostly for drug possession.

In February 1998, he crashed the stage at the Grammy Awards and hijacked a microphone from singer Shawn Colvin as she accepted an award, apparently upset over losing the best rap album Grammy to Puff Daddy. He complained that he spent a lot of money for new clothes because he thought he was going to win. The rapper later apologized. Later in 1998, he was wounded in a shooting during a robbery in his apartment.

In 2001 he was sentenced to two to four years in prison for drug possession; plus two concurrent years for escaping from a rehab clinic. He was released in 2003 and immediately signed with Roc-a-Fella.

O.D.B. would have turned 36 on Monday.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

what the kids are into these days

Retailers and cool-hunters take note. From The Daily Collegian

Abercrombie & Fitch fashions are a lot like Gap's this fall: lots of denim, polos and soft cardigans.

But to the college-age shopper, Abercrombie is "so over;" Gap is what's up.

"Abercrombie lost it when they became a little 'too white' with their advertising. They lost and alienated a lot of people who didn't see themselves or their friends represented," explains David Morrison, founder and chief executive officer of TwentySomething Inc., a Radnor-based firm that analyzes the shopping habits of the 18-to-35 set.

Morrison helps the nation's top fashion, electronics and food brands market themselves so they stay on the minds of consumers in their teens and 20s.

It's six weeks into the fall 2004 semester, and young people are rewriting the "hot" brands list because of more reserved fashion trends and a still-weak economy. Dunkin' Donuts is creeping up on Starbucks. Mitsubishi is edging out Honda.

Fashion-wise, college kids are leaving behind the late-'90s low-riders and sliding into tweeds with ribbon-trimmed preppy style. Tommy Hilfiger, Polo and J. Crew are "riding high," Morrison says. LaCoste, with its brightly colored mini-polo shirts and tennis dresses, is hip, too.

The vintage craze has made Converse All Stars the tennis shoes of choice. Adidas are a cool second. Pumas, Morrison adds, are on the cusp of hotness, thanks to their old-school-rap connection. Nikes, namely Air Force Ones, and Reeboks are falling off.

"This market won't wear those as much, unless they're (ball) players," Morrison says.

College students would rather be caught dead than wearing shoes from Payless, but they want shoes from DSW Shoe Warehouse.

They love Target and Wal-Mart, but can do without Kmart.

Philosophy's cinnamon bun, blueberry pie, and orange sherbet-scented shampoos, conditioners and bath gels are the preferred shower-caddy fillers, pushing aside long-popular Bath & Body Works. (We can thank the nesting trend for that.) Also, Morrison says, Burt's Bees all-natural makeup is a must-have.

Revlon and Avon are beating out MAC and Bobbi Brown, because they are more affordable, yet college girls would rather spend big money on a dress they bought from a boutique. (Think Nicole Miller or Nanette Lepore.)

"They are super-expensive, and teens aren't convinced that these (makeup) brands are any better than what they can get at the drugstore," Morrison says, " ... but when they get dressed up, they are going really high end."

Today's young adults have gobs of disposable income, but they have attention deficits when it comes to brand loyalty. As with the Generation X-ers and baby boomers before them, cost and packaging are the No. 1 factors that drive spending habits.

These youngsters, however, are picky about how they receive sales pitches. They prefer to get them through their e-mail in-boxes, music videos, video games, or on Web sites. They have little time for casual conversation and magazines.

They are marketing-savvy and understand business, Morrison says, even if it's on a superficial level.

"They not only know what focus groups are, chances are they've been a part of one."

Morrison has followed college students' spending habits since his days at Haverford. Back then, he had an out-of-a-dorm-room business selling electronics - VCRs, radar detectors and CD players - with customers on 14 campuses.

He grew up with entrepreneurship and marketing: His father is a retired vice president of marketing for Lipton; his mother is an independent college guidance counselor.

Morrison started TwentySomething Inc. when he was 22. At the time, he thought major businesses were full of 50-year-old executives trying to understand people in their 20s.

If you ask Morrison, TwentySomething Inc. was one of the first consulting companies to niche-research the youth market - before Soul Kool and Teenage Research Unlimited.

His first projects included refining programs at the Entrepreneurial Center at the Wharton School of Business and helping Vibe Magazine fit into urban and suburban worlds. His company developed a strategy for Nokia cell phones to market color faceplates. (He's tight-lipped about other work he's done because of nondisclosure contracts.)

Morrison has five employees and keeps satellite offices in Mexico City, Sydney, Australia, and Seoul, South Korea, to pick the brains of teens across the globe.

He spends his days talking to his target market in the malls and setting up focus groups across the world. Right now, he says, he's working with more than 60 companies, more than half of which have made the Fortune 500.

Morrison's book, "Marketing to the Campus Crowd: Everything You Need to Know to Capture the $200 Billion College Market" (Dearborn Trade Publishing, $25), has sold 3,500 copies. That's a really good number, says Courtney Goethals, a spokeswoman for Dearborn Trade, because its market is so specific.

The book is required reading for the 20-plus directors at the National Association of College Stores, an organization that tracks the success of college bookstores.

"Those of us who've gone to college, we tend to base our paradigm of what college students want today ... on what we wanted as students," says Marianne Wascak, vice president of marketing at the association.

"But David does a good job at pointing out that students these days are different. They don't trust corporations like we used to. Just because you give a college student something for free doesn't mean they are going to buy it."

On a recent afternoon, Morrison stands in front of the University of Pennsylvania's Barnes & Noble campus bookstore. At 37, he has strawberry-blond hair that's graying at the temples, but his face is line-free.

He talks at a rapid clip, totally excited about his recent trip to New Orleans, where he launched a campaign to hip up a fast-food chain. Ask him the specifics, and he gets cagey. An experienced businessman, he refuses to divulge key details.

In the store, current best-sellers are on the bottom floor, near the magazines, and in the back is every laptop accessory imaginable, from label makers to cameras. On the top floor are the textbooks.

But the cafe is where the "it" brands are evident. The college palate is much more sophisticated these days, Morrison explains, so the cafe offers scones and flavored coffee.

Young consumers are making buying decisions based on how healthy they perceive a product to be, how well it fits into their lifestyle, and how diverse the advertisements are, he says. Right now, this age group is on a health kick.

That's why the front of the store is full of Fiji water (kids can't resist the squared-off, blue bottle) and VitaWater. For snacks, it's all about Odwalla energy bars and big plastic tubs of trail mix.

Students are getting what they want, Morrison surmises.

"This is a market that marketers cannot afford to ignore. ... If they lose this pulse for a second, they're going to wake up and wonder why their brand is no longer relevant."

Friday, November 12, 2004

bal harbour ballin'

Looking for sneaks that scream haute monde? How about something a litttle less French, like cool. Don't kid around, visit Addict, a store in Bal Harbour, Florida, and make sure you carry the credit card with the lowest balance.

Check out Upscale Sneaks from the Miami Herald.

...ain't what it used to be

At least it's not just me.

More people are lamenting the loss of the truly classy department stores of yesteryear. Sandra Thompson of the St.Petersburg Times in Florida looks at how Burdines, once "The Florida Store," has become just another Macy's over the years even before the signs outside officially declare the sad fact in early 2005. Sad indeed.

Check out Macy's fails to restore Burdines' old glory.

music of the moment, November 12, 2004

These songs have been on my mind lately, in no particular order. Selections will open with Windows Media Player.

Gato Barbieri -- Poinciana (Song Of The Tree)
No doubt of what kind of tree it is: polyester! But it is one awesome song. You need the sample from Amazon to do it justice. There is but one Gato Barbieri. Listen

Marilyn Scott -- Here's That Rainy Day
Who? I didn’t know her before this song either. Now for something a little more modern. Marilyn Scott’s style harkens back to that ‘70s sound, but she’s not at all dated on this track. Sublime. Listen

Slum Village -- Count The Ways - (with Dwele)
A little silly, but it rocks. Listen

Carly Simon -- Tranquillo (Melt My Heart)
Who knew she had an ass-shaking song? Very 1978. Listen

Mark Farina -- De La Bass - (Vocal, with Raw Instinct)
To the bass, y’all! I like the Mushroom Jazz series this album is from. Listen