Sunday, December 31, 2006

at the close of the year...

We are a few hours away from the beginning of a new year. Usually we receive comments and notes wishing us good luck and health and all the best for the year to come, and while I send you all my best wishes as well, I would like to take a minute and reflect on the year that’s about to be gone.

I like to reflect on the great things that happened, work and personal accomplishments, but I especially like to focus on the wonderful people I’ve met. And this way meeting you on steve’s blog was a very fortunate event.

This blog has helped me improve my writing skills and ability to express myself but has also opened the door for friendships all over the world. Our little group of friends keeps on growing every day.

So, in a nutshell: HAPPY NEW YEAR, it was fantastic to make your acquaintance last year!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

get juiced

from Vogue, January 2007

“Juice may keep us from losing our minds,” says Liz Applegate, Ph.D., nutritionist to Olympians and professional athletes.

New research from Vanderbilt University reveals that people who drink at least three glasses of juice a week are 76 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Why juice? Polyphenols— plant chemicals in the skins of fruits and vegetables—seem to shield brain cells from age-related decay.

To keep your wits intact, Applegate recommends this ultimate daily tonic: a half-cup each of apple, pomegranate, and cranberry juice.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Big hope for small markets

Akron, as well as New York, star of Federated holiday

by Lisa Biank Fasig
Cincinnati Business Courier - December 22, 2006

To an important degree, the sales performance of Federated Department Stores this Christmas depends on how well it does in Akron.

It is in the dozens of markets such as this one, where Macy's is a new and welcome brand, that Federated has much to gain after converting some 400 May Co. stores in September, analysts and industry veterans say. Sure, shoppers in Chicago are grabbing headlines with complaints about losing the Marshall Field's brand, but in smaller markets - like Akron, Tulsa, Okla., and Rochester, N.Y., - shoppers are waiting, credit cards poised, for Macy's to lift their mediocre shopping experience.

And Federated has a high target: It recently raised its same-store sale projections for December to 5 to 8 percent, from 3 to 5 percent.

The problem? It's the original Macy's locations, known as the legacy stores, that have been driving those sales. The former May Co. locations have been "disappointing," Federated said, without providing specifics. (Federated will not break out figures of its May stores operations until February, after it has owned the company for one fiscal year.)

"They put extraordinary attention to making the transition easier in the cities where there was an emotional connection," said Candace Corlett, a principal at WSL Strategic Retail in New York. "(But) we underplayed the number of cities that are getting a Macy's."

What wasn't underplayed was the relaunch of Macy's as a national brand. Federated's ambitious advertising campaign, featuring Susan Sarandon and other stars, might have contributed to the overall strength of the department store sector this shopping season. In November, the same-store sales index of department stores rose 3.8 percent, compared with 1 percent at department stores, according to Bloomberg.

"The Federated stores are doing extremely well. They're benefiting from the advertising," said retail consultant Walter Loeb. "The May stores still have to gain an identity."

Federated has, for instance, ended the aggressive sales promotions that May customers have grown accustomed to at Christmas, Loeb said. Many shoppers are still holding out, expecting coupons and deep discounts. Meanwhile, in markets such as Cleveland, Federated underestimated the spending power of its May shoppers, said analyst Jeff Stein with KeyBanc Capital Markets.

Regardless, Wall Street is more or less forgiving Federated for May's flavorless sales. (Shares closed Dec. 20 at $38.51, up about 18 percent from one year ago.) Timing is part of the reason: Federated began swapping merchandise at May stores in September, replacing the old labels with the Macy's lineup. Some missteps were expected.

"To expect them to turn 400 stores with new merchandise, new nameplates, the same store personnel and with a reduced level of couponing -- to expect all of that to happen and not have the customers blink once or twice -- I would think is unrealistic," Stein said.

Federated spokesman Jim Sluzewski said the retailer gauged market needs by pairing converted May stores with Macy's stores in similar settings. A store in suburban Cincinnati, for instance, would serve as a starting point to determine what labels to stock in a similarly sized store in suburban Akron. The retailer also asked customers what they wanted to keep at the May stores and what they wanted to lose.

"We continue to learn as we go along," Sluzewski said. "It is simply taking a little longer than we had initially thought."

Among the unexpected trip-ups: the home department, where lead times can be three times longer than those of apparel. It can take more than a year to get certain household items on the floor.

As for markets where beloved brands were eliminated, such as in Chicago where Marshall Field's was transformed into Macy's, observers said the backlash is petering out.

"I've been to a couple of the Macy's that have been converted from Marshall Field's, and they seem just as crowded," said Morningstar Inc. analyst Joseph Beaulieu.

Corlett, for one, said she has seen an improvement in service at Macy's stores in the New York and New Jersey markets. "I think they had gotten in touch with how bad they were and they're really working on fixing it," she said.

"What shoppers expect from their favorite store is respect. Stop putting bimbos out there."

And that would apply to Akron, too.

Monday, December 25, 2006

James Brown Dead at 73

ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- James Brown, the dynamic, pompadoured "Godfather of Soul," whose rasping vocals and revolutionary rhythms made him a founder of rap, funk and disco as well, died early Monday, his agent said. He was 73.

Brown was hospitalized with pneumonia at Emory Crawford Long Hospital on Sunday and died around 1:45 a.m. Monday, said his agent, Frank Copsidas of Intrigue Music. Longtime friend Charles Bobbit was by his side, he said.

Copsidas said Brown's family was being notified of his death and that the cause was still uncertain. "We really don't know at this point what he died of," he said.

Along with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and a handful of others, Brown was one of the major musical influences of the past 50 years. At least one generation idolized him, and sometimes openly copied him.

His rapid-footed dancing inspired Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson among others. Songs such as David Bowie's "Fame," Prince's "Kiss," George Clinton's "Atomic Dog" and Sly and the Family Stone's "Sing a Simple Song" were clearly based on Brown's rhythms and vocal style.

merry christmas from steve's blog

Sunday, December 24, 2006

this year's christmas tree

Well, this is this year’s Christmas tree. I don’t know what I think of it yet.

In terms of detail, it’s a little less interesting than years past. I got sick with a cold and had a bunch of classes at Big Green (I know I said I finished my tax classes a while ago, but these were customer service training classes that met during the week after work) right in the middle of decorating. Mom finished the tree and didn’t put the really big, opulent stuff (that my trees are known for) on, though she did put the gold cherubs on that I bought earlier in the season (to tie the tree together with a unifying design element)

Not that you can see them with the lights on…

I tried some bigger lights (they’re like little globes, similar to C7s, but brighter) mixed with my standard mini-lights this year. The tree literally glows when the lights are on, as you can see. With the lights on, you don’t miss the big ornaments. In fact, when I saw how powerful the lights were, I resisted the urge to add more ornaments, though I had a really strong desire to get some silk poinsettias and stick them into the bare-looking spots on the tree. That didn’t happen, because I never got a chance to go to the craft store, and I vowed to stay out of Wal-Mart after getting trapped in there on Christmas Eve (I told Jamie the story recently)

The new camera (Sony DSC-H5) has a number of preset modes that take a lot of the guesswork out of taking pictures in certain situations. I tried out several different camera effects before I came up with these shots. The room shot is spectacular, I think. In all the years I’ve photographed my tree; it’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to a professional-looking picture. The detail shot below is the one I’m most proud of. It’s still not perfect, but it seems almost surreal to think I did that on my own tree. It looks like postcard, and it also shows off my giant lights that created the glowing effect you see.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Walgreens Adds Apparel

Chain Store Age

Deerfield, Ill. - December 18 - Walgreens is going after Target and Wal-Mart shoppers by introducing apparel and other lifestyle merchandise, according to Women’s Wear Daily.

The report said Walgreen Co. wants to differentiate itself from Rite-Aid, CVS and other drug store competitors. The chain began selling apparel inside stores last year. By next year, the chain says all stores will feature new merchandise.

“We’ve always been a strong destination for health and beauty, and now we’re layering on the fashion, jewelry, accessories and appeal angle to even further meet shoppers’ lifestyle needs,” a Walgreen spokeswoman told Women’s Wear Daily.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A B C Tag

By the Letters - Thanks to DeWitte

A- Available or Single? Both
B- Best Friend: Kevin (boy), Angie (girl)
C- Cake or Pie: Cake
D- Drink of Choice: Blenheim Ginger Ale
E- Essential Item used everyday; Computer, Soap
F- Favorite Color: Red or Green
G- Gummi Bears or Worms: Worms
H- Hometown: Middle-of-Nowhere, Va.
I- Indulgence: Shoes
J- January or February? January
K- Kids and names: None
L- Life is incomplete without: inner peace
M- Marriage Date: None
N- Number of Siblings: 1
O- Oranges or apples: Both
P- Phobias/Fears: You name it!
Q- Favorite Quote: "If someone shows you who they are, believe them"
R- Reason to Smile: All my blog fans :-)
S- Season: Autumn
T- Tag three people: Heather, Ken, Carrie
U- Unknown Fact about Me: What do I have left to tell?
V- Vegetable you don't like: Tomatoes
W- Worst habit: Procrastination
X- X-Rays you've had: Neck
Y- Your favorite food: Chicken, popcorn, pancakes
Z- Zodiac: Virgo

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Saks' Logo Gets a Makeover

By Sandra O'Loughlin

NEW YORK -- Saks Fifth Avenue in January will unveil a new logo that will appear in advertising, shopping bags, merchandise and marketing materials. Pentagram Design developed the logo, which was incorporates Saks Fifth Avenue's classic script logotypes and the geometry of the perfect square, a shape that has become central to the identity of the retailer, from its catalogs to its employee pins.

The move is the latest initiative in a revitalization strategy under Stephen Sadove, who in January became CEO of parent company Saks Inc.

Under Sadove's predecessor, Brad Martin, the upscale department store tried to become more edgy in an effort to appeal to a younger consumer, a strategy that did not work. Sadove is on a mission to repair the store's image by ensuring stores stock merchandise for its core 48-year-old customers and at the right inventory levels, re-instituting its private label brands and bringing back petite sizes. Several of the stores have been remodeled.

A branding program and signature visual created by splitting the logo into 64 square pieces and then re-sizing, rotating and recombining them will appear on stationery, storefronts, charge cards and more. Designers including Diane von Furstenberg, Christian Louboutin, Albert Kriemler of Akris, George Sharp of Ellen Tracy and the design team of Moncler are collaborating with Saks to develop exclusive items incorporating the new visuals.

"Graphic, bold and sophisticated, the new branding initiative is not only a redesigned logo but a new visual language," said Terron Schaefer, group SVP, creative and marketing, in a statement. Schaefer anticipates the logo will become an enduring icon like that of Burberry's Nova Check and the Louis Vuitton LV.

Saks operates 54 full-line stores in 25 states as well as 50 Off 5th Outlet stores and

Blogging the MALL

By Mike Janssen

The malls of our youth have changed irrevocably over the years. Some have even closed their doors for good. But, some nostalgic shoppers are now enshrining cherished mall-hopping memories with an up-to-the-minute technology — the blog.

Over the past few years, devotees of mall lore and history have launched online troves of photos, postcards, floor plans and old newspaper ads with blogs. Labelscar, Malls of America and BIGMallrat's Malls in Northern California and Reno are just a few. And though shopping is often seen as a woman's favorite pastime, many of these mall bloggers are men — an oddity they're at a loss to explain.

The sites have attracted hundreds of readers daily, eager to relive their own mall memories. A community has sprung up that uses LiveJournal, a popular personal blogging tool, and a Remembering Retail forum on Yahoo! boasts 430 members.

Malls of America (, one of the most popular and frequently updated mall blogs, features new pictures of vintage malls nearly every day, along with awestruck commentaries free of even a hint of irony.

“If that ain't Heaven, I'd sure like to know what is,” wrote proprietor Keith Milford of a '60s-era photo of Westland Center in Westland, Mich., in which the promenade is lined with bizarre, towering structures that resemble mutant dandelions.

A vintage picture of kids at a shopping-mall fountain sent Milford into a reverie — “the relaxing sound of the gurgling fountains, the shimmering ripples on the surface, the glistening coins blinking up at you from the fountain's tiled bottom, all mixed with the murmuring din of busy shoppers and lulling Muzak echoing throughout the mall in the background.”

Milford, 40, is among the older mall bloggers, but shares an idyllic view of the malls he visited as a kid with fellow fanatics. They also rue the ways in which malls have changed over time, shedding their aesthetic frills of yesteryear: murals, sculptures, birdcages and huge fountains and courtyards. To these bloggers, today's malls seem more homogenized and, sadly, less central to the social life and shopping routines of today's suburbanites.

“They're a huge part of our landscape in this country,” says Labelscar's Jason Damas, 26. “And yet, not many people are shedding a tear over it.”

Damas, whose Web site Labelscar receives 400 unique visits per day, has not received any comments from mall managers, developers or owners.

Damas's passion for malls is rooted in his youth in Newport, R.I., where the nearest mall with any stores worth patronizing, the Rhode Island Mall in Warwick, was a 45-minute drive away.

At Rhode Island Mall, Damas relished the freedom to wander off from his parents for a little while to play video games, eat junk food and buy alternative rock albums. Going there was an “event,” he says.

It was there he discovered a compilation of British indie rock bands that spawned an abiding passion for music. “It was not a planned purchase — it was hanging out at the mall that brought it on,” says Damas who blogs under the name Caldor in homage to the defunct department store chain.

That warm fuzzy feeling
Scott Parsons, who covers California malls as BIGMallrat (, says malls remind him of outings with his mother and grandmother, who would often visit three malls in a day.

“It's like comfort food in some respects,” he says. “They provided so much for us when we were growing up. We'd look at the birds in the cages, play in the water fountains, all these things you can't do anymore.”

“Looking back, you get warm fuzzy feelings,” Parsons says.

Milford also enjoyed his childhood shopping trips but joined the ranks of mall fanatics after seeing the 1979 horror film Dawn of the Dead, in which the protagonists, seeking refuge from zombies, hole up inside Monroeville Mall, just outside Pittsburgh.

In the early 1980s Milford became “utterly obsessed” with the film and Monroeville Mall. He asked the mall for brochures and floor plans and even built a digital recreation of the center in a 3-D computer modeling program, which allowed him to put himself inside a vintage reconstruction of the mall.

Milford's obsession later grew to include vintage malls in general. (He also maintains blogs devoted to pop culture depictions of Satan, Halloween and Santa Claus, as well as one highlighting YouTube videos of busty, scantily clad women.)

“One of my biggest fantasies has always been to somehow have a huge deserted shopping mall all to myself at night — not so much for all the ‘stuff’ there, but more so I can freely explore the place and run around in it to my heart's content,” Milford says. “I'll be the first to admit that my own enjoyment of malls actually comes from a slightly weird and very personal place.”

The rise of blogging offered Milford and other mall fans a home for their stores of memorabilia and historical research. Milford launched Malls of America in June 2005 because no other Web site catered to his appetite for “lots and lots of groovy photos!”

Parsons, 37, was early to the Web with his Guide to Northern California Malls, which he started in 1998. But, it was not until December that he started its companion blog, when he discovered two boxes of mall-related materials stowed away in his attic — industry magazines, newspaper clippings and hundreds of directories from malls in the western United States and Canada that he has hoarded since the 1970s.

Milford and Parsons, as well as many other of the writers, run their sites using Blogger, a Web-based service that furnishes free site hosting through its Blogspot service.

The mall bloggers buttress their collections of mall materials by scouring eBay, searching other Web sites and visiting libraries, flea markets and estate and garage sales. Their posts often link to related online resources such as mall Web sites, Wikipedia entries and aerial images of malls found via Google Maps.

Damas and co-blogger Ross Schendel take a more encyclopedic approach to mall history on Labelscar (, named after the mark that remains on a building's façade long after a sign has been removed. The bloggers met on America Online in the late '90s and discovered a mutual love for malls and road trips.

Damas and Schendel met in person at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and made pilgrimages to many malls of the Midwest. Damas estimates that together and individually they have visited two-thirds of the country's enclosed malls. He often extends business trips to give himself an extra day or two for visiting malls, then details his travels in lengthy posts illustrated with many photos of the properties.

Their professions suit their unusual hobby. Schendel, a grad student, studies the geographic information systems that are sometimes used to plan retail developments. Damas works in search-engine optimization and brings a marketer's eye to his analyses of malls and their financial fortunes.

Competitive spirit
Labelscar and other mall blogs attract loyal visitors who contribute reminiscences and submit selections from their own caches of old ads and photos. The bloggers also read each other's sites, commenting on posts and collaborating on the creation of a collective store of knowledge.

Damas acknowledges that a competitive spirit fuels his blogging. “You always want to be the first one to get the story,” he says.

As a whole, the blogs embody their authors' dreams of paying tribute to what may be a fading piece of Americana.

“I hope it serves to not only remind people of all the aesthetic design, beauty and character we've lost from our classic malls at this point,” Milford says, “but, also that there's a need to consciously appreciate and celebrate those places, as well as the people who designed and built them.”

Their efforts are time-consuming. Parsons estimates he puts in 10 to 40 hours a week on his mall guide and its accompanying blog, often starting after getting home at 5 p.m. from his job as a technical writer — “I have to cut myself off, really.”

Milford too spends at least a few hours a day on Malls of America, including weekends, which inspires awe among his fellow bloggers. Damas calls the blog a “must see.” Parsons is similarly impressed.

“It would be interesting to talk to him in real life,” he says. “Wow, this person is more of a mall geek than I am. What kind of person is that?”

Mall Blog Roll

Retail Traffic Magazine

Companion to a website launched in 1998, this blog offers contemporary news about NoCal malldom as well as memories and memorabilia from decades past.

This infrequently updated site covers the history of malls and other retail outlets in Georgia and the South, with many photos.

Mall enthusiasts Jason Damas and Ross Schendel write detailed chronologies and commentaries on malls all over the country and in Canada that are living, dying or somewhere in between. Numerous photos accompany their posts.

A relative newcomer to the mall blog scene, inspired by Malls of America (see below).

Keith Milford indulges his love of vintage mall design and paraphernalia with frequent posts highlighting photos, postcards, videos and more. Readers contribute their own memories.

Anita Rose, an assistant editor at, focuses mainly on the fates of two malls in Hampton, Va.: Newmarket Fair and Coliseum Mall.

Monday, December 11, 2006

someday i'm coming back

and it won't be long.

Sorry to up and disappear on you guys (and additionally for including anything from the The Bodyguard soundtrack here).

I feel bad about it, but I haven't had any free time as of late. This week's not looking too good either.

I've got so much to tell you guys, but really, the good stuff evaporates before it reaches the keys. It's a new kind of writers' block, patent pending. Everyone's gonna want it next spring.

Anyway, as I sadly close without inspiration, I implore you: tell me your stories here. It'll give me something to bounce off of in my time at the keys

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Christmas at Ivey's

J. B. Ivey & Company, Charlotte, North Carolina. Exterior Christmas display at the Uptown store, 1968. (Pat Richardson)

J. B. Ivey & Company, Charlotte, North Carolina. Shoppers on the main floor at Christmas at the Uptown store, 1957. (Pat Richardson)

Find more Ivey's memories like this in The Ivey's Archive

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Belk, Eastland Mall, to close by mid-February

According to unnamed sources, Charlotte, N.C.-based Belk, Inc. intends to close its underperforming Eastland Mall store, also located in Charlotte, by mid-February of next year.

The two-level, 160,000 square foot store opened in 1975 as one of Eastland Mall's original anchors.

Though Belk has denied rumors in the past that they planned to close their Eastland store, even after plans for a larger store in a more affluent neighborhood were announced in 2005, they have made no secret of their displeasure with the demographic changes at the struggling mall and have slowly reduced the breadth and quality of the merchandise lines at the store over the past several years, recently closing the lower level men's department and consolidating its merchandise on the upper level.

Further information on the closing will be proviuded as it becomes available.

Previously on LiveMalls
Belk, Eastland Mall

Monday, November 20, 2006

Foot Locker Denies Buyout Rumors, Details New Concepts

Chain Store Age

NEW YORK - Foot Locker denied on Friday that it was exploring a potential sale of the company, according to a Reuters report.

Speculation was heightened by the company's hiring of an advisory firm in August and by Foot Locker's refusal to comment on any buyout interest. On Friday, CEO Matthew Serra dispelled the rumors on a conference call with analysts.

On the same call, Serra discussed plans for a new concept, called "Footquarters," that will be focused on inexpensive footwear for the entire family. Approximately 60% of merchandise will be athletic shoes. Dress and casual shoes, which carry higher profit margins than athletic footwear, will comprise the rest.

“We feel that our buying power in the athletic segment will give us enhanced margins vs. our competition, so I personally believe it could be a very large division,” Serra said.

The company plans to open up to 70 Footquarters stores in 2007, with the first group to open in April or May and the second in the fall.

In addition, Foot Locker is opening a chain of athletic hat stores, called “Champs Sports Just Hats.” The stores will try to take market share from Genesco’s Hat World chain.

Retailers grumbling over Web sites that offer sneak peeks at day-after-Thanksgiving deals

Amy Baldwin
The Charlotte Observer

Can't wait a few more days to see what deals stores will offer the day after Thanksgiving? You don't have to.

A number of Web sites offer sneak peaks at what they say are ads retailers will run in newspapers on Thursday for Black Friday -- traditionally the first day of the year that many retailers make a profit or run in the black.

Retailers say the ads might not be legitimate, and complain they undermine their competitiveness. Some stores, including Mooresville, N.C.-based Lowe's Companies Inc., are fighting the sites, which started in 2004 but really started getting noticed last year.

For example, Toys R Us Inc. will have a DVD player with 20 DVD movies for $29.99, while Target Corp. will offer a programmable coffee maker for $19, according to The stores did not return calls for comment.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will have a 20-inch flat screen TV for $68.97, while Sears will offer a one-carat diamond bracelet for $99, according to Black Friday Ads, found at Store officials could not be reached for comment. Jon Vincent, founder of, said employees at newspaper distribution facilities and third-party printers take photos of the ads and send them to his site. Newspapers, including the Observer, have policies forbidding employees from taking or leaking advertisements from facilities.

Vincent said he doesn't verify the purloined ads with the stores but looks to make sure they appear real and that prices seem reasonable.

Impatient -- or, perhaps smart -- shoppers can try to leverage these ads to get a retailer or a competitor to match the price now, said Dayana Yochim, personal finance guru at The Motley Fool and co-adviser for its GreenLight newsletter. Or, consumers could use the advance info to map out the Black Friday shopping strategy with the biggest savings.

"The whole concept of Black Friday is kind of spread out over weeks and weeks as opposed to just that one critical selling day," said Yochim, noting some of Black Friday ads were getting posted as early as two weeks before Halloween.

Yochim contends that some retailers, though she couldn't name any, leak their ads.

Vincent said that a few retailers, including CVS Corp., have asked him to post their ads. CVS could not immediately be reached for comment.

But most retailers prefer to keep ads under wraps until Thursday, said Ellen Davis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. Black Friday is a big deal, she said. It isn't the biggest shopping day of the year -- that honor goes to the Saturday before Christmas -- but it is the start to the holiday shopping season, which typically accounts for at least 20 percent of a retailer's annual sales.

"As a retailer, if you spent millions of dollars on advertising ... why would you want someone else to tell your story?" Davis said.

Vincent said that so far this year, three retailers -- Lowe's, Best Buy Co. Inc. and Linens N Things, asked to remove their ads from the site. The retailers cited trademark and copyright infringement. His site, which makes money from online advertisers and does not pay people for submitting sale ads, complied in all three cases.

Best Buy, however, said it didn't request its ad be pulled. Doing that for every site would take too much time, spokesman Brian Lucas said.

"It is not our policy to go after the Web sites that post rumors. Our main concern with the rumor sites is we can't verify their accuracy," Lucas said. "Customer disappointment is our biggest concern."

Last week, removed the Lowe's ad, which touted $700 cash-back on certain Frigidaire appliances.

"We don't want competitors to have time to create a better deal before shoppers have a chance to shop Lowe's," said spokeswoman Chris Ahearn.

Vincent said he doesn't believe advancing the ads is illegal or unethical.

"It's just sale prices and sales prices aren't copyrightable," he said. But "we definitely can't take on someone like Lowe's or Best Buy in court."

Wal-Mart is striking back in a different way. The world's largest retailer has said it will respond to its Black Friday ads having been leaked by announcing more deals on Thanksgiving Day, and only on its Web site (

the return of the (sometimes) king

We have to get together more often. :-)

My class is finally over! As reported earlier, I had to take the full tax course in order to work at Big Green again this coming tax season…all twelve weeks of it, and all six hours of the exam (it was supposed to be four, but all the students kept getting the wrong refund amount and our teacher kept making us correct our exams to make sure we got our fair share of points.)

But that’s excruciating water under the bridge. The good news is that I get my weekends back through the holidays and hopefully I can clean up the large pile of email and unread magazines I have lying around. You never realize how many magazines you read until you have a stack of them sitting near you that you’ve barely read. Somehow I think I need to cut down, but something tells me I won’t.

This week is a short one at work, so I’m hoping it’ll pass by quickly. I’m not placing bets on this. It’ll probably be balls to the wall insanity as usual.

Then of course there’s Turkey Day…God, I’m so bored with Thanksgiving. Nothing’s open, nothing’s on and the day’s main joy is gorging one’s self with starches and triptophans and listening to overbearing relatives pick fights with each other. The Pilgrims and Native Americans weren’t aiming for this, I’m sure.

Immediately following Thanksgiving…and I mean this literally, is Black Friday., the day that people get up at 5:00 AM to get the same shit they can get at 11:00 AM for the same price. I’m not going to disparage this further, since I’m scheduled to go to Four Seasons Town Centre to Rockin’ Shoppin’ Eve at 1:00 AM Friday and to New York less than 24 hours later. The difference is that I’m just doing it because I like to shop, not because I’m trying to get all my Christmas shopping done or because I’m trying to get a deal.

Then again, if you’re a regular here, you know this already.

There’s so much to comment on in the news that I could be here for a while commenting on it, so I’ll leave it alone. Hope everyone is well out there in Steveland, and if you aren’t I hope whatever’s eating you will get eaten by something bigger before it consumes you.

Music Extra: Cause I Feel Like It
Here are some songs that have been on my mind lately.

Sweetest Somebody I Know - Stevie Wonder Listen
Simply goregeous sentiment and music, previously discussed at the Vox site

Kick, Push - Lupe Fiasco Listen
The backing track kicks butt.

What You Won't Do For Love (20th Anniversary version) - Bobby Caldwell Listen
It's not the original version, but it's the original singer... simply the best interpreter of this classic.

Shine (with Esthero) - Boney James Listen
Dsepite its "morning show" brightness, it's a great track. Who'd have thought Esthero could be this sunny?

Secrets Of Love - Al Jarreau Listen
Everything seems to work on this song.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Protesters Storm Wal-Mart in Mexico City

Chain Store Age

MEXICO CITY - About 250 protestors stormed a Wal-Mart on the outskirts of Mexico City on Tuesday, accusing the retailer of selling low-cost goods at the expense of workers, farmers and public markets, according to the Associated Press.

Protesters chanted "Out! Out!" in front of Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters in Mexico before entering the adjacent store, where they blocked aisles for about 30 minutes before leaving. There were no immediate reports of arrests, injuries or damage, the report said.

Protestors said the company’s low prices take business away from the country's traditional public markets and depress wages for workers and farmers.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A King memorial for 'eternal truths'

By Richard Clough
Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- Only a select number of Americans have been honored with individual monuments on the National Mall in Washington. There are no memorials to historic African-Americans. And few, if any, of those enshrined there were ever jailed.

But that's all about to change.

Nearly 40 years after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., construction began Monday on a National Mall memorial honoring the civil rights icon.

King's enduring legacy brought out presidents past and present, celebrities and a slew of supporters on a cool, gray day for a groundbreaking ceremony, where praise for the civil rights leader was in no short supply.

"Dr. King was on this Earth just 39 years, but the ideas that guided his work and his life are eternal," President Bush said at the ceremony. "Here in this place, we will raise a lasting memorial to those eternal truths. Honoring Dr. King's legacy requires more than building a monument, it requires the ongoing commitment of every American."

The King monument will be built near the Lincoln Memorial, where in 1963 the civil rights leader delivered his famous "I have a dream" speech.

Some 43 years later, Bush said that the new monument would stand as a testament to the ideals King espoused on that August day.

"An assassin's bullet could not shatter the dream," the president said. "Dr. King's message of justice and brotherhood took hold in the hearts of men and women across the great land of ours. It continues to inspire millions across the world."

In good company
Just steps from the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and the Washington Monument, King's memorial places the civil rights leader in the pantheon of renowned American leaders. The National Mall has for years been an exclusive club for memorials, and King can soon be added to a list that includes just four presidents and a Civil War hero—engineer John Ericsson, designer of the iron-plated USS Monitor—with individual memorials.

President Bill Clinton signed legislation in 1996 approving construction of the monument, 12 years after members of the national black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha began calling for a King memorial.

The $100 million memorial will feature flowing water, stones and trees that designers say will represent themes of democracy, justice and hope. The stones will be inscribed with text from King's speeches.

Project organizers have raised $65.5 million for construction of the memorial, mostly from corporate donors, and completion is planned for the spring of 2008.

On Monday, Clinton testified to King's ideals, saying his messages resonate in today's world.

"When the real battlefield is the human heart, civil disobedience works better than suicide bombing," Clinton said. "Fighting your opponents with respect and reason works better than aspersion and attack.

'A source of inspiration'
Clinton said the King memorial, standing among monuments to other great Americans, would serve as a reminder that the civil rights leader fought to advance the ideal of equality set in motion by his predecessors.

"Here there will be a memorial to Martin Luther King, the voice and spirit of the movement to lift the last legal racial barriers to our more perfect union," Clinton said.

In a letter read by ABC's Diane Sawyer, former South African President Nelson Mandela said King provided inspiration for civil rights movements across the globe.

"Dr. King's legacy is timeless and generations will continue to look back on his work as a source of inspiration and hope," Mandela said in his letter. "Dr. King had the nobility of spirit to stand in the path of tyranny and injustice without seeking selfish gain."

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey said she does not take her success for granted, and she is grateful for King's achievements in elevating the black community.

"I live in a state of perpetual gratitude because I know that I didn't get to be who I am, where I am, alone," she said. "Because he was the seed of the free—Dr. King—I get to be the blossom and live the dream that he dreamed for his children."

Washington Mayor Anthony Williams echoed that sentiment when he said King "opened the doors of opportunity for each and every one of us."

On the guest list
Among the notables attending the ceremony were members of King's family, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, writer Maya Angelou and Jesse Jackson.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) represents for many the strides African-Americans have made in politics.

Obama invoked King's "I have a dream" speech as he spoke of his two daughters, saying that the civil rights leader's struggles allowed Obama's children to "live today with the freedom God intended, their citizenship unquestioned, their dreams unbounded.

"The man we honor today did what God required," Obama said. "In the end, that is what I will tell my daughters."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Survey: Wal-Mart Top Holiday Destination

Chain Store Age

CHICAGO - Wal-Mart Stores is expected to be the top-shopping destination, according to a survey conducted for Reuters.

The first in a series of polls by America’s Research Group found that a surprisingly high 89% of respondents planned to shop at Wal-Mart this year, suggesting that the chain’s aggressive price cuts will succeed in attracting more customers.

Brit Beemer, head of America’s Research Group, said he was “a little flabbergasted” by the high number of people who said they planned to shop at Wal-Mart, adding that he had expected the figure to be closer to 70%. The survey found that some 72% respondents planned to shop for electronics at the chain.

“As they’ve added more name brands, it gives them credibility for electronics,” Beemer said.

Nordstrom Adds Music to Product Lineup

Chain Store Age

SEATTLE - Nordstrom is expanding its merchandise offering in select Northwest and Southern California locations as well as on line to include music.

The company plans to sell exclusive compilations, beginning with a previously out-of-print collection by Marvin Gaye, as well as current releases from high-profile music artists.

“We want to sell products our customers are interested in,” said Pete Nordstrom, president of merchandising. “This is a new category for us and we’re excited to give it a try.”

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sultry-Voiced R&B Balladeer, Songwriter Gerald Levert, 40

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer

Gerald Levert, 40, a smooth-voiced rhythm-and-blues singer whose top-selling records recalled the heyday of an earlier R&B era, died Nov. 10 at his home in Newbury, Ohio, outside Cleveland. A Cleveland TV station and music Web sites reported that he had a heart attack.

Mr. Levert (pronounced luh-VERT) was born into R&B royalty as the son of Eddie Levert Sr., a founder and lead singer of the O'Jays, a group that achieved wide fame in the 1960s and '70s. The younger Levert found success by updating the stylish, melodic music of his father's generation and delivering soulful, romantic ballads that made him especially popular with female fans.

During his career as a solo artist and with the trio LeVert, he sold more than 10 million albums, five of which were certified platinum. Five of his songs reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B charts, and 11 made the Top 20.

One of his most popular hits, "Casanova," reached No. 4 on the general pop charts in 1987 and was featured in two films: "Fatal Beauty" and "The Pick-Up Artist." Mr. Levert appeared as an actor in the 1991 film "New Jack City."

He often performed with other artists, and his 1997 album with Keith Sweat and Johnny Gill, "Levert Sweat Gill," had contributions from Faith Evans, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes and Lil' Kim. It sold more than 2 million copies.

In 1992, Mr. Levert had an unexpected No. 1 R&B hit with his father, "Baby Hold On to Me," and in 1995 they recorded a top-selling album, "Father & Son." With nearly identical baritone voices, they often toured together for years afterward.

The elder Levert advised his three sons against entering the music business, but Gerald devoted himself to music from an early age. (His brother, Sean, became a member of LeVert and a record producer.)

"He didn't push me to do this," Gerald Levert told The Washington Post in 2002, referring to his father. "He was just there to make sure that when I fell, he was there to help me up."

Mr. Levert had a minor hit in 1985 with the small-label single "I'm Hot," which led to his signing with Atlantic Records a year later. He would remain a popular live performer for the next 20 years.

In concerts, women screamed his name as he tossed teddy bears into the crowd and, in a signature move, playfully spanked himself. Rejecting the dark, misogynistic tone of much of today's R&B and hip-hop music, Mr. Levert favored the impassioned, lyrical style of an earlier generation.

Mr. Levert sometimes borrowed elements of hip-hop, country and classical music to season his songs about longing, betrayal and love. His lyrics often showed an unabashed, if old-fashioned, respect for women. In his 2000 hit "Mr. Too Damn Good," which reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B charts, he sang: "Baby, I'll open doors for you any time, because that's what a man's supposed to do."

The chunky Mr. Levert was known to many of his fans by his nickname, G-Bear. At the time of his death, he was making a reality TV show in which he was losing weight along with 12 of his female fans, who were training with him at his palatial home.

Mr. Levert was born in Philadelphia on July 13, 1966, and grew up in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights. His father traveled with the O'Jays throughout much of Gerald's childhood but sometimes took his son with him.

"I was exposed to a lot of great things because my dad took me on the road a lot," Gerald Levert told The Post four years ago. "As a little kid, I saw Gladys Knight and the Pips, Marvin Gaye, Flip Wilson and Richard Pryor, and it taught me a lot about performing, about timing, about just being able to capture a crowd's attention."

He began performing in high school in Ohio with his brother and a friend, Marc Gordon, as LeVert. The trio, known for a lush, romantic sound, recorded seven albums, four of which went platinum.

In his early 20s, Mr. Levert launched a separate career as a songwriter and record producer, and he was responsible for more than 15 No. 1 songs by other artists. He received a Grammy nomination for writing "Practice What You Preach," which was a No. 1 hit for Barry White. He also worked with Patti LaBelle, Anita Baker, Stephanie Mills, James Ingram, Teddy Pendergrass and the O'Jays.

Explaining why he branched out beyond singing and performing at a young age, Mr. Levert said, "The hardest thing about the business is trusting people, and that's why it's good to establish yourself as more than just an entertainer."

In addition to his parents and brothers, Mr. Levert's survivors include four children. He was never married.

Mall-aise: Shopping Malls as seen by Herman Krieger

Tuned In (Photo by Herman Krieger)

Photographer Herman Krieger recently emailed me about his photo essay on malls in Oregon (or anywhere, for that matter) called Mall-aise. It's very striking and I figured it would be of interest to LiveMalls readers.

Mall-aise: Shopping Malls as seen by Herman Krieger

What makes a suit worth thousands?

By Valli Herman,
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

A finely tailored suit is a feat of engineering in cloth. Properly fitted to the body, a suit can refine a physique by broadening shoulders, shaping waists, elongating legs and smoothing out bulges.

Just as men have become connoisseurs of fine watches, wine and automobiles, they've also embraced artisan tailors who have elevated suit making to both a luxury and an art. Becoming well versed in fine tailoring requires that shoppers learn about construction details that add to quality.

The Italian fashion house of Domenico Vacca is among the few companies committed to handwork and construction techniques that are so complex they were nearly lost. Though Vacca's $4,000 ready-to-wear suits for men and women are almost completely handmade, some of the techniques that go into his products are available at lower prices. Vacca explained what to look for in a quality suit, most of which will cost about $1,000 and more.

• Stripes, plaids or other patterns should match at seams, particularly in visible areas such as the yoke, lapel, pockets and side seams. Further, the pattern in the sleeve should align with the suit body.

• Fabric should be resilient and drape well. It should feel good, not stiff or scratchy. A fine wool can be crumpled in your hand — or worn for hours in a meeting — and resist wrinkles.

• The linings, interfacings and padding should be stitched into the garment by hand to perform their jobs invisibly. Quality garments have graduated layers of a lightweight canvas stitched to the interior, not glued in with fusible materials. A canvas lining allows a jacket to breathe and flex with the wearer and also stabilizes the fabric in varying climates. Linings should not pucker or shift after dry cleaning or wearing.

• Stress points, such as the edges of pockets, should be reinforced with hand-stitched tacking or, for less expensive suits, by machine.

• The upper portion of the lapels should lie flat against the chest, but as they descend toward the buttonholes should bend ever so slightly to roll and stand away from the body. Like a haircut that is wash and wear, the lapels should be so effectively stitched and cut that they stay in place without being pressed flat.

• Buttonholes should be handmade and functional or, at the very least, machine made and exactingly trimmed. The buttons should be sewn with a reinforced shank.

• On a machine-made suit, sleeves set into the armhole should not pucker on the exterior of the armhole.

• The interior construction of pockets, seams and linings should float invisibly beneath the jacket's shell. Pockets should never gap and rarely reveal their contents.

• The shoulder padding should not be bulky or shift.

• The trouser waistband should be constructed in pieces and with ample seam allowance to aid future alterations. It should have interior buttons to attach suspenders.

• On handmade suits such as Vacca's, you should expect to see tiny hand-stitches employed to stabilize and beautify construction. Look for it along the edges of lapels, on top of waistband darts, along the fly and on top of belt loops.

• Small extravagances should be incorporated for your pleasure and comfort, including perhaps a thread loop behind the left lapel to anchor the stem of your boutonniere, a loop above the fly to anchor your belt buckle to your waistband, pleats built into linings to add ease of movement, a lot of extra buttons and thread, and, with Vacca's suits, a hidden pants pocket accessible only if you take off your trousers.

• A staff of well-trained tailors can rebuild a suit to fit your body, not merely nip a cuff here or there.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Merry Christmas from Wal-Mart and Macy's

Chain Store Age

Bentonville, Ark. - Wal-Mart Stores is putting the “Christmas” back into the holidays this year. The chain has decided to abandon the generic “Happy Holidays” greeting in favor of having employees greet shoppers by saying “Merry Christmas,” according to a report in USA Today.

The move comes a year after religious and conservative groups criticized Wal-Mart and other retailers for allegedly downplaying Christmas. This year, however, Wal-Mart is embracing the holiday full on, including changing the name of its seasonal-decor department from The Holiday Shop, which it has been for several years, to The Christmas Shop. Stores will play Christmas carols throughout the holiday selling-season and more merchandise will be labeled “Christmas” rather than “holiday” compared to last year.

As it turns out,, Macy’s is also feeling less generic this year, the chain intends to have “Merry Christmas” signs in all departments and all of its window displays will have Christmas themes.

Federated to Exchange Stores with Belk

Wilmington Morning Star and Business Wire

WILMINGTON, N.C. -- Macy's at Mayfaire will become a Belk store

The Macy's in Mayfaire Town Center, a former Hecht's location, will become a Belk next year under a swap deal between the two stores' parent companies, Belk announced Thursday.

Under the agreement, the Mayfaire store will open as a Belk in spring 2007, according to the announcement. In exchange, Belk will turn over a Parisian store in Collierville, Tenn., to Federated Department Stores Inc., the parent of Macy's.

All store associates in good standing at the Mayfaire store will be employed at the Belk, according to the statement.

Belk already operates stores at Independence Mall and Landfall Center.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Belk Inc. is the country's largest privately owned department store company, with 279 Belk stores and 36 Parisian stores in 18 states, mainly in the Southeast.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Hole-Food Stores In Trans-Fat Trouble

The New York Post

NEW YORK - It's time to change the doughnuts!

Mayor Bloomberg's proposed ban on trans fat would deep-fry doughnut giants Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme - unless they eliminate the artery-clogging oils from their addictive donuts.

While much of the debate over the planned ban has focused on hamburger or chicken joints, a Post review of doughnut shops' ingredients show they could be severely affected.

America may "run on Dunkin'," as the ads say, but Dunkin's doughnuts run on trans fat. Virtually the entire menu of three dozen doughnuts, muffins and cakes contain between 1.5 grams and 5 grams of trans fat apiece.

And nearly all of Krispy Kreme's 29 varieties contain trans fat - led by its Apple Fritter, with a whopping 7 grams. Most contain 4 or 5 grams.

The city Health Department said that shops that have their goods delivered from company factories would have till July 2008 to replace their trans fat.

Dunkin' Donuts is the more severely affected company. It has more than 300 stores in the five boroughs, accounting for roughly $170 million in sales each year.

Krispy Kreme has only two retail stores - one in Penn Station and another on the Upper East Side - but its doughnuts are sold in other eateries.

Dunkin' Donuts hinted it would comply with any ban that goes into effect.

"In fall 2004, Dunkin' Donuts acted independently to remove trans fats from our muffins and many of the items available at Dunkin' Donuts stores," the company said.

Lord & Taylor May Leave Big Apple

Chain Store Age

NEW YORK - NRDC Equity Partners, the new owner of Lord & Taylor, may turn the retailer’s Fifth Avenue flagship in Manhattan into condominiums or office space, according to Crain’s New York Business.

The private-equity firm, which bought the department store chain in October, had previously spoke about reducing the flagship’s 600,000-sq.-ft. retail space, but the company’s president said he is considering more drastic plans.

The landmark has been on Fifth Avenue and West 39th Street for 92 years and may move to another Manhattan location. Or the company could depart from the city altogether.

“It’s nice having a Manhattan store, but I wouldn’t call it key,” Baker told Crain’s. “We want to be where people live, not where they work.”

Lord & Taylor photo by ShellyS via Flickr.

Vote for Tysons Corner Proposal May Upset Work on Master Plan

Macerich Co. plans to expand the 38-year-old Tysons Corner Center by wrapping it with buildings as tall as 30 stories. (Washington Post)

By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer

McLEAN, Va. - Fairfax County officials are considering approving a major expansion of the Tysons Corner Center mall even as the county is in the middle of a much-touted effort to draft a new master plan for future development of the area.

This month, a consulting firm on a $1 million taxpayer-funded contract will start working with a county task force to draw up a plan for Tysons's future. Meanwhile, though, county officials are on the verge of approving the mall expansion, which would reshape the heart of Tysons with a ring of towers including a hotel, offices and more than 1,000 apartments.

The mall designs have generally been well received. But some residents question why the county is considering the proposal now, with officials still in the middle of the effort to rethink Tysons. Why spend so much time and money on planning, they ask, if the future of such pivotal parcels as Tysons Corner Center is already settled?

"They're wasting their time and our money, is the bottom line," said John Foust, a member of the McLean Citizens Association who testified last month in favor of deferring the mall proposal until after the new master plan is done.

Underlying the debate is the question of how to proceed with the overhaul of Tysons, which Fairfax leaders want to transform from an outsized, traffic-clogged office park into a vibrant, walkable downtown, aided by the expected arrival of Metrorail in 2012.

To guide this transformation, the Board of Supervisors appointed a 35-member task force last year to produce a new "comprehensive plan" for Tysons. Due next year, it is expected to include calls for an urban-style street grid and more high-rise construction around the four proposed Metro stations.

The task force is meeting regularly and getting considerable outside help: The county has set aside more than $600,000 for two consulting firms to collect public comments and create traffic models, and it awarded a $1 million contract last month for urban design consulting to PB Placemaking, a unit of construction giant Parsons Brinckerhoff.

But the transformation of Tysons is well underway, particularly in the center of the area, around the site of the proposed Metro station on Route 123 between Tysons Corner Center and the Tysons Galleria mall. In 2003, the county approved a proposal from Lerner Enterprises for eight high-rise office towers at Tysons II, even though the plans go against the county's preference for more residential space at Tysons.

Now comes Macerich Co., the California-based owner of Tysons Corner Center, with its plans to expand the 38-year-old mall by wrapping it with buildings as tall as 30 stories. The plans call for adding 3.5 million square feet to the 78-acre property over the next decade, a 150 percent increase. But rather than wait for the new master plan and whatever increase in density it will allow, Macerich is submitting its proposal under the existing 1994 plan, which it says allows for the expansion it is seeking.

Some residents argue that the proposal should not be approved under the existing plan because the project doesn't include the road upgrades required by the current master plan for a major increase in density. Macerich is offering to widen Routes 123 and 7 and expand the Westpark Drive bridge over Route 123, but critics say it should also build two grade-separated interchanges on International Drive or should have to wait for the new master plan.

"What happens at Tysons now is really historic stuff, and rather than doing one chunk in one way and another in another way, we argue that it be part of a broader comprehensive vision," said Will Elliott, a spokesman for the Vienna-based activist group FairGrowth.

Macerich officials say that the company's road offers are more than adequate and note that they applied months before the task force was formed. "We are clearly outside the purview" of the task force, said the company's attorney, Antonio Calabrese. "There's some serious posturing going on here."

In addition, he said, the mall proposal is in tune with the Tysons vision being discussed by the task force. The proposal includes a greater share of residential space than the Lerner one has, with 1,350 apartments, and a higher proportion of affordable units; it encourages mass transit use by limiting parking and keeping the mall open after stores close so commuters can walk through it to and from the station; and it features such public spaces as a large plaza with an ice rink.

The proposal, which was strongly endorsed by the county staff, is scheduled to be voted on by the Planning Commission next month, after which it will go before supervisors. If it is approved, future development on nearly 200 acres in the middle of the 1,700-acre Tysons area will be settled in advance of the new master plan.

Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence), who represents Tysons, acknowledged that the timing was not ideal but said it is possible that the new consultants could be granted a quick review of the mall's plans or that Macerich could be asked to leave open the chance of later revisions to reflect the findings of the task force.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) rejected the notion that the proposal diminished the task force's relevance, saying there is still plenty to work on, including development at the other three Metro stations, a street grid and improving pedestrian connections.

Amy Tozzi, a task force member from McLean, isn't so sure. It would be better, she said, if Macerich held off so there could be coordination among county officials and landowners about who would pay for which infrastructure upgrades called for by the task force.

"For developers to be trying to rush in and get under the wire is not in keeping" with the planning effort, she said. "We certainly would rather have the whole package."

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Zombies Take Over Monroeville Mall

MONROEVILLE, Pa. -- Most Pittsburghers know zombie movie guru George Romero is a Pittsburgher, too, and his "Night of the Living Dead" and subsequent "living-dead" flicks were shot right here in the burgh.

On Sunday, a special walk to honor Romero might make it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Hundreds of wannabe zombies shuffled through the halls of the Monroeville Mall in an attempt to beat the world record for largest zombie walk.

Parts of Romero's "Dawn of the Dead," the sequel to "Night of the Living Dead," were shot at the mall in 1977.

Just like in the movie, zombies subsist on human brains, but, they're helping those who need more than just grey matter to survive.

"All zombies were encouraged to bring a canned food item with them, and I'm also here to eat some brains," said zombie Ryan Dolton, of Donora.

Before entering, the zombies went through make-up, and dropped off the food items for the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.

Zombies were encouraged to stay in character by just shuffling about, murmuring the word, "Brains." That meant no technology, cell phones or cameras.

As for the record, "I think we got it doubled at this point," said event organizer Professor MC Square. "Pittsburgh is the zombie capital of the world."

Video still from Dawn of the Dead courtesy of Keith at Malls of America.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Flip-Flops in the Next Cubicle


Q. A colleague comes to work wearing flip-flops, ripped jeans and a tight tank top, and it bothers you. What can you do about it?

A. Speak your mind. Joyce Gioia, president of the Herman Group, a management consulting firm in Greensboro, N.C., says that if a colleague’s clothing choices distract you from your work, it’s important to air your concerns. “You’re at work to do a job,” she said. “If the person’s attire is affecting your productivity, you have to tell him or her how you feel.”

Q. What is appropriate attire for an office environment?

A. That depends on your office and whether you routinely come into contact with customers or clients. If you work in banking, finance or law, you may be expected to wear traditional business attire, like suits, slacks, knee-length skirts and collared blouses or shirts. In other industries, like advertising and Web design, it may be acceptable to wear blue jeans and T-shirts.

Even on a day designated as casual, sweatpants, shorts, tank tops, baseball caps and athletic shoes may not be acceptable. Kacy Douglas, marketing manager at Positive Networks, a technology company in Overland Park, Kan., said that employees should avoid clothing that is particularly tight or revealing, or more appropriate for a night out than a day at work.

Q. Why do some employees dress in ways that others find offensive?

A. Of course, tastes differ. But sometimes, dressing in a fashion that is obviously inappropriate can be a hostile act, said Sandy Dumont, executive director of Impression Strategies Institute, a consulting firm in Norfolk, Va. “It’s an insult, really,” Ms. Dumont said. “Dressing inappropriately says, ‘My comfort is more important than impressing you,’ and people pick up that message loud and clear.”

Comila Shahani-Denning, a professor of organizational psychology at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., said sartorial miscues were shortsighted. Some employees wear certain outfits solely to be noticed, failing to understand that it’s better to stand out for one’s work than for one’s wardrobe, Ms. Shahani-Denning said.

“In any workplace, you want people to focus on what you’re accomplishing, not what you wear,” she said. “Attire is always an accessory; it should never be a distraction from your skills.”

Q. How should you discuss this issue with your colleague?

A. If you have a good relationship, talk face-to-face, privately. Offer suggestions instead of criticisms and be sincere.

Many people will appreciate your honesty, but some colleagues may be offended. Robin Walker, president of My Wardrobe Companion, an image consulting firm in Chicago, said that because individual style was involved, the discussion could quickly escalate into an argument. “Attire is such a personal thing that some people bristle instantly at the suggestion that their dress is inappropriate,” she said.

Q. Is it wise to involve your boss?

A. Sometimes it can be. Mercedes Alfaro, president of First Impression Management, a consulting firm in Atlanta, said that it might be advisable for a male employee who is uncomfortable with the way a female colleague dresses to talk to his boss, to avoid any perception of sexual harassment.

Employees should approach such a conversation carefully. Outline exactly what it is about the colleague’s attire that makes you uncomfortable. You may want to request a class to raise awareness about workplace attire over all.

“Make it clear the person is offending you and perhaps may be offending other people, too,” Ms. Alfaro said. “At the same time, couch your concerns in a way that makes it clear this isn’t personal, that it’s something everyone should be aware of.”

Q. Are employers permitted to manage what workers wear?

A. Debra Weiss Ford, a partner at Devine, Millimet & Branch, a law firm in Manchester, N.H., noted that any company could adopt a policy on office attire, provided that the rules were applied consistently and did not discriminate on the basis of sex, religion or ethnicity. “Ultimately it’s the employer’s discretion to lay out for people what is and is not acceptable to wear,” she said, adding that these policies “can be specific or general as an employer sees fit.”

At the Chamber of Commerce in Beachwood, Ohio, for instance, the employee handbook provides specific lists of appropriate and inappropriate attire. Khaki pants, sweaters and loafers all are acceptable; flip-flops, Spandex and camisoles are not. Tom Sudow, the chamber’s executive director, said employees were also encouraged to wear polo shirts bearing the chamber’s seal.

“We like logo shirts because they’re like a uniform, but they still give people the opportunity to be creative,” said Mr. Sudow, who prefers to wear a suit. “The whole idea is to look professional, like part of a team.”

Q. Can someone be fired for violating a dress code?

A. First-time offenders of a company’s dress policy probably won’t lose their jobs. After two or three warnings, however, failure to dress appropriately could put a job in jeopardy. Karen Loebbaka, recruiting partner at Bay Partners, a venture capital firm in Cupertino, Calif., said the easiest ways to avoid this problem were to learn from your mistakes and to always look sharp.

“It all goes back to the notion of dressing for success,” she said. “Once you’re in the right outfit, the rest is up to you.”

Do You Have a Smaller Size?

CHANGE IN ELEVATION The lower levels of Lord & Taylor have a renewed sense of vibrancy that dissipates in the airy upper levels of the department store. (Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times)


NEW YORK - The time was dusk, the year 1990. I was in a taxi riding past B. Altman on Fifth Avenue, one of the department stores that, in an earlier location, once made up the famous Ladies Mile. The store had recently closed, its windows vacant eye sockets, and the look of mere disuse was about to turn into one of utter abandonment.

My companion in the taxi, a sentimental woman who believes all old things are good things, sighed.

“Ah,” she said. “Baltman’s. What a wonderful place that was. Too bad it’s closed — forever.” (Gloria Swansonesque italics hers.)

Of course, she had no idea what she was talking about. The store was B. Altman, not Baltman’s, and she had simply misread the fading inscription on the front of the building. She had never set foot in the place. But the fact was B. Altman represented a sweet, highly sentimentalized time in New York history.

Whenever I stroll past — and occasionally into — Lord & Taylor, I often think back to my sentimental friend. For 88 years, the company’s flagship has stood at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 38th Street, an 11-story limestone and gray-brick palazzo that occupies nearly an entire block with its 600,000 square feet. It is so huge that, today, walking through some of the less populated floors, I shut my eyes and imagine a livelier scenario: wouldn’t this vast space make a great roller-skating rink?

In its early days, Lord & Taylor was one of the grande dames of the Ladies Mile district, which also included B. Altman and Stern’s. There were dining rooms decorated as Italian loggias or Chinese pagodas, a mahogany-paneled library and a gymnasium.

By the 1950’s, the Lord & Taylor department stores — in New York, Philadelphia and Washington — were considered among the most chic in the country, stocking Dior, Chanel, Givenchy, Balmain and Balenciaga.

Lord & Taylor was whimsical and stylish, in the way Simon Doonan is today at Barneys: In the 1940’s, during an exceptionally warm autumn, a marketing executive devised a scheme to put New Yorkers in a holiday shopping mood by staging a continuous snowstorm in all the store’s vitirines using fans and painted cornflakes.

And now, what to make of Lord & Taylor, with nary an Hermès handbag in sight? In June, the retail chain was sold to a private equity group in Purchase, N.Y. For the last three years, under the aegis of a new chief executive, Lord & Taylor has tried to spiff up its image by adding Lauren by Ralph Lauren and Ellen Tracy, and also by vamping up its juniors floor, which stocks Sanctuary, Rebecca Beeson, The Wrights, Anna Sui and many young, new designers. The new owners have promised that the flagship will remain on Fifth Avenue, but have hinted that they may reduce its size.

In three recent visits, on both weekdays and weekends, I have concluded that is not a bad idea. There’s just too much space. The first floor is not wasted; it is a fantastic jamboree of handbags and makeup, silk ties and Burberryish scarves, gloves and jewelry: real and faux, diamond-link chains next to Moissanite rings next to Betsey Johnson hoops next to Kenneth Jay Lane faux coral necklaces.

If you’re down in the dumps and don’t want to spend a lot on retail therapy, hit the jewelry sale rack, where you will always find some fantastic bauble that with the right attitude at the right party will look like the real thing.

The second floor is fabulous: in the middle of a weekday, the shoe section was swarmed with women carousing at what was advertised as the season’s only boot sale. (Come on. Really?) I tried on a pair of Sean John bronze faux-python open-toe pumps ($89) and marveled at why anyone would spend $800 at Christian Louboutin for something similar. The clothes are well chosen and chic: Trina Turk, Iisli, Max & Cleo. Prices can range from $587 or more for an Anna Sui dress, or $926 for a cut-out leather jacket by The Wrights, to $98 for a Max & Cleo pin-tuck sheath dress, and less.

But the higher your ascent, the more lightheaded you feel. This is not Everest you are climbing, but a department store, and the air and the merchandise become thinner and less interesting as you rise to the top. Lauren by Ralph Lauren is, frankly, snoozeville. Ellen Tracy, Kay Unger, Jones New York, Lafayette 148: we’ve seen it all before. Yes, there was a beautiful Ellen Tracy chocolate shearling coat ($1,998) on the third floor, and a black wool evening gown with mirrored panels around the neck by Donna Karan for $3,200, but there was also a cheap-looking imitation of a Tory Burch dress for $128 on the same floor.

The farther you rise, through coats and lingerie, through the cashmere department (nice quality and priced well) and Petites, the more you feel starved for oxygen and attitude. I had to stop at Larry Forgione’s Signature Cafe on the sixth floor for a Caesar salad ($13.95) before I could continue.

Past the winter coats, escalating up the narrow escalator even farther, I finally made it to the men’s floor on 10. The 11th floor is a private theater, reserved for special events, the kind of glittering Champagne parties one imagines might have been held a long time ago. This is the place I would revive and put to use again.

Still waiting on the ‘Great Pumpkin’

The Record (Hackensack N.J.)

You'd think that selling "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" to CBS back in 1966 would have been as easy as selling ... well, pumpkins on Halloween. Or Charlie Brown at any time.

Not so, animator Bill Melendez recalls.

"We didn't know whether the network would buy it," Melendez says. "I'd always have to do a sales pitch. And I can really do a pitch. They used to say: ‘Come on, Bill, do a dance for The Man.'"

And this was after "A Charlie Brown Christmas" had been a huge, Peabody- and Emmy-winning hit in 1965, and after the "Peanuts" comic strip mania was well under way.

Friday will mark the 40th anniversary of the TV special, which has now become for some as much of a Halloween tradition as candy corn and soaped windows.

It will be shown at 8 p.m. Friday on ABC (WOLO-25, cable channel 5), in tandem with "You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown," a later "Peanuts" special with a "Great Pumpkin" subplot.

"We translated the Christmas idea to the pumpkin patch," says Melendez, who had little idea he was creating a small but much-loved new piece of Americana with his yarn of the eternally optimistic Linus, who forgoes trick or treating to spend his night in the pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arise and bring toys to all the good little children of the world.

Never mind that the other kids laugh at him. Never mind that Linus — otherwise the egghead of the Peanuts bunch — would seem to have rather obviously confused Christmas and Halloween.

Commentators — the kind of people who write books like "The Gospel According to Peanuts" — have seen in Linus a symbol of faith, which endures even in the face of doubts and sneers.

Or, alternately, a symbol of religious delusion — persisting in spite of the efforts of sensible people to talk the sucker out of it.

"We threw everything (into) it," Melendez says.

And viewers responded. To this day, every gardener who discovers an oversize gourd in October feels it a civic duty to phone the local newspaper to report that the Great Pumpkin has arrived in his back yard.

"Believe it or not, that's Charlie Brown, above, happily perched inside our version of the Great Pumpkin (a 125-pound North-ville-grown giant)," reads one newspaper caption below a photograph of a toddler peeping out of a giant jack-o'-lantern, reprinted in the book "Charlie Brown & Charlie Schulz."

More recently, and more cynically, an episode of the quirky animated cable TV series "Robot Chicken" featured a Great Pumpkin summoned by black magic, who kills off all of the "Peanuts" kids except Charlie Brown, before being destroyed by the Kite-Eating Tree.

This year, in honor of the 40th anniversary, there has been a cornucopia of Great Pumpkin-related merchandise, including an "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" domino set from Sababa Toys, a 500-piece "Great Pumpkin" jigsaw puzzle from USAopoly and a 40th anniversary coffee table book about the making of "Great Pumpkin" from HarperCollins.

"I didn't know at the time that this was going to be anything vital," says Melendez, 90.

Originally from Sonora, Mexico, south of Arizona, Melendez had already been in the animation business for years — working for such giants as Disney, Warner Bros. and UPA — when Charlie Brown and fortune came knocking.

By the early 1960s, he had set up his own fledgling animation studio, where among other things he made several Ford TV spots using animated "Peanuts" characters.

In 1965, Coca-Cola approached the late "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles M. Schulz and independent movie producer Lee Mendelson about doing a "Peanuts" Christmas TV special. Mendelson and Schulz got Melendez onboard, and they proceeded to create a 30-minute show that turned all the rules upside-down.

Instead of professional adult actors, they recorded kid voices. Instead of brassy humor, they kept the warm, whimsical tone of the original comic strip. Instead of standard "cartoony" music, they used jazz.

"I was at that time doing a lot of work out of San Francisco," Melendez recalls. "That's where I met Vince Guaraldi. He was a very popular musician in the Bay area. You could go into a bar where he would be playing piano. I said, ‘We gotta use him.'"

"Linus and Lucy" and the other tunes Guaraldi wrote for the "Peanuts" specials have since become classic. But when Melendez and his colleagues first screened "A Charlie Brown Christmas" for CBS executives, they weren't having any of it.

"Too slow ... the kids don't sound pro ... the music is all wrong ... the story kind of wanders" are some of the comments Mendelson recalled hearing from the CBS brass.

"They questioned it for a simple reason: They wanted something that would be guaranteed to succeed," Melendez says.

They needn't have worried. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was such a hit that the network went ahead with plans for other "Charlie Brown" specials. Of the six earliest ones, only "Christmas" and "Great Pumpkin" are regularly revived — probably because unlike, say, "He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown," they revolve around holidays.

"If it was tied up to Happy Dog Day, that would be something," Melendez says. "But that show and the others don't have a strong link-up to anything. We don't have any means or chance to expose them."

By now, Melendez has done 50 Charlie Brown specials, and four Charlie Brown feature-length movies. And he's ready to do more.

Even if he has to dance, once again, for The Man.

"Even now, we always go job to job," he says. "I have things, stories, and I'd sure like to do some more. But it depends. First, I have to get a network to agree with the idea."

Words getting shorter? Whatevs

Though thriving in the age of text messaging and IM, abbreviated lingo is nothing new.

By Rachel Liebrock

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Sitch. Whatevs. Biz Ca Fri. Go with?


If you get the meaning behind the above words and phrases, then you've obvi got the 411 on today's abbrev ling.

Because speaking in full sentences and words is, like, so 20th century. In this golden age of text messages, instant messaging and e-mails, our need for shorthand that economizes words, syllables and typing time has spilled over into everyday conversation.

The phenomenon isn't just about technology -- it actually dates back hundreds of years. Spoken language is constantly changing, and some experts contend the result isn't just speedier dialogue. It also could increase the potential for literacy.

'Sup with that?

In a July article, The New York Times pinned the "anti-language" trend on 'tweens and teens who've created a deconstruction of dialogue that "rises out of the ashes of the current Internet craze."

But that's only part of the story, says Grant Barrett, author of "The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English."

The habit of verbally "clipping" or "blending" words to create new ones is centuries old, he says.

"It's [happened] at every point in the history of language," said Barrett, talking on the phone from his Manhattan office. "[Now], it's just more easily recordable and more easily researchable."

Modern versions of such slang date back several decades, he adds. For example, we first substituted "za" for "pizza" in the '50s and the term "whatevs" started replacing "whatever" in the mid-'90s.

The phenomenon behind shortening our sentences ("go with?" for "do you want to go with me?" et al.) is relatively new and a direct result of how we communicate with each other in e-mails, chat rooms and text messages, he adds.

As with the telegraph, Barrett says, the increased use of new technologies has prompted a noted, accelerated shift in our communication.

True, says founder Aaron Peckham, who says he's noticed a major increase in user submissions to his online slang dictionary.

The site's received more than 3 million submissions since its 1999 inception -- with more than two-thirds of those posted in the past year alone, Peckham says.

"We're morphing our language every day, [but] it's really started to change in the last 20 years," said Peckham, a 25-year-old Sacramento native.

Many of those entries are abbreviated versions of existing words and phrases, he adds, ticking off examples such as "boys" or "BF" instead of "boyfriend" and "ridic" for "ridiculous."

The result, Peckham says, is a new tech-fueled vocabulary for the digital generation.

"New technologies are making it easier to communicate across [international borders] -- it's a way we share pop culture," he said. "It really makes the English-speaking world a lot smaller."

Suzanne Kemmer agrees. The associate professor of linguistics at Houston's Rice University has archived thousands of slang terms in her online "Neologisms Database."

While all languages experience "constant mutations," English is one of the easiest to play around with, says Kemmer, on the phone from Helsinki, Finland, where she was attending an academic conference.

The modern trend is strongly rooted in Japan and Europe, where users have long relied on cellphones for more than verbal conversations, she adds.

Now, expect more abbreviations as more Americans adopt text messaging -- we sent more than 64 billion messages in the first half of 2006 alone, according to the CTIA, the Wireless Association, a company that tracks international usage.

"The structure of our language and word-formation devices naturally lends itself to this blending and clipping," Kemmer said.

This, coupled with an ever-increasing ability to communicate anywhere, anytime, means that, culturally, we've adopted a need for speed.

"Once [we] added this new media of text messages and IMs and e-mails, we put a premium on time," Kemmer said.

"It's the principle of economy; we want to get our message across fast, and typing or saying the full word or phrase just takes too much work."

So is there a downside to all this verbal slash and burn?

What's next -- hand gestures and primal noises?

Yes and no, Barrett says.

While text- and e-mail-influenced language could have a negative impact on how students read and write, Barrett predicts the ultimate result will be increased literacy.

"I'll take a kid who speaks to me in IM lingo over a kid who doesn't [communicate] at all," he said.

After all, the future of communication, he says, is theirs. "Kids have ownership of language -- it's theirs and they know it," Barrett said. "We will always see them discovering the delights of words, toying with language and using it in ways that feel like they're excluding adults and creating something of their own."

Eventually, he says, the rest of us will catch on and catch up as a matter of social survival.

"History has a tendency to simplify -- and we do this by making things shorter," he said. "It's OK as long as the message intended is the message received."

Cobain tops list of richest dead celebs

Associated Press

NEW YORK - Twelve years after his death, Kurt Cobain is making millions upon millions. He's even richer than the King.

Cobain, who raked in an estimated $50 million between October 2005 and October of this year, has edged Elvis Presley from the No. 1 spot on's list of "Top-Earning Dead Celebrities."

Presley, who sat atop the list each year since its debut in 2001, ranks second with earnings of $42 million. Presley died in 1977.

He's followed by Charles M. Schulz, John Lennon, Albert Einstein, Andy Warhol, Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), Ray Charles, Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Cash, J.R.R. Tolkien, George Harrison and Bob Marley.

Cobain, lead singer of grunge-rock band Nirvana, committed suicide in 1994. In March, his widow, rocker Courtney Love, sold 25 percent of Nirvana's song catalog to Primary Wave Music Publishing.

Thanks to the deal, Cobain's music will be heard on CBS' "CSI: Miami," Forbes said, and could also be used in commercials for eco-friendly products.

Forbes said the celebrities on the list collectively earned $247 million in the past year. The list was posted on the Web site Tuesday.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Slabs Are Joining Scoops in Ice Cream Retailing


With Baskin-Robbins and Dairy Queen, not to mention thousands of independent scoop shops, there are plenty of places to satisfy a craving for ice cream. But three companies say there is still room for something different — their premium ice creams, served with a flourish.

The three are competing to be to ice cream what Starbucks is to coffee — a ubiquitous chain offering a high-priced, high-quality version of a relatively mundane product.

The companies, Marble Slab Creamery, Cold Stone Creamery and MaggieMoo’s International, sell various flavors of premium ice cream, which is defined by the industry as having more than 12 percent butterfat. Moreover, they allow customers to choose from an assortment of “mix-ins” like crumbled cookies, candies, fruits and nuts. Employees then blend the ingredients into the ice cream on a cold granite or marble slab before packing it into a cup or freshly baked waffle cone. The cost escalates with the number of mix-ins and can easily top $5 for a medium serving.

“These guys are all hoping to be the next Starbucks,” said Donna Barry, a dairy consultant who analyzes the ice cream industry for the market research company Packaged Facts in New York.

Part of the experience is waiting in line and watching employees prepare concoctions. “It’s entertainment,” Ms. Barry said. “I myself get intrigued by what other people order,” like peanut butter ice cream with bananas, marshmallows and brownie chunks.

But in an already crowded market, it remains unclear whether there is a sustainable niche for high-end ice cream, much less one that can support a store on every corner.

Following the Starbucks model, the three chains are densely situating their stores, particularly Cold Stone. Founded in 1988, with its headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz., Cold Stone has 1,400 franchises in the United States, Japan and South Korea — most opened in the last five years. A former Procter & Gamble sales manager, Douglas A. Ducey, was named chief executive in 2000 to lead the expansion.

“I saw an opportunity to reinvent a stagnant category like what happened with coffee,” he said.

Marble Slab, based in Houston, and MaggieMoo’s of Columbia, Md., have also pursued rapid growth strategies in the last five years. Marble Slab, which opened its first store in 1983, now has 371 franchises in the United States, Canada and the United Arab Emirates, with another 220 under development. Started in 1989, MaggieMoo’s currently has 190 franchises in the United States with an additional 150 under development.

“These guys are definitely trying to saturate the market,” said Darren Tristano, managing director of Technomic, a food service research and consulting firm in Chicago. “It’s all a game of beating the other guy to the best locations.”

Americans spend about $21 billion a year on ice cream, according to the International Dairy Foods Association. That amounts to 1.6 billion gallons of ice cream, or 21.5 quarts a person a year. Almost two-thirds of that ice cream is eaten away from home.

“It’s not a small category,” said Harry Balzar, president of the NPD Group, a market research company in Port Washington, N.Y., but one that has remained flat for more than a decade and is “not likely to grow.”

To succeed, Cold Stone, Marble Slab and MaggieMoo’s need to take customers from the market leaders Dairy Queen and Baskin-Robbins and the more than 15,000 other independent and chain ice cream shops scattered across the country. This includes Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs, which are steadily adding locations, though their focus is more on grocery store sales.

“The Cold Stones and the like have to take business from competitors or increase the frequency of customer visits,” Mr. Balzar said.

Demand was arguably high as several people waited in line on a recent weekday afternoon at a Marble Slab Creamery in Houston. “I was on my way home from jury duty and figured I’d use the $6 they paid me to buy an ice cream,” said Lee Beauchamp, a petroleum marketer, who was enjoying a double dip of dark chocolate coconut and birthday-cake-flavor ice cream.

But Howard Waxman, editor of The Ice Cream Reporter, an industry newsletter, questioned how much of an appetite there is for expensive customized ice cream. “People often have very personal or psychological associations with ice cream,” Mr. Waxman said. “They’ll try something new but they tend to go back to the kind of ice cream they grew up eating.”

That is the way it was for Tony Green, a management consultant in Chicago, who tried Cold Stone and Marble Slab once or twice because he said his two children “are all about mixing as much candy into their ice cream as possible.” Even so, the family favorite is still an independent, old-fashioned ice cream parlor called Margie’s Candies that they have gone to for years. “It’s a throw-back nostalgia kind of place,” Mr. Green said.

Such loyalties and perhaps market saturation might explain why sales at Cold Stone stores open for more than a year were down for the first time last year, by 6.6 percent, and are down 7 percent so far this year. Including revenue from newly opened stores, the company expects sales to reach $465 million this year, up 46 percent from last year. Mindful of the decline in sales at existing stores, Mr. Ducey said Cold Stone would slow its expansion. “We first wanted to secure premier locations and build awareness and now we are going to focus on the amount of product sold,” he said.

Marble Slab, which has pursued a more measured growth strategy, estimates this year’s sales will be $90 million, up from $75 million last year, with sales at stores open for more than a year increasing 3 percent.

“Our primary focus has always been on trying to offer the highest-quality product — we only open new stores when it makes sense,” said Ronald Hankamer, Marble Slab’s president and chief executive.

MaggieMoo’s projects $50 million in sales this year, up from $43 million last year. The company would not release sales at stores open for more than a year. It has dropped to 416 from 169 in 2004 on Entrepreneur Magazine’s ranking of the top 500 franchise opportunities. Cold Stone and Marble Slab have climbed in the 2006 rankings, to 24 and 297, respectively. MaggieMoo’s closed six underperforming stores in Bangkok this year and canceled plans for further overseas expansion.

Still, the three chains are hardly hurting for franchisees. Cold Stone, for example, received 25,000 applications last year.

“A lot of people want to get into the business because it sounds like fun,” said Mr. Waxman of The Ice Cream Reporter. And it is relatively inexpensive to buy in, with $200,000 to $450,000 in upfront costs and fees plus 6 percent royalties on sales. By contrast, purchasing a McDonald’s franchise requires a $506,000 to $1.6 million initial investment plus a minimum of 12.5 percent royalties on sales.

The majority of franchisees at Cold Stone, Marble Slab and MaggieMoo’s own more than one location and as many as 11. “It’s how you create economies of scale so you can increase your margins,” said Rudy Puig, who owns three Cold Stone stores in Miami, and plans to buy another next year.

But he said the real reason he was in the ice cream business is “my kids used to cry if we didn’t stop for ice cream.” Now that is not a problem.