Thursday, August 31, 2006

Macy's shows lack of street sense regarding landmark Field's store

Sandra Jones
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- Signs of Macy's approaching takeover of Marshall Field's on State Street are everywhere. Trouble is, some of them are the wrong signs.

New backlighted directional signs posted throughout the store near escalator banks make it clear that the new owner of Field's doesn't spend much time in Chicago.

The New York department store chain mistakenly labeled Wabash Avenue as "Wabash Street," Randolph Street as "Randolph Avenue" and Washington Street as "Washington Avenue."

The gaffe is striking, given that all Macy's signmakers had to do was to look above the doors on the first floor of the Field's flagship to locate the correct names, inscribed decades ago to help navigate the blockwide store.

Transplanted New Yorker Mike Doyle spotted the snafu walking through the store Wednesday morning and posted it on his Chicago Carless blog that afternoon.

"While that's not a critical faux pas, it's certainly embarrassing and not the best way to try to prove to Chicago locals that the Gotham retailer is taking its move to State Street seriously," Doyle wrote on his blog.

The Field's chain, including the State Street store, officially becomes Macy's on Sept. 9.

Macy's North spokeswoman Jennifer McNamara was unaware of the error when first contacted by the Chicago Tribune. After looking into the matter, she said: "We are addressing the signage. They will be pulled down, and we will be replacing those. Our plan is to get those up as soon as possible."

Macy's isn't the only organization to temporarily lose its way. The Chicago Transit Authority is spending $75,000 to reprint 3,000 maps on its trains after incorrect street names and a wrong phone number were discovered.

And in 2001, when Boeing Co. touted its headquarters move to Chicago with full-page newspaper ads, it inadvertently flipped the photo negative so the John Hancock Center was on the west side of North Michigan Avenue.

Macy's star dims in suburb

Chain's traditional symbol must be toned down on store it takes over in Lake Forest

Sandra Jones and Lisa Black

Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- Lake Forest, Ill. , the old money community that spurned a Costco store because it was afraid it might hurt its character, is mandating that Macy's dim its trademark bright red star when it takes over the historic Marshall Field's store in this North Shore suburb next month.

At the urging of its preservationists, the city-appointed Lake Forest Historic Preservation Commission approved last week a toned-down version of Macy's traditional logo on the outside of the 90-year-old Field's building anchoring the Market Square shopping court in the East Lake Forest historic district.

No tomato red star here. And no electric-powered letters that glow in the night. Oh, and the Field's signature green awnings must stay.

While Macy's owner Federated Department Stores Inc. has found few problems in other markets when it began mothballing longtime regional department store names to brand Macy's nationwide, the Chicago area isn't taking to change quite as quietly.

Field's fans have denounced the name change on Web sites while Federated has to keep the Field's nameplates and the famous clocks on the historic flagship State Street store, among other restrictions.

At the Lake Forest store the retailer is allowed to install a discreet bronze Macy's sign with raised polished letters on a dark background above the transom window at the store's entrance. The sign is less than a foot tall and about five feet long, not much bigger than the two existing, and prominent, "Marshall Field & Company" bronze plaques that must remain on the columns flanking the entryway.

The decision ends months of discussions over how to handle signage at the historic store as Federated converts the roughly 400 regional department stores around the nation, including Marshall Field's, on Sept. 9.

"It's a lot more subdued and in keeping with Market Square," said Virginia Munson, a member of the Lake Forest Historic Preservation Commission.

The broad-shouldered building with two-story Tuscan columns was designed by noted Chicago architect Howard Van Doren Shaw in 1916, housing the First National Bank, two utility companies and the YWCA.

Shaw was among the famous arts-and-craft style architects of the turn of the century, the widely influential English movement that attempted to re-establish the skills of craftsmanship threatened by mass production and industrialization. He designed many North Shore mansions, and Market Square is considered his masterpiece.

Field's took over the building at 682 Bank Lane in 1931, establishing the retailer's first branch store outside of its flagship on State Street in Chicago. Similar stores in suburban Evanston and Oak Park were built shortly after the Lake Forest store opened, but closed years ago. The Lake Forest store, with 61,000 square feet, remains the smallest outpost in Field's 61-store chain."We are working closely with the Lake Forest Preservation [Commission] to obtain the permits necessary to rebrand the exterior of our store to Macy's in Lake Forest," said Jennifer McNamara, a spokeswoman for Macy's North in Minneapolis. "Our plan is to replace the Marshall Field's sign on the store's exterior with a brass Macy's sign that is unique to our Lake Forest store."

The new Macy's sign is three-quarters smaller than the scripted Marshall Field's moniker that has adorned the store for decades. Macy's is required to keep the store's awnings dark green instead of Macy's black. And it must limit the inscription of the Macy's name to only two of the four awnings.

As for the famous red star, Macy's is permitted to use the star (as long as it's not red) on the bronze plaque, but not the awnings. Macy's typically puts its star before its name and uses a small star in lieu of an apostrophe. It must rely on a traditional apostrophe on the awnings, the city ordered.

The compromise placated the preservationists, who originally opposed any star.

"The sign has been so reduced in size that I think it needs a star," said Guy Berg, another commissioner.

Federated, with headquarters in New York and Cincinnati, hired Columbia, S.C.-based Image Resource Group Inc. to produce the Lake Forest signs, and many of the signs going up on stores nationwide. Most of the stores slated for conversion already have the lower case black Macy's letters, complete with its red star logo, on the buildings' exteriors, hidden under banners that read Marshall Field's until the Sept. 9 unveiling.

"Historically the city has taken the philosophy with respect to signage that it should provide direction rather than advertising purposes," said Peter Coutant, senior planner for Lake Forest. "This was really an opportunity to look at that sign and determine what was appropriate for the historic integrity of that building."

The leafy suburb put up a fight last year when Costco Wholesale Corp., the upscale warehouse club from Washington, attempted to build a store on the West Side of town.

Sign or no sign, some residents remain unhappy about the Macy's takeover.

Sally Spoehr, 75, a former Lake Bluff resident who moved to St. Augustine, Fla., said she stops at Marshall Field's in Lake Forest every year during her annual visit.

"When you came here the salesladies became your best friends," said Spoehr, who worked at the nearby library 20 years. "This store definitely has a lot of meaning."

"I would much rather I never saw Macy's," said Leslie Schwarzbach, 51, a Chicago native who has lived in Lake Forest nine years. She worked in a Marshall Field's stockroom at age 16, and carried her first credit card with Field's, she said.

"They sent me a Macy's card," Schwarzbach sniffed. "I don't think I'll be using it."

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Starbucks yanks free-coffee deal

A widely posted employee promotion becomes a little bit too successful for the coffee chain.

By MSN Money staff with wires

The free-coffee tap is getting turned off.

Starbucks announced on Tuesday that it was withdrawing an offer of free iced coffee to a limited number of employees and their friends and families in the southeastern United States.

In a statement, Starbucks said the offer "has been redistributed beyond the original intent and modified beyond Starbucks' control."

The company said an e-mail offering a free Starbucks iced coffee was sent to a limited group of employees in the southeast on August 23, with instructions to forward it to friends and family.

But apparently the promotional coupon, which was widely posted on the Web, was a little bit too successful: Starbucks said on Tuesday that, effective immediately, the offer would no longer be valid at any Starbucks locations.

In July, Starbucks posted its weakest monthly same-store sales increase since 2001, saying heavy demand for cold drinks like Frappuccinos slowed service during busy morning hours, prompting customers to go elsewhere for their daily jolt.

The ubiquitous coffee chain, which is facing stepped-up competition from rivals and slower sales growth at established stores, has been making an aggressive push this fall to remind consumers who is king when it comes to coffee.

The company earlier this week said that in addition to its usual array of seasonal drinks and coffee blends, it will be holding coffee tastings at its North American stores and will launch a series of podcasts about coffee on its Web site.The aim is to focus its marketing on what Starbucks says is the quality of its coffee -- something the chain said is key to set itself apart from anyone else hawking a cup of joe.

"We know that because of the level of care and passion we put into it that it translates to a better experience for our customers than our competitors can do," said Jim Alling, the head of Starbucks' flagship U.S. business.

In recent months, fast-food chain McDonald's Corp. has made a strong push to promote its new coffee blend and rival coffee shop chain Dunkin' Donuts has launched a new advertising campaign as it seeks to expand its business into the Starbucks-heavy Western United States.


We all know what day it is, right?

Some people do. Check these well wishes out:

Just wanted to drop you a line to wish you a Happy Birthday! 31 ain't so old. It may seem a little anit-climactic (sp?) after the big 30...
--Todd M.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! Have a good one. Hope all is well and work is going good.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! "May your wildest dreams come true."
--Derek M.

Happy Birthday StevenRocks!!! 31 years and many malls later :-)
-- Bradford

Hope you're treating your self to a good one today. Happy Birthday!
--Steve B.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

save $140

I got an unintentional discount at Nordstrom just in time for my 31st birthday.

A friend alerted me to a webpage on Nordstrom’s website where Allen-Edmonds Park Avenue oxfords were priced at $154. While that doesn’t seem like a bargain to most of you, consider that these shoes typically retail for just under $300, with some places charging more. The factory seconds are even over $200 usually.

I hesitated at first, but I love a good deal and could not resist.

Good thing I decided to get them, because shortly after, Nordstrom apparently realized their mistake and the shoes went back up to $294. I already had mine ordered though.

After Smooth Sales Talk, Stores Take Macy’s Name


PORTLAND, Ore. — It was to be the most ambitious transition in the history of American retailing: To complete the merger of Federated and May, the nation’s largest department store companies, executives would abandon the names of 11 storied local chains, like Marshall Field’s in Chicago and Filene’s in Boston, and replace them with Macy’s, the very symbol of New York City.

And focus groups signaled that it could be a public relations disaster. “I left New York for a reason,” one consumer told Macy’s executives here.

But protests now seem remote as company officials prepare, in their words, to “Macyize” 400 stores on Sept. 9. And the reason has much to do with the diplomacy of one man who has crisscrossed the country, a chief executive cum politician, handing out money and promises, and calming local nerves as part of a campaign to neutralize opposition before it gathered strength.

Terry J. Lundgren, the chief executive of Macy’s parent company, Federated Department Stores, flew to Los Angeles, where he agreed, at the mayor’s request, to build a Macy’s at a mall in North Hollywood. In Chicago, he promised to resume local manufacturing of the famed Frango mints at Marshall Field’s. In St. Louis, he vowed to keep the downtown Famous-Barr store open, despite years of poor sales.

“When you are a company of our size, trying to make the changes we are making, you need a close relationship with local officials,” Mr. Lundgren said in an office at Macy’s Herald Square store in Manhattan. “You have to get off on the right foot.”

Any misstep would be costly. The merger Mr. Lundgren engineered in early 2005 was always a high-stakes bet that in a retail landscape dominated by big-box chains like Wal-Mart and specialty stores like J. Crew, consumers still needed department stores, and that they would warm to a retailer that wiped out century-old local brands.

The delicacy of the task may explain why Mr. Lundgren traveled here to painstakingly court Gerry Frank, whose family started Meier & Frank, a 149-year-old Oregon department store that Federated inherited when it bought May. Last year, Mr. Frank, the great-grandson of Meier & Frank’s founder, wrote a letter asking Mr. Lundgren, in no uncertain terms, not to tamper with the identity of the family’s department store. “I think I can speak for many, many Oregonians,” he wrote, “in asking that Federated maintain the Meier & Frank name.”

So, in the midst of the $11 billion takeover of May, Mr. Lundgren flew 2,500 miles to dine with Mr. Frank in Portland. Back at his office in New York, Mr. Lundgren exchanged flattering e-mail messages with him (“You are a Great Man and True Friend,” concluded one note from Mr. Lundgren. “Don’t be afraid to ask me or tell me anything,” read another.)

In a final flourish, Mr. Lundgren agreed to emblazon Mr. Frank’s family name on plaques outside the downtown Portland store after it became Macy’s.

“Today I would jump off a building for him,” Mr. Frank said of Mr. Lundgren.

It is a performance that Mr. Lundgren has repeated over and over, from Boston, where Macy’s will become an official department store sponsor of the Boston Red Sox, to St. Louis. “He called me on the phone several times, met me in person twice, then he had us up to New York,” said Francis G. Slay, the mayor of St. Louis, where the Famous-Barr chain is soon to become Macy’s. “Honestly, I was surprised that he gave so much personal attention to us.”

At the heart of Mr. Lundgren’s campaign is a simple insight into the politics of retailing: people care more about store symbols and traditions than the names behind them.

So instead of fretting over the loss of Hecht’s in Washington or Famous-Barr in St. Louis, Mr. Lundgren focused on the handful of rituals that matter to shoppers — the Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, the Santaland displays and the July 4 fireworks shows.

Even in Chicago, where 60,000 people signed an online petition to preserve the Marshall Field’s name, Mr. Lundgren has managed to win over detractors by emphasizing tradition, big and small. He has ensured, for example, that the downtown State Street store’s elaborate Christmas windows will remain untouched. He signed off on a plan to refurbish an abandoned express elevator that once carried shoppers directly to the store’s designer boutique, 28 Shop.

And he has seized on Frango mints, a cherished symbol of the State Street store and the source of a public relations fumble for Marshall Field’s earlier owner, Dayton Hudson, in the late 1990’s. Shortly after buying the chain, Dayton Hudson outsourced the mint’s production, laying off about 150 local workers and earning a very public rebuke from Mayor Richard M. Daley.

No wonder, perhaps, that at a luncheon in July that was expected to reveal long-simmering tensions over the Marshall Field’s name change, Mr. Lundgren announced that Macy’s would begin manufacturing Frango-mint-flavored cheesecakes in Chicago, a headline that dominated local newspapers the next day.

At the end of the lunch, members of the audience swarmed around the 54-year-old Mr. Lundgren, a silver-haired, meticulously groomed former Neiman Marcus executive. Several asked for his autograph.

“Very smooth,” was the verdict of one attendee, John S. Maxson, president of the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, which represents 700 businesses in downtown Chicago. “Were this not handled as expertly as it has been, it could have been a big disaster. It has not been.”

Although Mr. Lundgren is credited with improving Federated’s financial performance, the company is by no means a runaway success. Before it bought May, it reported sluggish sales growth for several years. Bolstered in part by the merger, its earnings have improved; in the 12 months ended in January, revenue was $22.3 billion and profit was $6.5 billion.

All the more reason that Mr. Lundgren insists on sticking to the most disputed part of his plan, the name changes. The May department store chains, Federated executives maintain, have buried consumers under a blizzard of coupons and flustered them with crowded aisles of middle-brow fashions. As a result, the chains lost their relevance as purveyors of style and, with it, their ties to the community.

To prove the point, Mr. Lundgren tells a story. Soon after Federated disclosed that Marshall Field’s, an upscale Midwest department store, would lose its name, scores of shoppers wrote blistering letters to the company, with several threatening to cut up their Field’s charge cards.

Worried that the reaction might be widespread and hurt the chain’s sales, Mr. Lundgren asked the accounting department to pull the purchase records of the first 100 letter writers. “There was no activity,” he said. “Or incredibly little activity.”

“This is where the tension was coming from,” he continued. “There was a group of people who did not want a change. But do they like the merchandise in the store? Not according to their spending. In their letters, they talked about when they were a child. But nobody was talking in the present tense.”

The lesson was clear: changing the name was unlikely to hurt sales. In fact, it might improve them. Then there is the pure financial logic. The conversion to Macy’s will save Federated millions on advertising — one name is cheaper to market than 11 — and create one national brand with stronger negotiating power with clothing suppliers.

Mr. Lundgren said that power had already translated into exclusive product lines for Macy’s, which is trying to shake its reputation as a stodgy, midprice department store by carrying higher-priced, more fashionable brands. After the merger, Martha Stewart said she would develop an upscale furniture line for the chain — much to the chagrin of Kmart, which carries her Martha Stewart Everyday products — while the designer Elie Tahari agreed to create a collection of women’s clothing.

Mr. Lundgren’s commitment to stock more upscale merchandise has become a major selling point in his campaign to sell local political leaders on the Macy’s takeover. For years, officials in St. Louis, Washington and Portland have complained that May dumped cheap goods into their downtown stores.

“It was heartbreaking to watch,” said Mr. Frank, the Meier & Frank scion, who waged a bitter — and unsuccessful — battle to stop his family from selling the chain to May in the 1960’s. “Row after row of sales merchandise just turned people off.”

In their early conversations, Mr. Lundgren told Mr. Frank he would try to restore the luster to the Meier & Frank legacy, investing in elegant new store fixtures and more prestigious clothing brands. But Mr. Frank, at one time the chief of staff to the former Oregon Senator Mark O. Hatfield, a confidant of the Oregon governor and a columnist for the state’s largest newspaper, still opposed the name change.

Upsetting Mr. Frank could mean upsetting much of the Oregon political establishment, so Mr. Lundgren took his charm offensive on the road. He and his wife, Tina, attended a charity dinner in Mr. Frank’s honor in Portland, writing a donation check on the spot. He later invited Mr. Frank to lunch in New York City.

Mr. Lundgren also began exchanging frequent letters and e-mail messages with Mr. Frank, often venturing beyond business matters and speaking in strikingly personal terms. “Tina and I will be there for you if and when you ever need us,” concludes one e-mail message, which Mr. Frank shared with a reporter. “We both absolutely adore you.”

After Mr. Lundgren learned that a block in downtown Portland would be renamed “Meier & Frank Square,” he wrote: “Frankly (no pun intended), I would rather it be named Gerry Frank Square but we are all happy with the alternative. You are the very best.”

Mr. Lundgren has certainly let local leaders down, too. Shortly after Federated announced its plans to convert May stores into Macy’s, a team of political and business leaders from St Louis, where May is based, flew to New York to meet with Mr. Lundgren. In a conference room at Macy’s Herald Square store, they asked him to consider relocating Federated’s headquarters from Cincinnati to St. Louis, which would spare the city steep job losses. “I really appreciate this,” Mr. Lundgren recalled telling the group. “But we are not going to do this.”

In the end, the city lost several hundred jobs. But like their counterparts in Portland, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, St. Louis city leaders did not walk away empty-handed. Mr. Lundgren agreed to designate St. Louis the headquarters of Macy’s Midwest division, overseeing stores from Kansas City to New York, and to renovate the first floor of the city’s struggling downtown store. Mr. Lundgren delivered each piece of news himself, either in person or by phone.

To Mr. Slay, the mayor of St. Louis, the experience must have seemed strangely familiar. “That is,” he said, “a political approach.”

Sunday, August 27, 2006

back in the day (1994)

I’m sitting here tonight doing some thinking. I have My Life by Mary J. Blige on the CD player and it’s bringing back a flood memories from 1994.

My life was lot different back then, I guess. Obviously there wasn’t a blog. In fact, in my world there really wasn’t an internet. People communicated online, to be sure, but the ones I knew were these weirdoes named Sid and Doug that were friends of Todd M. and almost never left their dorm room.

I would have been typing this on a 486-DX computer in my sophomore dorm room in Lee Hall at Virginia Tech. Actually, if I remember correctly, I didn’t even have a computer in my dorm because my brother and I didn’t room together like we did freshman year, and he took the computer with him to his new apartment. I eventually got one that year, when my dad bought me a bunch of spare computer peripherals from Montgomery Ward to create what become “FrankenComputer.” It’s a funny story that I’ll tell sometime.

Anyway, instead of commuting to a municipal job, I walked across campus to architecture studio. Kevin was at college in Baltimore and I hung around with Todd M. and Glenn seemingly every day. Nobody was married and only Glenn was seeing somebody, but she was back home in Jersey. We pretty much did the whole typical adolescent hi-jinks thing after class. Not much drinking and no drugs, but pretty much everything else.

I bought my first real stereo equipment that year: a Sony bookshelf stereo with enough bells and whistles to make its own parade float. It never worked correctly (and I eventually had to exchange it for a more useful model), but I really loved that thing. $286.00 on my new American Express. Sears, Mercer Mall, Bluefield, West Virginia. Most expensive thing I’d ever bought back then that wasn’t tuition.

1994 was significant in that I met many of the people who would become my closest friends: those mentioned above, Angie, Derek M., and Doug L. I also started building my CD and sneaker collections that year. Sadly, I still have most of the former and none of the latter. A pair of Air Accel Trainers would certainly fetch a lot more on eBay than a Karyn White CD.

But anyway, 1994 was also significant in my expansion of research on this mall and fashion thing. Before, I was limited to the resources of the occasional newspaper article and whatever I could find at the Franklin County Library. The University Libraries at Virginia Tech were an unbeatable resource of just about anything retail or fashion related, and since my level of socialization at the time was pretty much stuck in geeky teenager mode, I went to the library and read and researched instead of getting drunk, high and laid like college students usually do. What a dumb move. LOL

Okay, maybe it wasn’t the most macho thing I could have done, but I’m still in possession of just about all my brain cells, and my research has resulted in the backbone of my current life as a semi-professional retail pundit, occasional column writer (it’s on its way back) and all around nerdy neighborhood blogger. Y’all dig it, so that’s all that matters

Looking back, I’m heavier and older, but I’m smarter, savvier, smell better (LOL) and I’m a hell of a lot sexier than I used to be. 19 was cool, but I’m looking forward to 31 just about as much.

Which reminds me: does anybody remember what August 30th is?

For men, the fall look is dressed up

By Dwayne Campbell
Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- For the second straight fall season, dress-up clothes rule.

The look is based on the traditionals - tweeds, cashmere, stripes and fine plaids - but with ultramodern or homage-to-vintage twists in silhouettes (lean), accents (lime-green stripes in a dark suit) and accessories (cap-toe shoes). There's also a strong dash of the city-slick monochromatic, especially for nights - head-to-toe black or layered grays.

Think investment banker, but one who has Gnarls Barkley on his iPod, lunches at Morimoto, and sips Patrón on the weekend while wearing Hugo Boss' sleek, sharkskin jacket, a slim-cut shirt from Thomas Pink, and Prada jeans.

Less costly denim will do, too. Achieving the fall look isn't about cashing in your IRA at the House of Boateng; you'll find the key items at multiple price points.

Nearly every designer and fashion brand - from Ralph Lauren, Thom Browne and Hugo Boss to Zara, Express and Target - has produced something in tweed, plaid or velvet.

"There is a general sort of classicism going on in fashion," says Nick Sullivan, fashion director at Esquire magazine. "The main thrust is very dressed up, and it seems to be getting more and more dressed up."

That dress-up fall clothing appears to come in two categories, Sullivan adds: the weekend look and the office look, both upscale in appeal and comfortable in fit, with options for every man.

When you're ready to cop a few new pieces that reflect the fall aesthetic, here's what you'll find in stores:

An abundance of suits, including three-piece versions; most have the skinnier silhouette, but there are options for bigger guys.

Blazers (some of the best come in cashmere).

Cotton shirts in banker blue and light colors such as lavender or jewel-tone stripes.

Turtlenecks in cashmere or light wool.

Dark, narrow-cut premium denim.

Cut-to-the-body three-quarter-length coats.

At Boyds on Chestnut Street, a big seller is Etro, one of the brands that best exemplify the season's twist of traditional for the modern man.

Take, for example, the black-and-white windowpane plaid suit, which has unobtrusive, bright green stripes running through it vertically and horizontally.

At Macy's, including the new downtown Philadelphia store that opened this month in the former Lord & Taylor spot, the trend is also toward traditional tailoring and fabrics but with the contemporary aesthetic. Check out the sporty Jack Victor blazers in various tweeds.

Neiman Marcus has tagged the fall season "jacket required" even when ties are not, and has been selling two- and three-button jackets and blazers from Paul Smith, Gucci, Roberto Cavalli and Dolce & Gabbana. Wear them with premium jeans for a city-slick look.

"Many people are still wearing jeans, and we feel fall is the perfect time for them to put on a jacket with their jeans," says Colby McWilliams, vice president and men's fashion director at Neiman Marcus' corporate office. "The important thing is that the jacket is in plaid, checks or tweed."

As they were last year, corduroy and velvet are strong materials for jackets paired with jeans.

"The right jeans and jacket can give you an overall polished look," says Wendell Haskins, a New York stylist who has worked with the NBA and entertainers such as Mos Def, Musiq Soulchild and Bobby Valentino.

This fall he's planning to put some celebs in Ralph Lauren tweed or corduroy jackets and dark, slim-cut Prps jeans.

According to McWilliams, the other funky, key fall items are graphic T-shirts (to be worn under blazers in early fall); big belt buckles (most silver, but a few in gold from Prada and Dolce & Gabbana); and designer sneakers (Prada, Paul Smith). Military-inspired clothing (lots of pockets, epaulets and shiny buttons) and fur details on coats are also part of the mix.

A good look for a fashionable fall night on the town might include a cashmere turtleneck and signature belt and shoes, all in black and all from Gucci; tweed Polo Ralph Lauren jacket; and dark jeans from Antik, AG Adriano Goldschmied, or Diesel.

The more cost-conscious should check out department stores that carry various brands over a wide price range. But go for the Gucci belt and shoes; consider them a fall treat.

For dress shirts, the key is in the touch

By James Whitters, Boston Globe Correspondent

BOSTON - When Paul Wade shops for a dress shirt, he doesn't look at labels or price tags. He no longer needs to.

After nearly three decades as a wardrobe consultant at luxury clothing store Louis Boston , where he's surrounded daily by some of the finest men's garments on Newbury Street, Wade has developed a superior gauge of quality: His fingertips.

``Feel that?" he says, gently rubbing the collar of a $300 blue shirt from Italian designer Truzzi .

``It feels silky. You can tell immediately that this cloth is something that you would want next to your skin."

The men's dress shirt is being revitalized. Still a staple with suits and ties in the workplace, colorful, slimmer-cut shirts are now making statements all by themselves on the weekends.

Worn fashionably untucked with jeans, sneakers, and maybe a sport coat, tailored shirts have become the centerpiece of the urban hipster's modern look.

US consumers spent $2.4 billion on men's dress shirts between June 2005 and July 2006, an increase of 8.5 percent from the same period the year before, according to NPD Group , a Port Washington, N.Y., market research firm.

With shirts from premium domestic labels now retailing for as much as $225 and garments from European designers selling for between $275 and $1,000 for a one-off, custom-made silk shirt from Italy, Wade says its important to know exactly what you're buying.

He suggests consumers examine three basic details: Material, stitching, and the shirt's shape or cut.

``Every extra step that goes into making a shirt raises the price," Wade says. ``A well-made shirt, sewn by a tailor, usually takes an hour or more to make. A factory-produced shirt takes 10 minutes. You're paying for that extra time and quality."

Dress shirts are made from a variety of materials, from stretchy synthetic fabrics to ultra-fine cottons.

Wade says a quick touch can tell you all you need to know about a shirt's construction.

``Your fingers and hand can tell you a lot about the quality," he says. ``It should feel fairly silky and fine. Certainly not rough. You should be able to feel the quality of the material."

Stitching is equally important, says Wade. A dress shirt's stitches should be uniform in size and spaced close together. Sixteen stitches or more per inch is considered excellent.

High-end and custom shirts may include elements of hand stitching, or a technique called single-needle tailoring, which increases a shirt's durability and adds to its fit.

``Look to see that all the stitches are regular and fine," Wade says. ``The finer stitching means it won't buckle when you wash it or pucker at the seems."

A shirt's shape is also critical, says Wade. Modern dress shirts, designed to be worn with slim-cut suits, dress pants, and also casually untucked with jeans, should feature clean lines and fit on the snug side.

``Shirts, in general, should now fit trimmer through the body and be shorter in length," Wade says.

``Guys want to wear really nice shirts casually, but they have to remember that if you want to wear a dress shirt with today's trim-cut pants and jeans, it can't be boxy and long. The shirt has to follow the shape of the rest of the clothing."

Blue Streak

America's love affair with indigo-dyed denim started with hard-working men soon after the first pair of Levi's hit the streets of San Francisco in 1873. In his new book, Jeans, Amesbury, Mass. author James Sullivan traces the history of everybody's favorite garment, from those early rugged jeans to the designer styles we wear today, and goes inside one of Boston's hottest jeans boutiques.

By James Sullivan
for The Boston Globe Magazine

'Did they flatten your butt out?" The moment the customer pulls back the dressing room curtain, the quick-talking shopkeeper peppers her with questions: "How do the jeans fit? Are they tight in the thighs? How do they feel on the hips?"

She's not just trying to make another sale, although at an average of $180 a pair for the high-end denims Leah Eckelberger retails at Jean Therapy, her Kenmore Square boutique, every sale is a considerable victory. Eckelberger, 31 and compact as a gymnast, is no master of the hard sell. She'll cheerfully send first-timers who blanch at her prices down to Newbury Street, to the Lucky Brand store, to buy less-expensive fashion jeans. She just wants her customers to go home feeling flattered, feeling cared for, as if they'd been to a spa. To Eckelberger, jeans are, in fact, a kind of therapy. They are comforting and familiar, yet they can make you feel sexy and adventurous. Her enthusiasm for her merchandise - enthusiasm, hell; it borders on pathology - is contagious.

Eckelberger likes to say that shopping for jeans brings out the best and worst in us. Customers don't hesitate to announce what they perceive to be their physical deficiencies. "They'll say 'I'm short,' or 'I have big legs,' " she says. "They're overaware of their bodies, actually. It's crazy." For many women, she says, the act of buying a new pair of jeans has become as intimate, and as anxiety-riddled, as picking out a bathing suit or an evening gown.

That's one reason the store owner believes the boom in couture denim is no passing fad. People will continue to pay higher prices, says Eckelberger, as long as the industry does not neglect the needs of ordinary buyers.

For years, the basement space that Jean Therapy now shares with a bookstore was home to the Rathskeller, the dank punk-rock hovel affectionately known as the Rat. Now stark-white and brightly lit, the space has a concrete floor patterned with Jean Therapy's graffiti-style logo, spray painted with a cardboard stencil. The transformation is telling, a microcosm of urban renewal in America. The yowling nihilism of the dive bar has given way to the hip Zen of boutique shopping. At Jean Therapy, Leah Eckelberger sells blue jeans with names that imply devotion, names such as Earnest Sewn and Sacred Blue.

In the crook of the store's L-shaped layout sits an old Singer sewing machine on a child-size table. It's a little shrine to Eckelberger's youthful infatuation with clothing. The mall jeans and Salvation Army castoff s she has altered over the years - Diesel, Gap, Liz Claiborne, "things that I've ripped apart, hemmed, studied" - are folded into stacks on the small shelves above.

Eckelberger used her parents' retirement fund as collateral for a loan to open the store. She went through three banks before finding a match, she says, fielding the same question at every one: "Who's going to spend that much on jeans?"

But this young entrepreneur knows what the loan officers may not have understood. Jeans, whatever their momentary position on the fashion ladder, are not like other clothes. We are as loyal to a good pair as we are to an old friend.

INDIGO-DYED DENIM, ORIGINALLY worn by men who dug mines, cut timber, herded cattle, drove railroad ties - working men, in other words, who built a civilization from a wilderness and had no use whatsoever for the cycles of fashion - has been part of the foundation of the fickle clothing industry for more than half a century now. Side-zip jeans for women were popular in the 1950s, when $5 was considered a preposterous price to pay for denim pants. Twenty years later, skeptics were dumbfounded when people flocked to department stores to pay $30 or $45 for dressy jeans with designer labels stitched to the rear pockets. In the early 1990s, "lifestyle" brands such as Diesel and Lucky tugged the industry to the brink of the $100 barrier. Today, for many compulsive shoppers, there is no apparent ceiling. "I don't balk at $500 for a pair of shoes," one woman told The New York Times at the height of the latest denim craze. "Why should I balk at that price for jeans that are special?"

For decades, genteel designers have been effusive in their praise of the lowly blue jean, which has its origins in European sailors' trousers and peasant overalls. "I wish I had invented blue jeans," said Yves Saint Laurent, sometimes credited as the first designer to bring denim to the runway. "They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity - all I hope for in my clothes." Bill Blass declared Levi's "the best single item of apparel ever designed." Even Charles James, the brilliant couturier whose intricate silk and satin creations epitomized the wholly impractical fine art of fashion, recognized his country's hardy contribution to cross-cultural modes of dress. "Blue denim is America's gift to the world," he said.

Levi Strauss & Co. patented the modern mass-produced prototype in 1873, reinforcing the pockets - two in front, one in back - with copper rivets. In 1890, the year the patent expired, the company added a fourth pocket, the little watch pocket, to the original design. By 1905, there were two back pockets on the 501XX, the archetypal Levi's button-fl y trouser, and this basic, riveted five-pocket jean has been the industry standard ever since. Thousands of manufacturers around the world have copied it.

It's a perfect pattern. Blue jeans are for men and women alike, for all body types. They stand up to hard work and rough play. They can imply either democratic parity or the aristocratic hierarchies of status. Around the world, blue jeans have obliterated every demographic distinction - age, ethnicity, income, education - in becoming the common casual uniform. And in our own headlong, irreverent culture, jeans have a deep and venerable past that is loaded with meaning. For vintage collectors and fashion-forward designers alike, jeans are steeped not just in the multiple dips of indigo dye but in a rich sense of history. Whether we called them overall pants or "blue drillin's" or dungarees, blue jeans have been an indispensable part of our culture for almost as long as we've had an American culture. First they built the country's infrastructure, then they populated it with a collective identity.

BOBBY GARNETT HAS HAD A STOREFRONT in Boston's South End since a homeless shelter was the most conspicuous landmark on the block. Now there are new condominiums, artists' galleries, and loft-style office spaces.

In this mixed-use enclave a stone's throw from the Southeast Expressway, the shabby chic of Bobby's shop gives it the feel of an old gentlemen's club. Piled high with vintage American and English clothing - from classic denim work wear to reindeer sweaters and straw hats - it's the kind of place where Ralph Lauren might find some inspiration.

In fact, Lauren is one of many fashion designers, collectors, and dealers who consider Bobby Garnett - better known as Bobby from Boston - to be a founding father of the contemporary resale business and an invaluable resource in the perennial recycling of classic styles. Garnett has been in the business for more than three decades, first selling his "experienced" clothing, as he likes to call it, to hippie students with a fl air for creative dress. In the 1980s, when denim collectibles became big business in Japan, certain savvy dealers beat a well-worn path from Tokyo to Bobby's lair. These days, Bobby from Boston does a lot of his business with Hollywood costume designers. He recently sold thousands of dollars of period clothing to the costumer for the Sean Penn remake of All the King's Men.

Set on a refurbished but largely untrafficked courtyard, the Bobby from Boston shop is usually as calm and contemplative as its heavy wood furnishings and comfortable chairs suggest. A magnificent old pool table in the center of the room is piled high with incoming merchandise. The only concession to the present day is the sound system, tuned to a high-energy R & B station. In the back, several big brown boxes are being packed for shipping. They are stuff ed with Levi's cutoff s, which Lauren's company buys in bulk to stock in its summer-resort stores on Long Island and Martha's Vineyard.

At 55, Garnett still dresses like a college student, wearing faded Levi's, white sneakers, and a gray hooded sweat shirt with a Ralph Lauren Rugby cap pulled down over his brow. He was one of the first of his generation, coming of age in the 1960s, to realize the revenue potential in recycled denim. From the beginning, he had a collector's nose for it. Acting on a tip from a friend in the south of France, he once bought a hundred pairs of red-line Levi's - the highly collectible "selvage" denim, made on old, narrow looms - for a dollar a pair. On another occasion, he dug through 70 100-pound bales of jeans jackets in a rag yard in Worcester, uncovering many prewar gems. When a regional discount chain accepted a huge shipment of "dead-stock" work clothes, unsold goods from old stores going out of business, he drove 900 miles in two days, snatching up almost all of it. "I was freakin'!" he says in his heavy local accent, laughing.

Though the vintage market has waned considerably since its heyday in the late 1980s and early '90s, Garnett still buys "big E" Levi's, those dating before 1971, when the company changed the lettering on its red tab from upper to lower case. He still travels extensively in search of old overalls, barn- and cowboy jackets and other pieces made by the Big Three of blue jeans - Levi's, Lee, and Wrangler - as well as onetime staple brands such as Big Smith and Sears' Hercules label. His pride and joy, however, is his collection of DubbleWare, denim work clothes made in Boston between World War I and World War II. The DubbleWare brand was produced by M. Hoffman, the longtime Massachusetts apparel maker.

"The best part is buying the stuff," says Garnett, carefully laying out a pair of hickory-stripe railroad overalls and patting it down. "You can't keep it all, so you have to sell some of it."

Excerpted from Jeans: A Cultural History of an American Icon, by James Sullivan. Published by arrangement with Gotham Books, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2006 by James Sullivan.

Only 10 pre-WWII store buildings still operating with same name?

According to sfpaul900 at remembering _retail, now that Carson Pirie Scott & Co. is closing its downtown Chicago store, and Marshall Field & Company is becoming Macy's a block away, there are only about 10 pre-WWII department store buildings still operating with their original names.

  • Bloomingdale's 59th & Lexington, NYC 1886
  • Macy's Herald Square, NYC 1902
  • Macy's Parkchester, Bronx, NYC, 1941
  • Saks Fifth Avenue, NYC 1924
  • Saks Fifth Avenue, Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills 1938
  • Bergdorf-Goodman, NYC 1928
  • Lord & Taylor, NYC 1914
  • Lord & Taylor, Manhasset, NY 1941
  • Neiman-Marcus, Dallas 1914
  • Boston Store, Milwaukee (I don't know the date, but it looks to be1920's vintage)
Can anyone think of any others?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

8-Cylinder Teenage Mating Dance


ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- IT sounded like a classic rebel yell, but it was hard to tell, since the unholy sound, somewhere between a shriek and a whoop, was quickly drowned out by the roar of a small-block V-8 in full revving mode.

Moments later, the sources of the screech — a couple of burly, whiskered country boys in their mid-20’s, one with a Confederate battle flag tattoo on his bulging bicep — had chugged off in the opposite direction down Patton Avenue in a mud-spattered white pickup. They were swallowed into a seemingly endless queue of gurgling Camaros, fume-spewing 70’s muscle cars and tidy Japanese econoboxes (some likely borrowed from mom), cruising along this wide suburban boulevard.

“Those are ‘high school hangouts,’ ” Will Thompson, 17, said dismissively about the older guys, as his own black Chevrolet pickup crept in the opposite direction. “They graduated from high school like five years ago,” explained Will, who wore a “Sanford and Son” T-shirt and a camouflage hunting cap. “It’s like, ‘You graduated, come on!’ ”

“I won’t come down after high school,” he added resolutely.

Will, a polite, soft-spoken high school senior who hopes to parlay a talent running the longer sprints on the school track team into a scholarship at Western Carolina University, understands that on weekend nights, Patton Avenue belongs to the young. And indeed, two Saturdays ago, as usual, four of the six lanes of Asheville’s main commercial thoroughfare had congealed to a virtual standstill, as dozens, if not hundreds, of cars and pickup trucks, some stuffed with five or seven or even nine hollering teenagers, circled a ceaseless loop past the Kmart and the Krispy Kreme.

Leering boys leaned out driver’s windows and dangled Mardi Gras beads at passing teenage girls wearing latte-colored late-summer suntans and low-cut tops.

An enormous pickup with a polished-chrome smokestack exhaust lurched to a halt. Its driver, a whiskered Edward Norton look-alike in a well-worn baseball cap, threw the shifter into neutral, stomped on the gas and let out an alpha male whoop as plumes of black diesel smoke curled the moist August air. The curly haired peroxide-blonde in his passenger seat looked on proudly, as if she had been crowned queen of the strip.

“You’ll see adults with little kids, they’ll get caught up in all this and they’ll get so mad,” Will said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘Go to the Interstate, man!’ ”

As a cruising mecca, Asheville remains a stubborn holdout. Over the last decade or so, countless municipalities across America, citing very modern concerns like traffic, gang violence and drugs, have declared war on cruising. Due to the broad crackdown by police departments — and also, undoubtedly, to changing teenage tastes in an era of PlayStations, MySpace-enabled hookups and self-produced video blogs — cruising scenes that recall the 50’s are slowly being suffocated across the American landscape, from Miami Beach to Omaha to Modesto, Calif., a scene that inspired “American Graffiti.”

But not in Asheville. Here, cruising — a perfect synthesis of three traditional teenage passions: cars, sex and most especially, aimlessness — is not only hanging on, but thriving. On weekend nights, teenagers descend on Asheville from as far off as South Carolina or eastern Tennessee, at least an hour’s drive. The jeans get baggier, the chrome rims get bigger. But the spirit remains the same.

Here, cruising’s appeal lies in its simplicity. As practiced on Patton Avenue, cruising is about the mating dance between boys with big engines and girls in small tops in a quiet corner of the South where teenagers have few places to turn for glimmering lights, booming sounds and Spring Break-style abandon.

“Just go out and have fun, scope out chicks,” said Karl Mueller, a senior at nearby Enka High School, explaining his cruising philosophy. Karl met up in the Kmart parking lot with some buddies from the football team, including Will. (During cruising hours, the parking lots of the fast-food joints and big-box retailers lining the strip are jammed. Kmart is self-proclaimed redneck territory, for locals only. At the opposite end of the strip, the Sav-Mor lot is for out-of-towners; black and Hispanic teenagers congregate there, too, each group in distinct cliques.)

As Will and Karl talked, a giant silver Dodge rolled by, its engine rumbling like an incoming B-17.

“Mmm, that’s a Big Horn edition,” Will said admiringly.

“That’s cool, man,” added Shane Pope, 19.

“Got the big stacks coming off the back,” observed Chris Burleson, a burly Enka senior, almost dreamily.

“Does it come stock like that?” Karl asked.

Anti-cruising ordinances continue to tumble forward, just as they did throughout the 90’s in cities like Louisville, Ky.; Fargo, N.D.; Orlando, Fla.; and Tempe, Ariz. Last month, Milwaukee leaders, citing cruising-related violence, signed into law a strict ordinance that allows police to seize cars repeatedly used for cruising. In 2002, police in Westminster, Colo., started using handheld computers to track the number of times a car passed a certain location.

But just try to ban it in Asheville.

“The kids ain’t gonna leave, I don’t care how many tickets the cops write,” said Laura Strother, 22, who had driven from Waynesville, a tiny outlying town with an odoriferous paper mill, she said. She was trolling Patton that weekend in her 2001 black Mustang — nicknamed Bullitt, after a favorite movie. Her cruising companion, Kelly Edwards, 17, also of Waynesville, who wore a tiny rhinestone stud in her nose, agreed: “If you take this away, then nobody has anything to do.”

The truth is, Asheville did try to snuff out cruising, said Lt. Rae Ferguson of the Asheville Police Department, about five years ago, because of increasing reports by local businesses of fights and property damage. “We tried everything,” Lieutenant Ferguson recalled. “We tried saturation patrols. One night we wrote 190 tickets.” The police department even tried to create other activities for teenagers, sponsoring car shows and dances. But nothing could keep them off Patton.

“The fact is, this is just a cultural thing,” Lieutenant Ferguson said. “I did it when I was a kid.”

So they come, in the hundreds, every Friday and Saturday, more in warm months. Despite the thudding stereos and skimpy outfits, the actual act of cruising has become strangely contained. Though cruising is not technically forbidden, it is monitored. The police write tickets for impeding traffic, racing and the occasional drunken driving, and flush out the parking lots precisely at midnight. Given that no self-respecting teenager would turn out before 9 p.m., that leaves exactly three hours for cruising.

It’s not exactly an unbridled expression of teenage rebellion, but a sort of automotive Kabuki, a slow-motion line dance performed by dozens of cars creeping in a tightly choreographed circle between Florida Avenue on the east end and Louisiana Avenue on the west — a stretch only a third of a mile long. Cruising is less a phenomenon of the city’s picturesque, historical downtown, nestled high in the lush Blue Ridge Mountains and dotted with high-end bookshops and fusion bistros, than of the more countrified western end.

For some teenagers on this side of town, cruising becomes a chance to explore, and define, their budding identities. Will Thompson and his friends proudly fly Confederate battle flags — “They say ‘Heritage, Not Hate,’ ” Will emphasized — and crank up old Conway Twitty albums on the car stereo while cruising Patton. Most nights, they set up lawn chairs that teeter in the bed of their pickups.

“We’re not rednecks,” Will joked. “We’re Appalachian-Americans.”

The Dixie vibe is readily apparent on Patton Avenue in the form of rebel-flag bumper stickers and decals. Still, it’s hardly universal. Many of the teenagers would not seem out of place in Santa Monica, Calif., with their Abercrombie & Fitch meets “The O.C.” look — baggy jeans, flip-flops, oversize surfer-style shirts.

Mating rituals along Patton have certain codes. Boys don’t cruise alone. “You come in here one guy, unless you’re like Mr. GQ, girls are going to laugh at you,” Will explained. Girls don’t, either. They would be swarmed.

And while girls can get away with creeping around in mom’s sexless Toyota, guys on the prowl “better have game” — that is, serious wheels, said Karl.

Though whoops and yells may turn heads, the quickest way to a lady’s heart is with a little Southern charm, counseled Laura, the Mustang devotee, who was wearing a Hooters T-shirt. A lot of guys just lean out their windows and say “Hi, cutie,” she said. “That’s real redneck.”

The point is just to get the ball rolling, she said. “Just start a conversation — ‘Hey, how y’all doing?’ ” If the chemistry is there, she continued, “Then you pass by a couple of times, say you’re going to meet here whenever it closes. And you meet and talk and whatever.”

Even for teenagers whose traditional views on courtship, or strict parents, forbid certain whatevers, there is still plenty that is alluring on Patton.

“O.K., there’s that truck,” said Jessica Lebetter, 17, hanging out with friends in the Sav-Mor pharmacy parking lot, as the big silver Dodge with the smokestacks crept slowly into view, heard before it was seen.

“The big one?” asked a friend, Joanie Jenkins, 18.


Both suddenly hooted in approval, arms thrust skyward like Nascar fans celebrating Jeff Gordon in victory lane. The giant silver Dodge with the smokestack exhaust — that weekend’s Best in Show, it would seem — had just taken a preening lap in front of Sav-Mor.

“The bigger the better,” Jessica explained.

“And the bigger tires,” Joanie added, sounding a bit smitten. She gazed at the silver truck, and added, in an tone of awe, “That’s an unusual vehicle there, with 27’s”— 27-inch rims, that is. “Hey, let’s go cruise,” said a female voice from behind them. Soon enough, Joanie and Jessica headed off toward a waiting S.U.V.

Stayin' laced

Athletes share an unabashed love for their kicks

Arash Markazi
Sports Illustrated

I guess you could call it an addiction. One without meetings, 12-step programs or support groups (at least none that I know of). It's why I instantaneously look down at a stranger's shoes rather than their eyes when I first meet them. Why I cramp my feet into size nine Fire Red Jordan IV's because the 10s were all sold out. Why it's perfectly normal to go shopping with my girl and roll home with more bags than her. Why I still feel secure in my masculinity while arguing about a shoe's colorway and trying on my boy's new pair of Air Force 1s before going out on a Friday night.

Those who know, know, and those who don't have at least been exposed to sneaker heads, also known as "heads" -- a rare breed of individuals who live and breathe the materials that surround their feet. You may have spotted them rumbling in the streets of New York for a pair of Nike Pigeon Dunks, camping out in the San Francisco rain for days to get their hands on the new Jordans and throwing down more than $1,500 for a pair of kicks they'll never wear but brag about owning.

You may also have spotted them on the field or on the court, as some of the biggest athletes today are also some of the biggest sneaker heads. From Terrell Owens and Michael Vick to Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson, today's superstars are not only endorsing sneakers, they are collecting them. Dedicating entire closets to their hundreds of pairs of shoes, many of which are organized by brand and color, like Reggie Bush's, so he can perfectly match them with the right shirt and hat combo in the morning. While it is impossible for me relate to multimillion-dollar athletes in terms of their outlandish collections of cars, homes and jewelry, the one area in which I can communicate with them is their sneakers.

It was the only thing that brought a smile to Warren Sapp's face when I ran into him earlier this year in Houston. He gushed about how big a head he was after I complimented him on his white-on-white Air Force 1s. "I want to open up a sneaker head shop in Florida," he said as he enlarged a picture of a room full of shoes he had taken on his Sidekick. "This is what you'll see when I'm online."

It elicited an unusually deep response from Kobe Bryant when I asked about the three-pronged logo on the tongue of his new Zoom Kobe 1s. He compared it to a samurai warrior's shield that protected him and made him stronger. "I wanted a shoe that was mine," he said. "I wanted to see myself in the shoes. When I look at my shoes, I want them to reflect who I am as a player. I want to be inspired by my shoes."

It caused Gary Payton to sound like a fashion designer when I asked him what shoes I should wear to the ESPYs. "You have to go with the Air Force 1s, that's my shoe," he said. "Everybody wears them because you can wear them with anything. I got a dozen different colorways at home, white-on-white, red-on-white, blue-on-white, brown-on-white. I got a collection, but the white-on-white is the best. You can never go wrong with that."

While heads might be everywhere today, from suits to rappers rocking their custom Air Force 1s, that hasn't always been the case. What was once a small subculture has now evolved into a billion-dollar industry that everyone wants a piece of. There are dozens of books and magazines out there dedicated to the sneaker culture, as well as television shows and documentaries chronicling its impact and origins.

While some might complain about the commercialization and proliferation of the once underground game, it's hard to argue with all the advancements that have been made. You might not earn the same badge of honor for scoring a hard-to-find pair online today as you would 20 years ago, when it took you a month and a gas bill twice as expensive as the sneakers you were looking for, but the love of the shoe remains the same. Whether it takes you a few seconds or a few months to find that precious pair, the feeling you get when you lace them up doesn't change.

Although the game is global now, New York City has always been the mecca for heads. In a city dependent on public transportation and where cars are more a luxury than a necessity, most NYC heads use their kicks to express themselves the same way someone elsewhere might by rolling in Gallardo or Giovanna wheels. It's also why other metropolitan cities such as London, Hong Kong and Tokyo quickly became trendsetters in the sneaker game early on.

It used to be a little harder being a sneaker head in Los Angeles, where most people only walk to and from their valeted cars and pay health club dues if they want to walk more than a mile. There's no hour-long train rides where you keep your head down and scope out what your competition is rocking. That, however, is changing as heads here are beginning to open shops and boutiques and throw sneaker parties in L.A.

"Back when I was coming up, everybody could care less about what you were wearing on your feet; it was more about getting into a car," says rapper Ice Cube. "Now the shoe is the new car. It seems like everybody realizes they can't afford the super-fly cars that they see but they can afford the shoes. Now, shoes are just as big as cars. It's really about style."

Style is certainly the biggest influence in the game. Most heads aren't looking to buy the newest pair of Jordans to play in them, but to put them on ice (save them without wearing them) or rock them at a club or a special occasion. The days of buying sneakers strictly to play in them are as long gone as the days of NBA All-Star wearing Pro-Keds. "It's taken these shoe companies a long time to realize they need to really identify with style-makers and not just athletes," said Cube. "Most of the people that buy shoes don't play in them. You now see these companies getting behind hip-hop community and not just athletes to sell their shoes."

As the sneaker culture continues to evolve, with rappers such as 50-Cent and Jay-Z getting into the mix, graffiti artists such as Futura and Stash using kicks as their canvases, and boutiques like Undefeated and Blends opening up stores left and right, my addiction will no doubt continue to grow. It probably doesn't help that Los Angeles, which had no sneaker boutiques less than five years ago, has about a dozen now. That's fine by me -- maybe the chances of finding a size 10 Fire Red Jordan IV instead of squeezing my feet into the only nine left in the city will now increase.

Ricky Bobby's sneakers

(submitted to steve's blog by Al Cabino)

Ricky Bobby's Pumas have been eBayed! They even come with a Certificate Of Authenticity from Columbia Pictures.

Click on the movie poster above to see the auction.

abercrombie casting call

I got this email today, and it cracked me up. Like they'd pick me, or anybody who'd look like me.

I think all of us who aren't the prototypical Abercrombie models (the non-white, non-tall, non-thin, non-androgynous) should inundate them with photos for their next photo shoot...just for the hell of it ;-)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Carson's State Street store closing

By Jim Kirk and Sandra Jones
Chicago Tribune staff reporters

The historic Carson Pirie Scott store at 1 S. State St. in downtown Chicago will close its doors in March, the retailer said today.

Carson's new owner, Bon-Ton Stores Inc., blamed negative sales trends and rising operating costs. The company also said that incentive payments from the owner of the building, Joseph Freed & Associates, played a role in the company's decision.

Freed, which has restored the landmark building's exterior and reactivated 400,000 square feet of upper-floor space for office use, has other plans for the site, the retailer said.

At least 450 employees, including 300 full timers, will be put out of work as a result of the store closing. Bon-Ton said the full-time employees can interview for positions at other stores.

Bon Ton said that even after millions of dollars were spent fixing the store, the retailer continued to see poor sales and net operating losses from rising operating costs.

The York, Pa.-based department store operator acquired Carson's earlier this year as part of its $1.05 billion purchase of the northern department store division of Saks Inc.

"When we bought the company in March, it wasn't in our plans to do this, but it is the only Carson's store that is losing money. Sales have been dropping quite a bit," said Bud Bergren, Bon-Ton's president and chief executive officer. "It's not in the best shape."

Operating costs at the State Street store are significantly higher than at other stores, Bergren said.

"The Carson's store has been a fixture at State and Madison for over 100 years and we'll be sorry to see it close," Mayor Richard Daley said today in a prepared statement.

"But shopping habits have changed over the years, and downtown Chicago will adapt to this as it has to so many other changes in the business environment," he said.

Carson's occupies 600,000 square feet of the 1 million-square-foot State Street building.

Freed plans to convert 250,000 square feet on the first two floors into retail space and the remaining 350,000 square feet most likely into office space, said Paul Fitzpatrick, managing director in charge of the project at Freed.

In his statement, Daley said he expects the space to be leased in the "very near future."

"There is already considerable interest in using it for retail shops, entertainment and offices," he said. "This is a well-maintained landmark building at an ideal location in the heart of the Loop."

Carson's opened in 1904 at the corner of State and Madison Streets, once dubbed the busiest intersection in the world. But it has not been busy enough of late for some retailers.

Though State Street has seen a huge redevelopment surge of late, the famous corridor has lost luster as customers were lured away to sprawling suburban malls.

At one time, Chicago shoppers had six, huge, full-service department stores to choose from on the street. Now, there are only two: Marshall Field's, soon to become Macy's, and Sears, Roebuck and Co., which came back to State Street a few years ago.

Bon-Ton said that even after investing millions of dollars on an annual basis for repairs and improvements, its Carson's store on State experienced sales declines versus the overall Carson's sales increase in 2004 and 2005.

The retailer's owner said it has no plans to close any of its other 25 Carson's department stores or five furniture stores in the Chicago area. It is also looking at new sites for Carson's on the Near North and Near South Sides of the city.

Carson's shopper Arelis Montor, 25, a human resources manager at the Palmer House Hilton, was shocked to hear the news.

"It's closing? Really? Wow," said Montor, who lives in Chicago. "Why would they close it? Oh my God."

Confessing to being a "purse fanatic," Montor tries to avoid coming to the shop on payday.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A New Perspective on the Past

History Museum Gets Air and Space Digs During Closure

By Bravetta Hassell
Washington Post Staff Writer

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History closes next month for almost two years of renovations, but some of the museum's most beloved artifacts -- Dorothy's ruby slippers, Kermit the Frog, "Star Wars" droids -- will reappear in the fall.

Beginning Nov. 17, 150 objects from the shuttered museum will be part of the "Treasures of American History" exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

American History Museum Director Brent D. Glass said yesterday during an exhibition preview that the show will include recent acquisitions that have never been displayed before. The idea, he said, is to remind people that "the museum's work in collecting continues" during the renovation.

In addition to seeing Dorothy's sparkly slippers, "Wizard of Oz" fans will also get a chance to view the Scarecrow costume worn in the movie but rarely seen since. The original script from the 1939 film and the historic Technicolor camera that brought Dorothy out of two-tone Kansas and into full-color Oz will be there, too.

The exhibit will have four themes: creativity and innovation, American biography, national challenges and American identity.

Glass said that the national challenges section would include the Woolworth's lunch counter from Greensboro, N.C., where four black students staged the first sit-in during the civil rights movement, and the NBC microphone President Franklin D. Roosevelt used to deliver his "fireside chats" during the Great Depression and World War II.

The American History Museum, which attracts about 3 million visitors each year, owns about 3 million objects. "It was so difficult to choose," Glass said.

Recent acquisitions will be in a display case near the exhibition entrance. First up: artifacts from the Hurricane Katrina disaster. The acquisitions display will change every two months.

Elsewhere, visitors will see the red Everlast boxing gloves Muhammad Ali wore defending his title as world heavyweight champion in the 1970s, a yellowed page of Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" score and "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth," the bible Thomas Jefferson created in the early 19th century to reflect his deistic beliefs.

At yesterday's preview, conservator Beth Richwine, wearing white gloves, gingerly opened the cylindrical bodice of R2-D2, revealing that, yes, "there were people in here" during the filming of "Star Wars." C-3PO, also from the 1977 movie, will be in the exhibit, too.

Many things in the "Treasures" show haven't made an appearance in years, such as the silver-tipped baton John Philip Sousa used to lead the "President's Own" U.S. Marine Band.

"In my mind this is one of the unique opportunities we have had to bring together these iconic treasures in a way that has never been seen before," Glass said.

Officials announced in April that the history museum would undergo "major architectural transformations" ending sometime in summer 2008. In preparation for the work, which includes construction of a state-of-the-art gallery for the Star-Spangled Banner and enhancements to the building's interior, the museum will close its doors to the public on Sept. 5.

"Treasures of American History" will occupy 5,000 square feet on the east side of the Air and Space Museum's second floor.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

what do your shoes say about you?

Check out this fun game at

what do your shoes say about you?

My shoes say, "Hey, my owner spends tons of money on me, look at me please." :-)

macy's marches on

NEW YORK (AFX) - An analyst said Tuesday Federated Department Stores Inc.'s integration of May Co. Stores into its Macy's brand is working so far.

Federated acquired May Co. last year. The company expects to finish converting the May Department Stores to Macy's by September, making Macy's the first nationwide department store chain.

"Although Federated's major re-branding strategy does not kick off until Sept. 9, we have received early indication that integration of the May stores to the new Macys format is performing well," wrote Merrill Lynch analyst Stacy Turnof in a research note Tuesday.

Merrill Lynch surveyed 50 stores, and found that 88 percent of sales associates were "pleased" with the changes and 74 percent of customers have been reacting "positively" to the changes.

"We believe that those customers still loyal to the May brand will change their minds over the next few months as improvements in merchandise and store shoppability become more obvious," Turnof wrote.

Monday, August 21, 2006

tips on life from the subway guy

Jared from Subway (remember him?) wrote a book! And some of the advice ain't half-bad:
  • As the saying goes, "Denial ain't just a river in Egypt." If you want to change your life, you have to face reality first. Take a good hard look in the mirror and admit that you have a problem.

  • In the beginning, don't try to do anything about your problem. Just admit that the problem exists.

  • Whatever your addiction is — food, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, spending, whatever — it is not your friend. For a long time you have turned to it for consolation and comfort, but it has not helped you in the past and it was not help you in the future.

  • Your problem might seem enormous and impossible to overcome, and that fills you with fear and anxiety. You're afraid to risk failure. You feel that if you fail, the people you know will reject you. Well, get over it. No one is watching your situation as closely as you are. If you're not willing to risk failure, you will never succeed.

from Jared, the Subway Guy

Will sale revive megamall Macy's?

With local management, store gets a makeover and new products

Allison Kaplan, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- Junky, drab and rundown. Macy's Mall of America has done little to endear itself to Minnesotans, which helps explain the local apprehension about Marshall Field's stores being converted to Macy's next month.

Even the store manager at Macy's Mall of America acknowledges that environment has been the No. 1 customer complaint in recent years. Aisles were cluttered, displays were haphazard, fitting rooms were dingy and the merchandise was mediocre. The store, operated by Macy's California division, was totally out of touch with the local customer. In December, you were more likely to find bathing suits than winter coats. And that was reflected in annual sales, which plunged from a high of $58 million in the early 1990s, when the store first opened, to $35 million in recent years.

Macy's Mall of America was an orphan, abandoned by West Coast parents who initially were excited about giving birth to a store at the nation's largest mall but never understood their sole Midwestern child and finally stopped trying.

After more than a decade of flailing without any support system, Macy's Mall of America finally has found loving parents. As it turns out, they were here all along. Federated Department Store Inc.'s purchase of all 61 Marshall Field's stores has resulted in Field's Minneapolis-based executive team, which has long regretted its decision not to build a store at the successful Mall of America, being put in charge of the Macy's Mall of America store.

The new local leadership, now called Macy's North, spent the summer at Mall of America upgrading merchandise, clearing aisles, shampooing carpets and remodeling fitting rooms. Basically, trying to make the store look more like Field's, which -- stay with us here -- will be converted to Macy's as of Sept. 9. Their hope is that Minnesotans will embrace Macy's Mall of America with the same devotion they feel toward Field's stores.

But will fickle shoppers give Macy's Mall of America a second chance?

Retail expert Dave Brennan has his doubts. The one thing Macy's Mall of America always had going for it, even as the store deteriorated, was its uniqueness in this market.

"Now, that uniqueness is gone," said Brennan, co-director of the Institute for Retailing Excellence at the University of St. Thomas. Brennan conducts an annual holiday-spending survey, which has shown that in the past three years, local shoppers visited the Mall of America occasionally at most. "If anything, this isn't going to help the Mall of America."

The Mall of America is an unusual beast. At Macy's, tourists account for 40 percent of sales. The store is busier in July, when most malls are slow, than December, which is the busiest month for most retailers. That's because tourism peaks in the summer and trails off as the holidays approach and shoppers retreat to their "local" shopping center. Macy's Mall of America store manager Ed Buechel is determined to change that pattern.

The key could be coats.

A lack of warm coats on the selling floor in past winters was the most obvious sign that Macy's Mall of America wasn't the local department store. Decisions were made by California buyers, many of whom had never even visited Minnesota. This year, with Minneapolis-based Macy's North at the helm, the first wave of fall coats is already on display. Coats will get a prominent spot by the door, and there will be a much larger selection. Buechel expects to quadruple his outerwear business.

Throughout the store, more than four dozen national brands are being added -- upscale labels like Coach, Eileen Fisher and Joseph Abboud sportswear, which won't impress the Field's shopper but represent a marked improvement for Macy's Mall of America.

Still, better merchandise won't help if shoppers do not want to spend time in the store.

"Environment is a stronger influence on customers than they even realize," said Cindy Eliason, regional vice president of stores for Macy's North in charge of the Mall of America location. "This was a worn store. It's things you can't put your finger on, but they make a difference."

Sleek waiting areas with leather sofas and textured walls have been added outside the fitting rooms. Bathrooms have been upgraded. A new floor was installed in one section of the home department. Dark-wood display tables were swapped for more contemporary, light-wood models. Premium denim was taken off the racks and spread out on tables to give the young men's and women's departments a more modern look.

These tweaks may seem minor, but they affect shoppers' perceptions, said Lynn Robertson, president of Fame, a Minneapolis-based retail brand agency. "You don't notice the quality of materials used in stores -- flooring, ceiling, fixtures -- but it's visceral. You can feel it."

Macy's Mall of America is also getting new directional signs. ("Maybe we'll only have to tell customers where the bathrooms are 50 times a day instead of 150," Buechel joked.) Fifty price-checker machines for customer use are going to be prominently placed throughout the store, particularly in the home area, where many items don't have price tags. The store is now tied into the Field's computer system, so out-of-stock merchandise can be tracked to St. Paul or Roseville rather than New York.

Macy's salespeople, dressed in all black, cheered enthusiastically when executives recently announced these improvements at a pep rally to usher in the new era. Unlike Field's employees, many of whom seem apprehensive about the conversion, the attitude at the Mall of America store is upbeat. Now, someone cares about them.

"We had so many meetings through the years to talk about how to get into the Mall of America," said Ertugrul Tuzcu, who has been with the department store chain through several transformations, starting with Dayton's in 1978, through the Marshall Field's years and now as executive vice president of stores for Macy's North.

"Now, we have you," Tuzcu told Macy's Mall of America employees. "You are one of a kind in 800-plus stores."

Tuzcu took care not to sugarcoat this merger: "It's going to be a rocky road at times. There are all these people in the sandbox, and we have a lot to learn."

But no one flinched when he called for a 17 percent increase in sales for the fourth quarter at the Mall of America store. The sales staff was too busy celebrating the arrival of Gucci watches and Calvin Klein suits. Said Tuzcu, "We're counting on this store to be a major focus for us."

The details of your incompetence do not interest me.

I went to see The Devil Wears Prada this weekend, which is such a chick flick, but I liked it too.

It's based on a 2003 novel by Lauren Weisberger about a young woman who, fresh from college, gets a job working as a personal assistant to a powerful fashion magazine editor that turns increasingly hellish as she struggles to keep up with her boss's capricious and demeaning requests.

Meryl Streep nailed her performance as an Anna Wintour-one-off and the rest of the cast did very well with what material they had.

I didn't think the moral ending was particularly correct (the badly dressed can be jerks too) but I suppose it was necessary to give the movie a tidy end.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Man drives into Kmart, then tries on some women's shoes

A car comes crashing into a Hampton, Va. Kmart, and the driver was just getting started.


HAMPTON, Va. -- Early Saturday morning a loud crash shattered the silence and the front window at a Hampton Kmart. The damage was extensive.

The 20-year-old driver is facing several charges, including driving under the influence of drugs. But it doesn't end there.

Police say Bryant Weiford drove through the front window, then got out of his car to try on clothes, perhaps taking shopping to a whole new level.

"The guy just drove through the front of the store with a car!" said store employee Jeff Ray.

Workers took stock of the mess early Saturday hour after a Kmart store off West Mercury Blvd. had closed. Police say a 1986 Pontiac driven by him crashed into the Kmart.

"I heard a loud crash. I thought it was a shelf falling, but then I heard car music and I knew somebody was in here" employee Vernita McClaurin told us.

Rey says he confronted Weiford.

"When I came over to ask him the first time, he kept walking to the shoe department and he changed his shoes and I said, what are you doing? He said, 'I'm just having fun', and I said, 'Well, I'm calling the police'"

"He went on to the women s shoe department and started trying on some women's shoes" Rey chuckled as he told the story.

"Then he went to the sporting goods department, looking for a gun" said McClaurin. "The police said he said he was going on a shooting rampage. Good thing they got him".

Weiford is being held in the Hampton city jail.

A spokesperson for Kmart declined to comment.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

pardon our dust

Some of you may have noticed a subtle design shift at steve's blog. Others may have noticed that you have to log on more often to post comments. This is because Blogger is now shifting to updated software, and I'm among the first to try out the new beta.

Please pardon the inconvenience. Things will be worked out in time.

white collar union strike?

(submitted to steve's blog by Ken)

Note from Steve: This is more of a Mitch Glaser story, but I thought I'd report on it too.

Kevin Roderick at LA Observed reports on major labor tensions between the Engineer and Architects Association and city goverment in Los Angeles:

Antonio [Villaraigosa] to maybe-strikers: 'Make my day'

Friday, August 18, 2006

Calif. woman sues JCPenney after getting smacked by a dummy

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A woman is suing the J.C. Penney Co. after an alleged run-in with a store mannequin that she says left her with a cracked tooth, a bloodied head and recurring shoulder pain.

Diana Newton, 51, of Westminster, Calif., sued the Plano, Texas-based retailer last month in Orange County Superior Court. She contended she was cracked in the head by a legless female dummy at its Westminster Mall store.

Newton said the incident happened nearly a year ago in the women's department, as she was shopping for a blouse. The only one in her size was on the mannequin. As a salesclerk was removing the garment, the dummy's arm flew off and struck Newton's head, according to her lawsuit.

"I felt a burning sensation," she recalled.

Paramedics treated her bleeding scalp at the scene. Newton drove herself home, then had someone take her to a hospital for further treatment.

The blow also cracked a molar, which led to a root canal, she said.

The suit seeks unspecified damages.

A spokeswoman for J.C. Penney said the company doesn't comment on pending litigation.

Starbury One: $15 sneaker

Jim Walsh

A $15 basketball shoe endorsed by Knicks player Stephon Marbury hits stores today as part of a campaign Marbury said would change sneaker culture forever.

The two-time NBA All-Star has plans to wear the shoes in an upcoming game, a representative from the product's retailer said yesterday."Steph said today that he intends on the first game of the season to pull out a box from our shelves and wear them that same night," said Howard Schacter, chief partnership officer for Steve& Barry's University Sportswear, the Port Washington-based company distributing the shoe.

Marbury's sneaker, the Starbury One, is part of a wider clothing collection touted as an alternative to high-priced basketball gear. The collection for men and boys has almost 50 items, many priced at $10 or less.

The Starbury One is manufactured in China and made from the same materials as other basketball shoes, Schacter said.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Joel Stein: Elmo Is an Evildoer

The self-obsessed Sesame Street Muppet is destroying all that is holy on children's TV.

Joel Stein
Los Angeles Times

ELMO REFUSED to be interviewed for this column. I consider this to be a supreme act of cowardice. And it doesn't surprise me one bit. Elmo is an annoying tool.

Yes, I know that children love Elmo. But children are idiots. That's why we don't let them have jobs. Could you imagine an office full of children? They'd spend all day telling dumb jokes and talking about their poop. It would be like it was before women entered the workplace.

"Sesame Street" — which still has sharp, funny writing — is being destroyed by idiot cuteness. Not only is the patronizing, baby-talking Elmo usurping most of the hour, but "Sesame Street" — which debuted its 37th season Monday — added its first new female Muppet in 13 years: the sparkly haired, tutu-wearing, button-nosed, pink-skinned fairy goddaughter Abby Cadabby. Her shaky magic skills get her in situations she needs to get bailed out of, like the anti-"Bewitched."

Plus, she's got that creepy, throaty, little-girl Lindsay Lohan kind of voice, and a Paris Hilton-esque catchphrase: "That's so magic." When I watched "Sesame Street" in the '70s, the human cast and the Muppets were quirky adults who didn't talk down to me with baby voices. Now the human cast gets almost no airtime, and the show is dominated by Elmo, Baby Bear and, now, Abby Cadabby — preschoolers enamored by their own adorable stupidity.

The lesson they teach — in opposition to Oscar, Big Bird, Grover or Bert — is that bland neediness gets you stuff much more easily than character. We are breeding a nation of Anna Nicole Smiths.

I am not the only one who hates Elmo. Vernon Chatman and John Lee, the creators of MTV2's dark "Sesame Street" parody, "Wonder Showzen," think the evil red one is destroying the show.

"Elmo doesn't grow. People show him something and he laughs. He doesn't learn a lesson," says Lee. "It's the exact opposite of what old 'Sesame Street' used to do. Elmo has been learning the same lesson his whole life, which is that Elmo likes Elmo."

Chatman, who refers to Elmo as the Jar Jar Binks of "Sesame Street," worries that Elmo teaches kids to care only about themselves.

"Elmo is just a baby-voiced, self-obsessed character who is only concerned with Elmo," says Lee. "He just passively observes things: 'Elmo is looking at a sandwich. Elmo is eating a sandwich. Elmo is crapping out the sandwich and writing his name on the wall with it.' " The last celebrity to so obsessively refer to himself in the third person was Richard Nixon.

Whereas Count Von Count markets math and Oscar markets the acceptability of negative emotions, Elmo, brilliantly, just markets Elmo, leading him to be the show's cash cow, or whatever misshapen animal he's supposed to be.

I question not only Abby Cadabby but all of Elmo's associates. You may recall that Elmo testified before Congress about music education. But you may not remember who requested Elmo's appearance: Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, now in jail for taking at least $2.4 million in bribes. I'm not implying that Elmo has taken dirty money, but these are the kind of people Elmo surrounds himself with.

I understand that "Sesame Street" has to compete in a Nickelodeon-Disney Channel-Wiggles-Pixar universe. In fact, the new episodes start with " 'Sesame Street' is brought to you by the following … " and then, instead of gently mocking consumerism by listing letters and numbers, they actually show real spots for McDonald's, Beaches resorts, Pampers and — the last of which apparently helps children spell only if they want to be rappers.

I desperately don't want the show to go away, so I know they can't afford to run the "Elmo accidentally drank bleach and died" episode. Instead, they need to simply take Elmo and his buddies and give them their own hourlong show for the idiot spawn. Then put Luis, Gordon and the cool Muppets on their own half-hour "Classic Sesame" for the kids who will one day actually contribute to our society.

Whichever of the two shows you watched would serve as a convenient litmus test for the rest of your life. "Which 'Sesame Street' did you watch?" will be code on college applications, Internet dating and job applications. Blue and red states will be divided not by presidential choices, but by Grover and Elmo.

If we can't save all the kids, let's at least save the ones who can master speaking in first-person. The rest we'll use for reality TV stars.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Survey Reveals Spending Habits of Women

Chain Store Age

A recent survey revealed that 76% of American women enjoy shopping, but one-third said the most stressful part is waiting in check-out lines and 29% admitted to being stressed by interacting with salespeople, according to a report by ShopSmart magazine. The report, which said that the average woman spends 385 hours annually shopping, revealed that 87% of female shoppers agreed that getting the best price was the most important thing to them, while 25% said they would rather save time than save money.

The survey also found that about 57% of American women said they find the best bargains at discount department stores like Wal-Mart and Target, while only 17% felt that the best deals are to be found on the Web. Additionally, about 45% of shoppers rely mostly on friends and family as trusted sources for shopping and products, while they said the least trusted sources of shopping advice are sales people (39%) and advertising (31%).

Finally, the survey revealed the most common non-grocery product purchased over the past three months by 95% of women was clothing (77%), shoes (58%), cosmetics (56%) and vitamins or supplements (52%).

Boy George loses his cool in Chinatown

NEW YORK, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- Singer Boy George cursed and swept dirt at reporters just after he started his first day of community service at the sanitation department in New York.

"Have some dirt!" yelled the 45-year-old singer, as he swept dust onto reporters near the on-ramp to the FDR drive near the Brooklyn Bridge. "Do you think you're better than me?"

Born George O'Dowd, the British pop star had been sentenced to a week of community service after filing a false police report.

"I feel pathetic," O'Dowd told reporters who crowded around him as he tried to push a city-issued trashcan to the curb.

Sanitation officials pulled George and two young co-cleaners off the streets after just two trips outside.

"It's a safety issue," said Deputy Chief Albert Durrell, who pulled back the sanitation van that was supposed to shuttle O'Dowd and the gang around Chinatown for their 8-hour shift.

Fill 'er up at Belk!

How about a gas station at Belk? This is a photo from the "Belko" service station at Belk, Parkhill Mall, Tarboro, North Carolina, circa 1975. You could even use your Belk/Leggett charge to fill your gas tank. (Pat Richardson)

Find more Belk memories in The Belk Archive

Monday, August 14, 2006

Abby Cadabby Moves to 'Sesame Street'

by Michele Norris
All Things Considered, August 11, 2006

Sesame Street's got a new girl on the block: Abby Cadabby. The 3-year-old muppet fairy will be the long-running PBS children's show first leading female character.

With her pink-and-purple pigtails, pink body and pink dragonfly wings, it's not hard to figure out Abby is a little girl.

Abby discusses learning how to use her magic wand (she's only 3, after all) and meeting the other residents of Sesame Street.

The show's executive producer, Carol-Lynn Parente, says adding Abby to the cast will give the show another way to teach about diversity.

It's also a chance to provide a strong role model for girls.

Creating characters for girls is the "challenge of trying to write so that they're reflective of girls and their character, but also are strong and smart and funny," Parente says.