Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Interiors Marketplace closing after 19 years

The owners of Interiors Marketplace say the multi-merchant home furnishing store will close its doors for the last time on Friday, Jan. 6, as the Harris Teeter at Providence Road and Queens Road will soon demolish the building.

John Vieregg, co-owner of Interiors Marketplace, said he and his wife Kelley will now focus on their second store, Post & Gray. They had originally searched for a new site to relocate Interiors Marketplace.

"We really weren't able to find another location that was suitable," said Vieregg. "That doesn't mean Interiors Marketplace is going away." He said that eight merchants currently featured at Interiors Marketplace will move to Post & Gray, and that the newer store will offer many of the same goods.

The Viereggs opened Interiors Marketplace in Atherton Mills in 19 years ago. At first, they sold lots of antiques, and Vieregg said they were one of the first stores to help revitalize the South End. 

Three years ago, the Viereggs moved from their 16,000 square-foot space in Atherton Mills to their current 4,500 square-foot space at Providence and Queens. At the same time, they opened Post & Gray, which is about 7,000 square feet, as a secondary location for overflow inventory.

They also opened Post & Gray to shoppers on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Vieregg said. Since then, they've started opening the store on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as well, and starting in January, they're adding Sunday.

When Harris Teeter announced they would tear down Interior Marketplace's building to expand the Harris Teeter Express in Myers Park, Interiors Marketplace temporarily extended its lease and prepared to move.

But Vieregg said they couldn't find the right place. The closest they came, he said, was the Mecklenburg Furniture building on Providence Road, but the 40,000 square-foot space was too big.

"It's hard to move from the corner of Queens and Providence," he said, but Vieregg said the Post & Gray location has benefited from the burgeoning population of young professionals around South End. The store will offer a wider range of goods, Vieregg said, as well as more private label products such as candles and upholstery manufactured exclusively for Post & Gray.

There will be a sale at Interiors Marketplace, and all merchandise that's not being moved to Post & Gray will be discounted, Vieregg said.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Best Buy not filling some online orders

Wobbly retail giant Best Buy can't seem to catch a break lately. The chain recently said its Black Friday discounts were so deep they sliced its own profit margins; now, Best Buy says it can't even fill some orders.

As this story from TheStreet lays out, customers are upset that their orders - confirmed and paid for - are being canceled by Best Buy.

Here's Best Buy's statement: "Due to overwhelming demand of hot product offerings on BestBuy.com during the November and December time period, we have encountered a situation that has affected redemption of some of our customers' online orders. We are very sorry for the inconvenience this has caused and we have notified the affected customers."

Black Friday 2011 might be remembered as a dark day for the company. Have any of you had problems with ordering from Best Buy?

Family Dollar enlists celebrity chef

Family Dollar continues to aggressively promote its food offerings, partnering with celebrity chef Melissa d'Arabian (of Food Network's "Ten Dollar Dinner") in a contest to find frugal, Family Dollar-based recipes.

Customers can enter the "Dollar Dinners for the Holidays" contest at www.familydollar.com. There, you'll be able to enter a recipe, drawing on ingredients found at Family Dollar stores and within a cost range. D'Arabian will help select the winner, who gets a private entertaining consultation with the chef celeb and a $500 Family Dollar gift card.

The winner will be chosen in early 2012, Family Dollar said. The company, with just over 7,000 locations, has increased the amount of food available in its stores. Family Dollar (and other low-cost retailers) are trying to lure customers in for fill-in trips by offering a basic selection of groceries, nipping at the heels of Wal-Mart Supercenters and traditional grocers along the way.

You can read Family Dollar's announcement and more about the contest's conditions here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ruddick Corp. wants new name: Harris Teeter Supermarkets, Inc.

Charlotte-based Ruddick Corp. has run the Harris Teeter chain as a wholly-owned subsidiary for decades. Now, it seems that the company finally wants a name that reflects what most people know it as: Harris Teeter Supermarkets, Inc.

Ruddick disclosed the plans in a securities filing last week. One of the matters for shareholders to vote on in September is: "To approve an amendment to the Company's Restated Articles of Incorporation to change the name of the Company to "Harris Teeter Supermarkets, Inc."

Until recently, Ruddick was a sort of hybrid holding company, operating both the Harris Teeter chain of 204 stores and the American & Efird thread and textile company.

It was a somewhat odd marriage, with the supermarket part of the business bringing in by far the larger share of revenue - 93 percent of the total in the third quarter, for example. Ruddick sold American & Efird to a private equity firm in October (corrected), for $180 million (Ruddick recorded a $48.8 million loss on the sale).

Brothers and businessmen Alan and Stewart Dickson founded Ruddick in 1968, naming it for their late father, Rush Dickson. Now, with only one business line to focus on, it seems the old Ruddick name is falling by the wayside in favor of the more recognizable Harris Teeter brand.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bi-Lo merges with Winn-Dixie supermarket chain

Greenville, S.C.-based Bi-Lo has agreed to acquire and merge with Winn-Dixie stores, a deal valued at $560 million.

Bi-Lo, which announced the move Monday morning, has been trying to re-invent itself since exiting bankruptcy in spring 2010. The chain currently operates 207 supermarkets, including a dozen or so in the Charlotte market.

Jacksonville, Fla.-based Winn-Dixie is a larger chain by store count, with 480 retail stores. The chain was founded in 1925, and employs about 48,000 people.

The companies said Monday that they don't know where the combined company's headquarters will be located. They also said that they don't expect to close any stores, and that the combined company will operate 690 supermarkets with about 63,000 employees.

So does the deal mean the end of the Bi-Lo or Winn-Dixie brand? As of now, the companies are saying that they'll continue to operate both banners, with Winn-Dixie functioning as a privately-held, wholly-owned subsidiary.

Like Bi-Lo, Winn-Dixie is a legacy supermarket chain that struggled to find its way in the new era of Wal-Mart Supercenters and Whole Foods organic grocers. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2005, and though it has emerged, sales have continued to slump. Last year, Winn-Dixie announced it was closing 30 stores and laying off more than 2,000 workers as its troubles continued.

Bi-Lo was reported to be up for sale itself last year. The company was bought in 2005 by Lone Star Funds, a Dallas-baserd firm that specializes in buying up distressed companies. After coming out of bankruptcy, heavy-hitters Kroger and Publix were said to be interested in the chain, but nothing came of the talks.

Winn-Dixie shareholders still have to vote on the deal with Bi-Lo, which is expected to close in 60 to 120 days. They're unlikely to say no, as the $9.50-a-share price represents a 75 percent premium to Winn-Dixie stock's closing price on Friday.

Winn-Dixie's move "behind the curtain" into a private company will likely help it shed costs even more quickly. Winn-Dixie and Bi-Lo don't operate any overlapping stores, the companies said.

The new, nearly-700 store chain will have stores in the Carolinas, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi. They'll be going head-to-head with Publix, Salisbury-based Food Lion and  Charlotte-based Harris-Teeter.

Friday, December 16, 2011

US Airways comes in second-worst in hassles ranking

An analysis of U.S. airlines by Bloomberg News shows US Airways comes in second to last for hassles passengers face, ranking higher than only now-bankrupt American Airlines.

Tempe-based US Airways operates its busiest hub in Charlotte, and flies about 90 percent of the airport's daily flights. US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr told Bloomberg news that the airline has improved its performance greatly over the past few years, especially since a federal judge ordered an end to a pilot work slowdown.

Bloomberg analyzed several years of data to come up with ratings for the 10 largest U.S. airline companies, describing how often passengers face common hassles such as packed planes, late or canceled flights, and fees.

Out of a possible score of 100, American Airlines scored 31.2 - and higher was better in this ranking system. US Airways scored 32.5, and United (pre-Continental merger) notched 33.6.

Dallas-based Southwest got the best score, with 73.2 points.

You can read Bloomberg's full story here.

Trampoline recreational facility opens in Pineville

Sky High Sports, featuring thousands of square feet of trampolines, is opening Friday, Dec. 16, in Pineville.

The facility is at 601 N. Polk Street, near I-485 and Pineville-Matthews Road. Sky High Sports features trampolines that aren't quite like you'd find in your backyard.

As the website puts it: "Unlike home trampolines, with our specially designed, spring loaded frame, landing here has more give. All frames and springs are covered by 2 inch thick safety pads. With 360 degrees of trampoline walls and court supervisors, there's no falling off this trampoline."

Sky High Sports caters to parties, events, and extreme dodgeball players. The Pineville facility is the newest of about a dozen Sky High franchises.

The company says it hired nearly 50 people to staff the 40,000-square-foot facility.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Indoor maps from Google roll out at airport

Android phone users killing some time at Charlotte Douglas International have a new option for finding shops, aside from wandering from through the concourses: Google Maps.

The Indoor Maps feature from Google is one of the search giant's latest offerings. It's being rolled out so consumers can pinpoint their location in malls and airports (and so Google can send them even more precise location-based advertising straight to their phones).

The maps of the inside of the Charlotte Douglas passenger terminal can be used to guide customers to their gates, locate restaurants and retail shops, and find all seven of the airport's Starbucks if you're desperate for a pre-flight caffeine fix.

Google also has indoor maps for participating department stores, malls and some additional airports, as location-based searches and directions move more rapidly onto hand-held devices. A few years ago, such services were exclusively the territory of dashboard-mounted GPS units for your car; now, you can use some of the most advanced technology in history to guide you straight to the footwear department at a retailer.

Currently, you'll have to have an Android phone to try out the new Google indoor maps. Given that about 75 percent of the Charlotte airport's 39 million annual fliers are passing through and catching connecting flights, not locals, Indoor Maps could prove a welcome service.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chiquita still in talks for NASCAR Plaza office space

Chiquita Brands International, Charlotte's newest corporate suitor, is closing in on signing for office space in the NASCAR Plaza, CEO Fernando Aguirre told the Observer on Wednesday.

Aguirre said the Chiquita brand will be prominently featured at the top of the building. "We're going to have Chiquita branding on the building," he said. "It's going to be on the top, as well as on the lower floors."

Chiquita is planning to lease about five or six floors in the building, which had struggled to attract tenants since it opened adjoining the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Last year, NASCAR Plaza faced foreclosure, though those proceedings were eventually stopped.

The Observer will have a full Q&A with Aguirre later in the week. We talked about Chiquita's plans for Charlotte, Aguirre's fascination with Twitter, worker rights, the company's troubled history in Colombia and the company's diversification to other fruits and salads.

On Monday, Charlotte City Council approved part of the local incentive package set to compensate the company for its move to Charlote. Altogether, Chiquita is in line for more than $22 million in state and local incentives, provided it meets jobs and investment targets.

Family Dollar promotes store redesigns, new merchandise

Matthews-based Family Dollar held an event with bloggers and journalists in Charlotte on Tuesday to tout its redesigned stores and new goods, as the chain continues expanding rapidly.

Family Dollar, which opened its 7,000th store this year, is in a highly competitive retail category that puts it head to head with other dollar stores such as Dollar General, mega-chains such as Wal-Mart and convenience stores like Rite-Aid.

Tuesday's event was at the new Family Dollar store at 4301 East W.T. Harris Boulevard. Store officials said they're trying to emphasize the range of products carried in the store. They're hoping consumers will start thinking about Family Dollar for more than dollar store staples.

"People think it's a dollar store, it's a great place to buy detergent," said VP of merchandising Donna Barker, . She pointed to a selection of home goods, such as a $12 framed and matted painting, a $20 clock and $2 picture frames. alongiside kitchen accessories such as $10 coffee makers and toaster ovens.

The chain is much more focused on getting on trend than when she joined, Barker said, and offering customers the latest styles, not just the best prices.

Family Dollar is in the midst of a chain-wide overhaul of its existing stores in addition to opening new ones. The renovated stores have a different layout, with brighter overhead lights. Family Dollar has also expanded its food selection in all stores, another component the retailer touted Tuesday.

Although Family Dollar's core customer is still a person making $40,000 or less and looking to make ends meet, company officials said they're still seeing more customers from other income segments seeking good deals.

The company reports its first quarter earnings in January, and executives will have to show Wall Street they can continue the growth spurt that the little retailer from Matthews has been on.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Macy's to open for 83 hours straight before Christmas -

But not in Charlotte. The company announced Tuesday that 14 of its stores, mainly in its largest markets, will be open continually from Wednesday, Dec. 21 until 6 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 24.

Another 27 Macy's stores (also none in North Carolina) will be open until 2 a.m. during the same nights, but again, none in Charlotte. Looks like you'll have to head to Tyson's Corner, Va., for your fix of 3 a.m. Macy's shopping action this year.

Slate celebrates anniversary, describes trials

Debbie Hartnett opened Slate Interiors, a multi-merchant home furnishing and art store, a little more than a year ago on Central Avenue. She's contended with a slumping economy on top of the usual first-year business hiccups, and recently celebrated her store's anniversary.

 "It was a daunting task when we first started, and we kept being reminded of that," said Hartnett, talking about the drumbeat of dreary economic news since the store's opening last November.

To compete, Hartnett has turned every available square foot of wall and floor space into selling opportunities for the more than 70 artists and merchants whose work is featured in Slate. And she means every square foot: Hartnett added a rack for pillows on one of the few empty walls, hangs art and chandeliers for sale in her office, and even has merchandise for sale in the restrooms.

She also works every conceivable angle to get people into the store, drawing on everything from social media to her prior experiences working at her family's old store in South Carolina. "Between special events and gallery crawls, we do one to two events a week," she said, including wine and cheese tastings and book clubs - all things the shop has to stay open past normal hours for.

A gallery crawl, which they do every month, involves at least a 13-14 hour day, Hartnett said. But such sacrifices are necessary to give the new shop a fighting chance, she said. "Average is not going to cut it in this economy," said Hartnett. "In this economy, you can't do just one thing. It has to be multifaceted."

The third strategy that helped her get through the first year is an aggressive focus on pricing items competitively, said Hartnett. She tries to target a lot of the goods to people in their 20s and 30s.

"They're the ones buying the $350,000 houses," she said. "The million dollar homes aren't moving." Many of the paintings, vintage accessories, wine glasses, pieces of jewelry, and pieces of furniture sell from prices ranging from $10 to a few hundred dollars.

Commercial real estate developer John Rudolph bought the building at 1401 Central Avenue in 2007, at the height of the property boom and a "terrible" time to make a big purchase. He worked to jazz up the building, which began its life decades ago as a Carriker furniture showroom.

Former tenant White Rabbit moved a few blocks down Central, and Slate and Midwood Smokehouse (owned by the same restaurant group as Bad Daddy's Burger Bar, Cantina 1511 and others) moved in. Rudolph also reopened the building's upper floors, which had been storage space, as about 9,000 square feet of office space.

"When we started this, there was a concern that this area was not known as a retail location," Rudolph said. But he points to the surrounding area - several new stores and restaurants such as Fern have opened - and says the experiment has worked out pretty well so far.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Vitamin Shoppe opening in midtown

Several readers have asked what's being built across the street from the Target at the Metropolitan complex, on Kings Drive.

As previously mentioned, part of the new building at the corner will be a new Chipotle restaurant. Signs are now up on the other half of the building, which will apparently be a new Vitamin Shoppe.

According to the store's website, the Vitamin Shoppe will open January 2. The location will be the supplement and nutrition retailer's first store close to uptown Charlotte.

Two other restaurants, Hickory Tavern and La Paz, are also opening in the Metropolitan complex soon, adding to the area's crop of new places to eat.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Costco heading to Lake Norman area?

Costco, the discount warehouse club retailer, is looking for a site to build a store in the Lake Norman area, according to a local real estate broker.

Brian Simon, of HRS Retail, said Costco executives have been to the area with him to look at possible locations. Developments along I-77, from exits 18 to 36, have been considered, Simon said. The retail chain hasn't decided on a spot, Simon said, and executives are returning later this week to look some more.

There are currently two area Costco stores, one in Matthews and one on Tyvola Road, in Charlotte. A new store in the affluent northern suburbs would give Costco a shot at customers who don't want to make the drive all the way to southern Charlotte or Matthews.

Monday, December 5, 2011

J.C. Penney bombs Black Friday

While other retailers including Macy's, Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buys moved their Black Friday openings up to or even right into Thanksgiving day, J.C. Penney stuck with its usual 4 a.m. opening.

The department store chain was counting on sales from its website and loyal crowds of shoppers to keep it in the game, as the competition scrambled to open their stores earlier to get the first shoppers. J.C. Penney resisted opening as early as its rivals, saying it wanted workers to have the whole Thanksgiving day with their families.

The verdict is in on what effect that had on J.C. Penney's sales, and it wasn't pretty. "The Company noted that its decision to respect Thanksgiving Day for families and open at 4:00 a.m. on Friday, as it had in prior years, adversely impacted Black Friday sales," said J.C. Penney in a press release. "Sales remained soft in-store throughout the holiday weekend."

Sales through J.C. Penney's website on Black Friday weekend will be reported next month.

For November, sales fell 5.9 percent at J.C. Penney stores, totaling $1.74 billion. Sales at stores open a year or more, considered a key indicator of a retailer's health, were down 2 percent.

That's especially bad for the chain in a year when holiday retail as a whole continues to rebound, driven by deep discounts, and Black Friday sales as a whole were up 6.6 percent. And last year, J.C. Penney saw a 7.2 percent increase in its November sales.

So it looks like consumers have voted with their feet and their wallets, turning out in droves for 9 p.m., 10 p.m. and midnight openings and shunning one of the few mass-market department stores that held out for a Friday opening.

Any retailers that consider trying to reverse the trend of Black Friday Creep will have to take note - and the earlier openings are probably here to stay.

Friday, December 2, 2011

New lighting and furnishings store at Phillips Place

Patty Simpson was a merchant at Interiors Marketplace for 11 years, developing her love of lighting and interior design, before striking out on her own. Last week, she opened Granville at Phillips Place, her first store.

"I was delighted to find this small spot," said Simpson. She searched for a year and a half before settling on the 825-sq.-ft., former Sunglasses Charlotte store.

Granville opened last week, carrying an assortment of antique lamps, candlesticks and chandeliers. Simpson said she buys her antiques from all over Europe.

"I've evolved over many years of loving interiors and homes, searching for that special room," she said. "Lighting just transforms a room."

Simpson signed her lease Sept. 17, and spent the next few weeks in a flurry of gutting and redoing the store. She is currently staffing the store herself, along with two part-time employees.

The current climate of economic uncertainty didn't phase her, Simpson said. "I'm really not worried," she said. "This is a great city, with beautiful homes."

Granville is open Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jet's Pizza to expand in Charlotte

Charlotte is getting two new pizza stores, as Michigan-based Jet's Pizza plans to increase its presence in the region.

Jet's has two locations in the area now, one on Montford Drive and one in Huntersville. Both of them opened in 2010.

The chain's new locations are at 2712 West Mallard Creek Church Road in Charlotte and 920 Park Center Drive, in Matthews. Both new stores will open in December.

“North Carolina has been an excellent market for us,” said John Jetts, the chain's vice president of marketing, in a statement. “We’ve had an incredible response and we’re looking forward to further expansion in the state.”

Jet's signature dish is a deep-dish, square pizza. There are some 200 Jet's locations nationally, with sales of $163 million last year. The chain is also expanding in Raleigh and Cary.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Retailers hoping you log on for Cyber Monday

Had enough of named shopping days? Too bad. Following on the heels of Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, today is Cyber Monday, when stores are trying to lure shoppers online with perks such as web discounts and free shipping.

And like Black Friday, some retailers are turning what used to be a one-day event into a multi-day extravaganza. Wal-Mart, for example, is offering an entire "Cyber Week" of deals, with online-only deals such as a Fuji FinePix 14 megapixel camera with a 4 GB memory card for $59, and free home shipping on all orders over $45.

With record sales the day after Thanksgiving ($11.4 billion, up 6.6 percent), retailers are hoping to keep the positive momentum rolling. Last year's online sales rose about 16 percent the Monday after Thanksgiving, compared with 2009.

"I think you're going to see an even stronger number this year," said Beth Robertson, director of payments research at Javelin Strategy and Research. In a sign that consumers might be feeling more optimistic about the economic future, Robertson also said a greater share of online payments are expected to be made with credit rather than debit cards.

Online retail currently makes up about 7.2 percent of total retail sales, with $309 billion in sales expected for 2011. That share of sales is forecast to grow to 10.1 percent by 2016, according to Javelin Research, or $444 billion.

Originally a marketing strategy by the National Retail Federation-affiliated Shop.org, Cyber Monday was started in 2005 (read a New York Times story here for more details). Now, Shop.org is predicting 122 million Americans will shop on Monday (more than 1 in 3 people in this country), and 78 percent of retailers are offering special promotions for the day.

Local retailers are getting in on the action. Belk.com lists special deals such as 50 percent off men's topcoats and 50 percent off Rampage brand women's boots. Lowes.com is offering 42 percent off a Skil miter saw and 47 percent off a DeWalt cordless drill kit, for example.

And if you were really hoping we were done with named shopping days for the season, no such luck. Tomorrow is supposed to be "Green Tuesday," a day to promote eco-friendly purchases.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Black Friday sales jump 6.6 percent, set new record

Retailers' strategy of opening earlier than ever paid off big, with a record $11.4 billion in sales on the year's biggest shopping day, according to the firm ShopperTrak.

The firm, which tracks both sales and foot traffic, said the number of shoppers on Friday also increased 5.1 percent. Sales were up 6.6 percent from last year's $10.7 billion.

"Despite our sluggish economy, shoppers proved they are looking for value and ready to buy," said ShopperTrak's founder Bill Martin, in a statement. "Still, it's just one day. It remains to be seen whether consumers will sustain this behavior through the holiday season."

This year's increase in Black Friday sales was the largest since that between 2006 and 2007, before the recession began. Sales jumped more than 8 percent that year.

This year, with retailers offering more and more pre-Black Friday promotions, sales were also up 3.8 percent the week before Thanksgiving.

Customers turned out in droves this year, as Target, Macy's, Kohl's, Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Toys 'R' Us all announced their earliest openings ever, hoping to gain an edge on each other.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Black Friday: What's open when?

Black Friday is almost upon us, which means it's time for a big roundup of which stores are trying to part you with your money, and when they're opening.

Below is a list of when local chain stores and malls are opening their doors to shoppers, as well as some shopping tips. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it does cover pretty much everything I've accumulated from malls and stores over the past couple weeks.

Thursday and Friday, email any questions/observations/anecdotes/near-trampling incidents you feel like sharing with me at elyportillo@charlotteobserver.com, or call me at 704-358-5041. I get your emails on my cell phone, and I'd appreciate any feedback.

Local malls:

  • SouthPark will open at 7 a.m. Friday. The following individual stores at the mall will open at midnight: Macy's, Aeropostale, American Eagle, Teavana, Lids, Express, Guess, Urban Outfitters, Abercrombie & Fitch, Abercrombie and Hollister. Victoria's Secret and Belk will open at 3 a.m.
  • Northlake will open at 6 a.m. Abercrombie, Abercrombie & Fitch, Aerie, Aeropostale, American Eagle, Express, Finish Line, Footlocker, Forever 21, Guess, Hollister, Lids and Perfumania will open at midnight. Bakers Shoes and Starbucks will open at 4 a.m.
  • Carolina Place will open at 6 a.m. Abercrombie & Fitch, Aerie, AĆ©ropostale, American Eagle Outfitters, Bath & Body Works, Bella Scarpa, Body Central, Bourbon Street Grill, Carolina Jewelry, Cellairis, Chick-fil-A, Children's Place, Claire's, Express, Hat Shack, Hershey's Ice Cream, Hickory Farms, Hollister Co., Hot Topic, Icing by Claire's, Express Men, Finish Line, Gamestop, Gap, The Limited, Macy's, McDonald's, Lane Bryant, New York & Company, P.S. from AĆ©ropostale, PacSun, Perfumania, Pro Image, Sbarro, Spencer's, Sports Fan Attic, Victoria's Secret, Wet Seal and XXI Forever will open at midnight. Authentik's and Belk will open at 3 a.m., Crazy 8, Gymboree, JCPenney, Rack Room Shoes and Sears will open at 4 a.m. and Dillard's will open at 8 a.m.
  • Concord Mills will open at midnight.
Other malls:
Monroe Mall will open at 3 a.m. Friday
Gaffney Outlets will open at midnight, with select stores open at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving

Individual stores:
Open on Thanksgiving: Old Navy, select Banana Republic and Gap stores, K-Mart, Wal-Mart supercenters
Open at 9 p.m. Thanksgiving: Toys 'R' Us
Black Friday sales starting at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving: Wal-Mart
Opening at midnight: Target, Macy's, Kohl's and Best Buy

Useful sites to look up Black Friday ads in one place:
http://www.2011blackfridayads.com and http://bfads.net/ 

Random tips and such:
So, have fun  whether you decide to shop till you drop or spend Friday morning sleeping off your turkey hangover. Follow us on Twitter @theobserver for shopping-related updates Thursday and Friday, and check out the main Charlotte Observer website too.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Group promoting 'Buy American Month' this holiday season

The next six weeks will see consumers pouring into malls, outlet stores and big-box retailers in search of bargains and gifts, and much of what they buy will be imported.

But a Seattle-based non-profit is hoping to bring more attention to American products and businesses this holiday season. TAP America is promoting "Buy American Month," a campaign to boycott products made overseas (and specifically those made in China), which the group says is the only way to revive our sickly economy.

Though it may be a worthy goal, buying American can be more expensive - and, as this LA Times story points out, practically impossible for some items. Some of the hottest gift items this holiday season, like Apple's products, are designed in America but assembled by workers in low-cost Asian countries.

TAP America acknowledges the difficulty of buying American-made products.

"Asking Americans to buy American is not an easy task,” said Richard Tso, the group's executive director, in a statement. “Today most all electronic, clothing and textile goods are manufactured in China and popular American companies like Apple, REI, Walmart, and GAP are sending manufacturing jobs overseas."

To get around that, the group suggests people buy experience-oriented gifts, such as massages and restaurant gift cards. Such services are impossible to offshore, and more likely to pump money into the local economy, TAP America says.

What do you think? Are you willing to spend more money on American-made goods, and is that something you're considering during your holiday gift shopping?

Also noted: A new Dell retail store is now open in Northlake Mall. Dell@Northlake is on the mall's first floor, near the children's play area. The store beefs up Northlake's options for computers and electronics, adding to the recently opened Apple store.

Monday, November 21, 2011

OSHA warns retailers to get ready for Black Friday

With retailers days away from the biggest shopping day of the year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is reminding stores to take steps to ensure no one gets hurt in the rush for bargains.

The stakes for retail workers are high. In 2008, a Wal-Mart employee was killed after being trampled, when a surging crowd broke through the door and stormed the store in search of bargains.

The latest OSHA guidelines, released late last week, include a lot of common-sense steps, such as "Set up barricades or rope lines for crowd management well in advance of customers arriving at the store" and "Make sure that all employees and crowd control personnel are aware that the doors are about to open."

But other bullet points make the danger clear. Stores are advised to "Position security or crowd managers to the sides of entering (or exiting) public, not in the center of their path" - a way to avoid potential trampling incidents. Retailers should also "Keep first-aid kits and Automated External Defibrillators" on-hand, to treat any injuries or cardiac incidents that occur. 

"Locate shopping carts and other potential obstacles or projectiles inside the store and away from the entrance, not in the parking lot," OSHA advises. And "Ensure that barricade lines have an adequate number of breaks and turns at regular intervals to reduce the risk of customers pushing from the rear and possibly crushing others, including workers."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Blakeney, Sharon Corners shopping centers add stores

Blakeney shopping center in south Charlotte has two new tenants, broker CNL Crosland Commercial Real Estate said.

Indoor cycling studio Flywheel Sports is headed to the center's second level, near the Banana Republic store. The 4,600-square-foot studio will open in January, CNL Crosland said.

Accessory store Bijuju opened in early November, Crosland said, next to the Talbots store. The store is about 1,400 square feet, and carries items such as handbags, cocktail rings, sunglasses, hats and scarves.

Bijuju moves into what was formerly the Creative by Nature HOME store. Creative by Nature relocated to a larger, nearly 2,700-square-foot space near Coldwater Creek. The home accessory and furniture retailer now has a larger showroom, CNL Crosland said.

The 270-acre Blakeney development is south of I-485, at Rea and Ardrey Kell Roads.

Over at Sharon Corners, near SouthPark at Fairview and Sharon Roads, Gigi's Cupcakes has signed for 1,200 square feet formerly occupied by shoe store Mephisto.

Mephisto is expanding and moving to the 2,500-square-foot store next to the Original Pancake House. The retailer is adding 10 new brands to its lineup with the added space, the store's owner said.

And Fibre Studio, a yarn store, is relocating to Sharon Corners from the Cotswold area. CNL Crosland said Fibre Studio's new location is about 1,800 square feet.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Whole Foods to give away 100 turkeys in Charlotte on Monday

High-end organic grocer Whole Foods is giving away 100 free turkeys on Monday, as the company seeks to generate buzz ahead of its Charlotte opening next year.

The contest is a sort of guerilla-marketing strategy. Interested shoppers will have to follow the Facebook page for Whole Foods Charlotte location for instructions. They'll have to find a turkey mascot and tell him the answer to a question ("What makes a Whole Foods turkey different?") to get the bird.

The turkeys will come in insulated cooler bags, spokeswoman Darrah Horgan said, along with tips for how to cook them.

Whole Foods has long been one of the most anticipated additions to the Charlotte retail scene, especially after scrapping earlier plans to build a store in the Elizabeth area years ago. (Here's an earlier story, for those hungry for more details).

The grocer broke ground on the 42,000-square-foot store at Fairview and Sharon roads in April, and the store is expected to be open in the spring. The location is diagonally across from SouthPark mall, and in a location already offering high-end grocery options, including EarthFare and Harris Teeter's Morrocroft location.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Concord Mills to open at midnight on Black Friday

Concord Mills, the mega-mall on I-85, will open at midnight on the Friday immediately after Thanksgiving, the mall said this week.

Many of the stores will be offering steep discounts, such as 50 percent off everything at the Banana Republic Factory Store, 20 percent of at the Nike Factory Store, and up to 70 percent off select items at the Gap.

Though there's been some anecdotal backlash among consumers and workers (such as this petition by a worker asking Target not to open at midnight), it hasn't deterred retailers from pushing hours earlier than ever this Black Friday.

Major retailers, including Target, Kohl's, Macy's and Best Buy are opening at midnight on Black Friday, Wal-Mart is starting deals at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving and Toys 'R' Us is opening at 9 p.m.

 "We are very focused on giving shoppers exactly what they want, which we see as the ‘more factor’ approach to shopping," said Holly Roberson, Concord Mills' director of marketing. And that includes more time to shop on Black Friday.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Toys 'R' Us to open at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving

Retailers seem bent on falling over each other to see who can have the earliest ever "Black Friday" opening this year, and now there's a new leader: Toys "R" Us will open its doors at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

Black Friday, traditionally the blockbuster shopping day after Thanksgiving, has been pushed earlier and earlier this year, finally biting firmly into Thanksgiving day. Best Buy, Macy's, Target and Kohl's all abandoned traditional 4 a.m. Friday openings earlier this month, and announced they'll open their doors right at midnight on Nov. 25.

Wal-Mart, the country's largest retailer, announced it would start offering doorbuster deals at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving, even earlier than the other stores. Gap, Inc. said about 1,000 of their Banana Republic, Old Navy, Gap and outlet stores would simply stay open on Thanksgiving, as they did last year.

Toys "R" Us had opened at 10 p.m. last year. Company officials said the decision was made with customers in mind.

Black Friday is truly the kickoff to the holiday shopping season, and we’re excited to welcome customers at Toys“R”Us stores across the country for what has become an annual tradition for many families after Thanksgiving dinner is finished," said chief marketing officer Greg Ahearn, in a statement.

Retailers are competing for every dollar this holiday season, at a time when the economy is shaky and holiday spending is forecast to rise somewhere around 2 to 3 percent, about half of last year's increase.

There may be backlash building, however. Despite the stores' insistence that customers like the earlier hours, emails and phone calls I've gotten certainly indicate a lot of consumers are fed up with Black Friday creep. And some retail employees, like this gentleman who's starting a petition against Target, are also saying enough is enough.

What do you think?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Family Dollar goes coast-to-coast, opens first CA stores

Matthews-based Family Dollar is set to open its first stores in California this week, completing the discount retailer's march west.

The chain was founded in Charlotte more than 50 years ago by entrepreneur Leon Levine. There are now more than 7,000 Family Dollar stores, as the company has ramped up expansion plans and taken advantage of an economy that's left more consumers looking for bargains.

I've written about Family Dollar's move into California before, but here's a story on the LA Times' website with a bit more detail. There's also a press release from Family Dollar today about the store's plans.

The company's first four stores in California will open this week, on Thursday, and plans to have 50 more open in the state by next fall. Family Dollar will target southern California first.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Retail events for Veterans Day

In addition to parades and other events, retailers are offering discounts and some services to military personnel to mark Veterans Day.

Here is a very limited, extremely far from comprehensive list of some of what's on tap:

Harris Teeter is offering an 11 percent discount (after coupons and other discounts have been applied) on groceries to service members on Friday, Nov. 11. A valid military ID card is required.

Also on Friday, Nov. 11, Food Lion is offering a 10 percent discount to service members. The company will also donate $134,000 to the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit that helps wounded veterans.

JCPenney is giving 6,000 veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan gift certificates for $200 worth of clothing. The winners will be randomly selected from veterans who sign up for a shot at the prize by Nov. 20. For more information, click here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wal-Mart to start Black Friday on Thanksgiving

If you thought Black Friday creep (the trend driving stores to open earlier and earlier the day after Thanksgiving) might be a passing fad, abandon hope: Wal-Mart is jumping into the ring.

Wal-Mart said Thursday that it will kick off its Black Friday sales at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving day, joining a host of other national retailers who are pushing shopping right up to - and even into - turkey day.

“Our customers told us they would rather stay up late to shop than get up early, so we’re going to hold special events on Thanksgiving and Black Friday,” said Duncan MacNaughton, Wal-Mart's chief merchandising officer, in a statement about the retailers earliest Black Friday ever.

The retail giant's sale will run in two waves. First, at 10 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 24, home goods, toys and apparel will be steeply discounted, followed by a midnight sale on electronics. Wal-Mart will also have online-only sales with free shipping on Thanksgiving, and continuing discounts through the holiday weekend.

Last year, Wal-Mart followed the early bird schedule of most retailers, starting its sale in the pre-dawn hours after Thanksgiving. But this year, Black Friday has been shifting relentlessly earlier: Kohl's, Target, Macy's and Best Buy have all announced their first ever midnight openings. Charlotte-based Belk has given an hour, announcing it will open at 3 a.m. instead of 4 a.m. this year.

Gap plans to have about 1,000 of its Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy and outlet stores open on Thanksgiving day.

The race to open earlier comes as retail trade groups and analysts are mostly predicting lackluster gains in holiday spending, as the economy remains on rocky ground and it's not clear when steady improvement will begin. Black Friday is usually the biggest single shopping day of the year.

Wal-Mart has been turning the clock forward on the holiday season this year. The retailer rolled out some holiday merchandise in mid-September, its earliest yet, and held an extensive sale last weekend with discounts it said were close to Black Friday levels.

So, readers out there, what do you think? Do you buy MacNaughton's argument? Might it actually be saner to do your shopping right after Thanksgiving dinner and then fall into bed, exhausted but satisfied, at 3 a.m. or so? Or is this just one more example of creeping commercialism marching ever-deeper into once-sacred territory?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Feeling sick - go see Dr. ...Wal-Mart?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, wants to become the nation's largest primary health care provider.

The article, which actually originated with KaiserHealthNews.org, says that Wal-Mart is soliciting partner companies to help it provide low-cost primary health care.

According to the Journal's story: "Wal-Mart said in its proposal document that it is interested in offering services including clinical care such as monitoring for asthma, sleep apnea and osteoporosis; diagnostic services such as allergy and blood testing; and preventative services such as vaccinations and physical exams, as well as health and wellness products."

The retail giant has struggled domestically with declining sales and sluggish growth at it's 3,800 U.S. stores, even as it keeps growing overseas. Wal-Mart has shifted its merchandise mix to add back thousands of items taken out of stores in a de-cluttering effort a few years ago, in a bid to lure shoppers back.

Wal-Mart also has a successful line of financial services at its Money Centers, which offer low-cost check cashing and pre-paid debit cards to shoppers, many of whom lack bank accounts. Efforts such as that - and its potential medical services - lure more potential shoppers into the store, boosting traffic and sales.

So will you go to Dr. Wal-Mart? Or is the retail giant already big enough, in your opinion?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gap Inc. stores to open Thanksgiving day

Gap Inc., owner of the Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy brands, said Tuesday that some 1,000 of its stores will be open on Thanksgiving day this year.

This isn't a first for Gap, which has previously had stores open on Thanksgiving. The retailer has struggled with anemic sales and a flagging brand identity, and recently announced it will close about a fifth of Gap brand stores in the U.S.

But this Thanksgiving will be all about generating sales on a day when most Americans will be home gorging on football and turkey.

Gap said Tuesday that about 80 percent of its Old Navy stores will be open on Thanksgiving, with the rest opening at midnight on Black Friday. For Gap stores, 116 of them will be open during the day and about 200 will open at midnight Friday. Some 30 Gap Outlet and Banana Republic Factory stores will be open on Thanksgiving, and 250 will open at midnight Friday.

Company officials said their customers want the early openings - and want a place to go on Thanksgiving to get away from celebrations.

“Our customers have given us terrific feedback about the option of getting a head start on their shopping on Thanksgiving Day,” said Tom Wyatt, Old Navy's president, in a statement.  “It’s a fun environment for the whole family, and a welcome excursion for those looking to get ahead or take a break from the holiday festivities. This is a win-win for our brand and our shoppers alike.”

Black Friday ads being posted online

Retailers are starting to unveil specific ads for Black Friday, many of them on websites advertising so-called "leaked deals."

As in years past, the ads are popping up on sites like BlackFriday.info, GottaDeal and BFads.net. One of the most recently posted ones is a 72-page doozy from JCPenney, detailing discounts on everything from apparel to bedding, and the retailer's traditional snow globe giveaway.

Although some of these ads may in years past have actually been leaked prematurely, now it seems increasingly unlikely. As Consumerist puts it, "I'm not calling this ad a "leak" because I think by this point we all realize that pre-feeding the ads to online sources has now got to be part of retailers' marketing strategy."

Friday, November 4, 2011

Best Buy also to open at midnight on Black Friday

Add a fourth retail to the list of those falling before Black Friday Creep: Best Buy will join Target, Macy's and Kohl's in opening to shoppers the minute Thanksgiving ends, at midnight on Friday.

This year will be the first time any of these stores open that early. Last year, they mostly opened at around 4 a.m. - still very early, with thousands of shoppers lining up in the pre-dawn hours, but not midnight.

"Must-have holiday gifts will be available even earlier when Best Buy opens its doors at 12 midnight," the electronics retailer said in a press release Friday.

"At Best Buy, we're focused on creating an unparalleled shopping experience for our customers," said Barry Judge, Best Buy's chief marketing officer, in the same statement. "This commitment will come to life throughout the holiday season in a variety of offers and initiatives that give customers great values and the most convenient ways to shop for everyone on their list."

Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn sounded somewhat less enthusiastic about the earlier hours, according to this story in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. He said Best Buy was pushed into opening early by rival retailers who had already announced plans to do so.

"I feel terrible because it impacts, it'll change some Thanksgiving plans for some of our employees," Dunn said. "I know that the decision has been a bit controversial with some of our folks, but the truth of the matter is, the customers will be out there, lined up, for that midnight opening."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Carmel Commons getting $3.5 million facelift

My colleague Caroline McMillan has a good story about Carmel Commons shopping center posted online today. Since I've gotten reader inquiries about what's going on at the site, I thought I'd post a link to the story (click here).

Basically, owner Regency Centers is putting in a new roof, new sconces, fresh paint, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, new lighting and updated landscaping, among other changes.

Caroline's story also includes the owner's renderings of what the project, targeted for a March 2012 completion, will look like once the updates are complete. So check it out, and bon shop-etetit (Boy, that was corny).

New chain, Burgerfi, headed to town

Charlotte is in line to get another "better burger" chain, as a pair of local restaurant professionals have signed an agreement to open 20 Burgerfi locations in the Carolinas.

"We'll eventually have four to six in the Charlotte area," said Burley Moss, who has previously developed franchise locations for Outback Steakhouse and Bonefish Grill. "It takes you a while to get that first, one and they seem to roll pretty quickly after that."

Along with business partner Henry Harris, Moss said he's searching for sites in Charlotte and hopes to open the city's first Burgerfi in the second quarter next year.

North Palm Beach, Fla.-based Burgerfi currently has five locations. The chain focuses on humanely-raised, naturally-grown beef burgers, and features green touches such as chairs made from recycled materials.

Charlotte has seen fast-casual burger concept restaurants grow recently, with new market entrants such as Smashburger and American Roadside Burgers, and the expansion of Bad Daddy's Burger Bar and Five Guys. But Moss said he doesn't think the city's burgerscape is too crowded.

"I don't think so," Moss said. "It's definitely a growing segment."

Part of the reason he thinks the chains will have enough room to grow together is appeal that crosses income lines: Prices low enough to lure everyone, and menu offerings attractive enough to lure upper-income customers.

Said Moss: "The people who live in... $4 million houses will eat at our burger restaurant, and the people who cut their grass will too."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Blue Chameleon consignment opens in Matthews

Downtown Matthews has a new consignment store, as Karen Geisler and her husband Tom have opened The Blue Chameleon at John and Trade streets.

Geisler, a former textile design graphic artist, named the store for the exotic lizards she used to keep and breed. "They're very fragile creatures," she said. "I thought, I have to name a store after them. They're so beautiful."

And, like a chameleon's skin, Geisler said her merchandise is constantly shifting. The store, which opened four weeks ago, carries a mix of furniture, Victorian antiques, handmade and vintage jewelry, dishware, rugs, chandeliers and other goods. Three local artists have also consigned works to the store to sell, Geisler said.

Blue Chameleon is currently being run by Geisler, who lives in Wesley Chapel, and one of her friends. The store was years in the making, Geisler said.

"I've been wanting to do this for years. I just haven't been brave enough," she said. "I thought with the economy how it was, and people not buying new furnishings, we might get a pretty good start."

Geisler spent about five years planning for the store. Finding the 6,000-square-foot former rug shop in Matthews that would become her shop took about a year, Geisler said, and spent weeks painting and preparing the store after that.

"I had never started a business before, and didn't realize how much there is to do," Geisler said. "We spent many a night painting."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Four new stores, plastic surgery office to open soon at SouthPark

SouthPark mall announced on Tuesday evening a slew of new outlets set to open over the coming months, including House of Hoops by Foot Locker, Lily Pulitzer, Criswell & Criswell, Eye Candy, and Paul Simon for Women.

Here's a quick rundown of the new stores:

  • House of Hoops, 6,100 square feet. Set to open mid-November, this boutique-style store will sell player footwear, basketball shoes by Nike, Converse and Jordan Brand, customizable t-shirts and more. There will also be a "VIP area" to read magazines and watch player interviews.
  • Lily Pulitzer, 2,490 square feet. This store will open in February 2012, with its line of handbags, accessories, clothing and more featuring the brand's signature print designs.
  • Eye Candy, 1,500 square feet. The shop opening in the Village at SouthPark in March 2012 will be the Gastonia-based company's second boutique, selling labels such as Shaye Blue, Judith March and Savannah Rae.
  • Paul Simon for Women, 3,000 square feet. Set to open in summer 2012 in the Village at SouthPark, the store will sell "classic clothing with a twist."
  • Criswell & Criswell, 3,000 square feet. This plastic surgery office, also opening in the Village at SouthPark, will be the Charlotte practice's second location. The office will provide a "friendly and discreet environment," a SouthPark spokeswoman said in a press release.
So, there you have it. Shop till you drop, then settle in for a consultation for what to do about those pesky crow's feet.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Target, Macy's and Kohl's to open at midnight on Black Friday

Add three more retailers to the ranks of those hit by Black Friday Creep: Target, Macy's and Kohl's will both open at midnight the day after Thanksgiving for the first time this year.

No longer is lining up at 4, 5 or 6 a.m. for Black Friday deals enough. Store opening times have edged earlier over the past few years, with many retailers opting to open their doors the minute Thanksgiving officially ends.

Some retailers have pushed even earlier. Last year, Sears and Kmart were open on Thanksgiving day itself for the first time, and Toys "R" Us opened at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

"The holidays bring hectic schedules and tight budgets, so extending store hours and offering lots of additional ways to save makes Target a great choice,” said Tina Schiel, Target's executive vice president for stores, in a press release. Target will also have longer hours the day before and after Christmas this year, the company said.

Target is also experimenting in Denver with having stores open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thanksgiving day, according to reports.

Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren said in a statement that Macy's decided to open earlier this Black Friday (most stores opened at 4 a.m. last year) "in response to our customers’ eagerness to shop early for great deals."

Kohl's also said this week that it will be open from 12 a.m. Friday, Nov. 25 to midnight the following day, doing business for the full 24 hours following Thanksgiving. This will be the retailer's earliest opening ever on Black Friday.

Retailers are competing for shoppers' dollars this year as unemployment remains high and calling the recovery "weak" sounds generous. Most forecasts have called for moderate growth in consumer spending this holiday season compared to last year, though none have predicted anything spectacular.

Black Friday (which got its name, at least apocryphally, by being the day retailers went from being in the "red" to the "black"), is often, but not always, the single biggest day for consumer spending. Last year, Black Friday sales edged up less than 1 percent, to about $10.7 billion.

How early is too early? And what's the earliest you'd go to a store and line up for a Black Friday deal?

Note: Post updated to reflect Kohl's opening

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wal-Mart to add more craft beer

The world's largest retailer is going to open up some more space on its shelves for craft beer, according to this short piece in Advertising Age.

Former Walmart CEO and current board member Lee Scott said he recently talked with a top Wal-Mart exec "who clearly is in line with the fact we've got to make more space, we have to have more representation on assortment," according to E.J. Schultz's story in Advertising Age. He made the remarks at a beer distributors' convention in Las Vegas.

"You can't take an area like beer where people are moving to craft and 'under-assort' yourself because the person who is buying craft beer and wants that assortment will drive to Kroger and pay the 15% more," Scott said. Individual store managers will make some decisions about what to stock and where, Schultz writes.

Craft beer has been a growing segment for years, with hundreds of new breweries wresting slices of the action from the market-leading mega-brands like Coors, Miller and Budweiser. Craft beer selections have grown at many grocers. Some have even started contract-brewing their own private labels, such as Harris Teeter's recently introduced Barrel Trolley.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Christmas kicks off at Home Depot

Ari Shainwald is the guy who brings Christmas to Home Depots in the Charlotte area. If Santa was appointing helper elves for home improvement store merchandising, Shainwald would be a strong candidate to lead the team.

On Monday, after the Home Depot on Rivergate Parkway in Steele Creek closed, Shainwald's team got to work, building a new Christmas display area at the front of the store for the wreaths, lights, stockings and inflatables arriving by the pallet.

Their work is part of the unseen retail world, which most people don't encounter unless they've spent time working in a store. And it's extremely detailed, with "planograms" dictating everything from the placement of merchandise on shelves to the height of each display, down to the inch.

Home Depot spokesman Craig Fishel had invited me by the store to see the store's holiday merchandise "reset," as it's known. I went to check out the process myself, and found that as well as being very detailed, the reset is very loud, as rubber mallets slam steel frames together and metal shelves are thrown on top of them.

"Here, we need to follow the schematic to a T," said Shainwald, gesturing to the 8-foot by 8-foot "bay" where the stocking display would soon be. "When we leave this store on Wednesday morning, it's Christmas."

The team of 15 works 10-hour overnight shifts, putting in all of the holiday merchandise Home Depot will have in one two-night session. Workers take their lunch break at 1:30 a.m. They've almost completed the eight stores in the Charlotte market, Shainwald said.

The holiday season has grown in importance for Atlanta-based Home Depot since the chain expanded its Christmas seasonal merchandise five years ago. Last year, Home Depot sold 2 million live trees and 40,000 miles worth of light strings, Fishel said.

Until 3 1/2 years ago, the Merchandise Execution Team - Shainwald's domain - was outsourced to third-party vendors. Home Depot brought the service back in-house to ensure more consistency, Shainwald said.

He starts planning two to three months before actually resetting anything in the store, walking through the space and laying out the designs with the manager. When the merchandise arrives, it's in color-coded pallets with scannable codes - one swiped of a handheld reader tells Shainwald where it goes - and routed to the proper spot.

"A lot of technology goes into this," Shainwald said.

If you've ever visited a shopping mall or department store, you have some sense that American seasons are now determined as much by retailers as by the tilt of the Earth's axis.

At Home Depot, workers haul away summer and fall, literally, as the patio furniture, grass seed and fire pits are carted away and replaced with wreaths, ornaments and strings of LED lights. Walk in on Monday and it's the tail end of fall; walk in two days later and its Christmas.

Friday, October 14, 2011

SAS Shoes opening Charlotte-area store

A Charlotte couple is opening an SAS Comfort Shoe Store next month, at a shopping center next to Carolina Place mall.

One of the store's main selling points is that they manufacture all of their shoes in America, at factories in San Antonio, Texas. Former Wachovia banker Dan Norton and his wife Lisa are behind the new store.

"We remember a time when we could go down to the shoe store and have our feet measured and our shoes fitted properly," Dan Norton said in an email. He said that kind of customer service will be another hallmark of the new store, at 9433 Pineville-Matthews Road.

The company's shoes are all handmade, Norton said, and come in 73 sizes for women and 83 sizes for men, in five widths, from slim to double-wide.

A grand opening is planned for Saturday, Nov. 5. which will feature refreshments and prizes, including an HDTV.

Other notes: Local restaurant news blog Charlotte Restaurant Traffic is reporting that Dolcetto Wine Room, in Piedmont Row at SouthPark, is set to close after four years in business. Check out the link above for more information.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Malls ready for Friday iPhone 4S debut

It's new iPhone time again, and it's Charlotte's first Apple product launch with two local Apple stores, at SouthPark and Northlake malls.

And though some Apple fans might have been disappointed by the product's launch (they were holding out hope for a redesigned iPhone 5), the company has said that the iPhone 4S has already pre-sold more phones than any other model, over 1 million.

Apparently there are enough consumers who want to buy a new iPhone to sustain demand, even in a down economy. And maybe Steve Jobs' death also contributed to some buzz about the new phone.

Here's what the malls have planned:

- At SouthPark, the mall is opening its doors at 7 a.m. to shoppers, as usual. The Apple store will open at 8 a.m.

- Northlake, which just got a new Apple store, is letting customers onto the mall's property at 5 a.m., and letting them into the mall itself at 6 a.m. to get in line. The store then opens at 8 a.m.

Sprint, Verizon and AT&T are also selling the new device.

Bonus note: If you're a zombie fan, the AMC show "The Walking Dead" will be at Northlake on Thursday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to promote its season two premier. The truck on-site will feature zombies and finger cupcakes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pandora, Teavana to open at Northlake

Northlake Mall is set to get a new jewelry store and tea shop soon, with the addition of Pandora and Teavana.

The mall doesn't have exact opening dates for the stores yet, but Pandora should be open for the holidays, mall spokeswoman Nan Gray said. Teavana is expected to be open in the next three to six months.

And the two-story, empty Borders bookstore (the chain recently went out of business) has been temporarily filled with a Halloween shop that will become a Christmas store later in the holiday season.

Gray said four other national retailers are set to open at the mall next year, but she can't yet say which.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Limited to open at Northlake Mall

Women's clothing retailer The Limited is opening its fourth Charlotte-area location this month, with a store being prepped at Northlake Mall.

A grand opening is set for the weekend starting Friday, Oct. 21. The events will include a sale, a raffle and a donation to Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte, and The Limited CEO Linda Heasley is expected to attend.

The new store is 4,500 square feet, with features such as wood flooring, more dressing rooms, more cash registers and an "e-bar" with access to the company's website to place online orders in-store.

The Limited already has stores open at SouthPark, Carolina Place and Concord Mills, and has 230 stores nationwide. The Columbus, Ohio-based company is owned by Sun Capital Partners, a private equity and leveraged buyout firm.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Charlotte's 30th Bojangles' opens

Bojangles', founded in Charlotte more than 30 years ago, is opening its 30th location in town Friday, October 7.

The restaurant, located at 3301 Wilkinson Boulevard, is the sixth franchise operated by Charlotte couple Raj and Nancy Pathak. It's also North Carolina's 264th Bojangles'.

"We've had our ups and downs, but the business for the last few years has been very strong," said Raj Pathak. He formerly operated several small delis, before opening his first Bojangles' franchise in the 1990s.

Bojangles' is back in aggressive growth mode. The chain was sold to Boston-based private equity firm Advent International earlier this year. It had been owned by Falfurrias Capital, which was founded by former Bank of America chief Hugh McColl, Jr. and chief financial officer Marc Oken.

Pathak said he plans to open another store soon, his seventh, and will be open to further expansion after that. "We always are looking for opportunities," he said.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dee-Dee Harris opens DQ Orange Julius near SouthPark

The SouthPark area has a new cafeteria and frozen treat shop, owned and operated by prominent Charlottean Dee-Dee Harris.

The DQ Orange Julius shop is located at 6555 Morrison Boulevard, in a building that also houses a Bojangles', Donatos Pizza and a cafeteria. The complex is directly behind SouthPark mall.

Dee-Dee, her husband Cameron Harris and other Harris family members have had a hand in many of Charlotte's biggest real estate projects.

"I am thrilled to have the DQ Orange Julius store in Charlotte open and ready to serve our customers," said Dee-Dee Harris, in a statement. The store will serve frozen goodies, as well as hotdogs and sandwiches.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bedford Falls toy store to close this month

The wonderful life of Bedford Falls, an independent toy store in Charlotte for 24 years, is coming to an end.

Jean Odom, Bedford Falls' owner, said she's not shuttering the Park Road Shopping Center store because business is bad. Instead, Odom said she wants to focus her time and energy on her other business, Cardinal Lane Book Fairs, a growing company that's been providing textbooks and book fair materials to local schools.

"It has gotten to be where I'm so busy I had to make a choice," said Odom. "My thought was, do you go through Christmas and keep trying to do two full-time jobs?"

The toy store will close Oct. 22, Odom said. While closing a toy store on the eve of the holiday shopping rush seems counter-intuitive, Odom said she believes selling off her inventory will be easier now than after Christmas.

Most of the store's inventory is 30 percent off, Odom said, and the markdowns will increase as the closing date draws nearer.

The store drew its name from the town where "It's a Wonderful Life" is set. "We truly wanted to be like George Bailey," Odom said, referring to the movie's main character, who influenced his community in many positive ways.

There used to be three Bedford Falls stores. A location in the University City area closed after it failed to become profitable, Odom said. A longtime location at Providence and Sharon Amity Roads eventually followed suit. The Park Road store opened 14 years ago.

"It was an incredible place," she said. "I have nothing but happy memories."

Odom said her Cardinal Lane Book Fairs business grew out of the Bedford Falls stores. She said that she began putting on book fairs with local schools about 20 years ago. Odom renamed the business Cardinal Lane Book Fairs about four years ago.

Things really took off when the Joseph Beth bookstore at SouthPark closed last year. The closing store passed Cardinal Fair textbook accounts for two local private schools. Odom found herself getting busier than ever.

When she decided to choose one business to keep open, Odom said she picked the book business because of her passion for reading. She remembers waiting in eager anticipation for the next Nancy Drew book as a girl.

Odom considered selling the business, but decided not to after a retail business broker told her it could find up to a year to find a suitable buyer.

"It made sense to do it now," she said of the closing. "It was just the right time."

Do you have a fond memory of Bedford Falls? Leave it in a comment below, or email elyportillo@charlotteobserver.com.

Monday, October 3, 2011

American Roadside Burgers signs for second Charlotte location

Charlotte might be seeing a boomlet of fast-casual burger chains, as American Roadside Burgers has signed a lease for its second location in the city.

Commercial real estate firm CB Richard Ellis said Monday that the burger company has leased 3,250 square feet of restaurant space in the Park View building at Southpark, on Fairview Road. The restaurant also leased 1,500 square feet of adjacent space to use for corporate offices, said CBRE, who represented the landlord.

The new restaurant, which includes a patio facing Fairview Road, is expected to open in spring 2012.

American Roadside Burgers is based in Smithtown, N.Y., and its two Charlotte locations are a  major expansion. Charlotte's first American Roadside Burgers is in the ground floor of the Ally Bank Building, uptown on Church Street.

Carolina Ale House (which has a formidable burger selection) also recently opened uptown, nearby on South College Street.

And Bad Daddy's Burger Bar has finished changing its name to remove a conflict with another Big Daddy's, and is it to expand, including opening a location at Charlotte/Douglas International.

Friday, September 30, 2011

TCBY fro-yo gears up to grow

As frozen yogurt joints continue popping up across the Charlotte area, TCBY has announced a major deal with a local franchisee to expand in the Carolinas.

Samuel Batt, who I previously wrote about here, currently owns and operates seven TCBY franchises in Charlotte. He brought the first self-serve TCBY format to the city, similar to popular new hotspots like Pinkberry and Yoforia.

Now, TCBY has signed a 10-year agreement with Batt to open or franchise another 23 stores in North and South Carolina, for a total of 30 stores. Batt has two more franchises set to open by the end of the year, one at the Quail Corners Shopping Center and one at the Town Center Plaza in the University area.

The move will increase TCBY's presence across the Carolinas by more than 50 percent. The chain currently has 29 stores in North Carolina and 14 in South Carolina.

"The company’s first self-serve location launched in Charlotte last year and set the stage for significant growth in the surrounding area,” said Batt in a statement. “This expansion of stores will provide more accessibility for customers by bringing locations closer to home."

Other notes:

The remodeled and expanded Belk store at Monroe Crossing mall is set to reopen Wednesday, Oct. 12. The store is undergoing a $5.8 million renovation. Belk has expanded the store by 30,000 square feet, to a total size of 90,000 square feet, and the store's fixtures, flooring and lighting have been redone. The children's department, formerly in a separate, nearby store in the mall, has been brought into the main store.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Carolina Ale House opens uptown

Beer drinkers uptown, rejoice: There's another spot to imbibe uptown, with the opening of Carolina Ale House.

The Raleigh-based chain's first Charlotte restaurant is now open, bringing its total number of restaurants to 16.

Located at 201 S. College Street, the new restaurant's menu includes food such as dry-rubbed chicken wings and burgers topped with chili and coleslaw, along with a pretty solid beer list.

Have you tried this place yet? Any thoughts?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rock Hill Galleria J.C. Penney gets a facelift

J.C. Penney's Rock Hill store is scheduled for  a renovation that will grow selling space by more than 60 percent and add new merchandise lines, as the retailer works to raise slumping sales.

The department store, opened in 1991, is one of the mall's anchors. Construction will kick off shortly, the mall's owners said, and be completed by fall 2012. The store will increase to 83,000 square feet from its current 51,600 square feet.

"The JC Penney expansion is a positive step in re-energizing the retail offerings at the tri-county’s only enclosed shopping center," said Michael Wheat, director of leasing for the Galleria's developer, Cypress Equities.

The bigger store will also have more name brands in clothing, a new line of home goods and a Sephora cosmetics shop, according to Observer partner The Rock Hill Herald.

J.C. Penney has been reporting disappointing financial results lately. The retailer reported its second-quarter sales dipped about .8 percent, and in August J.C. Penney reported its monthly sales fell 4.5 percent compared to a year ago.

A major part of the company's efforts has been adding Sephora boutiques, which sell high-margin items, to its department stores. The company now has Sephoras inside about a quarter of its 1,100 stores, and added 22 more last quarter.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Events showcase products for blind at Harris Teeter, Lowes Foods

On Wednesday, eight area Harris Teeter and Lowes Foods will host events showcasing products with packaging for the blind, with a portion of proceeds going to benefit the visually impaired.

The event is in support of "Braille Awareness Day." Body care product company Cleanlogic CEO Isaac Shapiro says he started the day to honor his mother.

The Cleanlogic products feature Braille on the packaging. A portion of any proceeds will be donated to the Metrolina Association for the Blind.

Here's a list of the stores participating:
Harris Teeter:
Arboretum, 3333 Pineville-Matthews Road (free vision counseling at this location)

Steele Croft, 13000 South Tryon Street

Matthews Festival, 1811 Matthews Township Parkway

Cotswold, 112 S. Sharon Amity Road

Lowe's Foods:

Kenton Place Shopping Center, 17001 Kenton Drive, Cornelius

Mint Hill Town Center, 7036 Brighton Park Drive

Stockbridge Commons Shopping Center, Tega Cay

Schoolhouse Commons Shopping Center, 4445 School House Commons, Harrisburg

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Brixx Pizza opens new Gastonia shop

Brixx Wood Fired Pizza, first opened in Dilworth in 1998, is opening its first restaurant in Gastonia.

The new restaurant is on Cox Road, across from the new Target store and I-85. Brixx said it is the restaurant's first location built from scratch, and will seat 139 customers inside and 30 on the patio.

The Gastonia location is owned by franchisee Dan Thrower, who also owns the Medical Center Pharmacy and diner in the same shopping center.

Brixx has grown to 22 locations, and the company says its looking to expand with additional franchises across the Southeast.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

First Versona Accessories store to open next week

Charlotte-based apparel retailer Cato is branching out into more upscale shopping, with the launch of its Versona Accessories store concept next week in south Charlotte's Arboretum shopping center.

The store is set to open next Thursday, Sept. 29. Cato, which operates some 1,285 stores mainly focused on value-priced apparel, said the Versona stores will sell "jewelry, handbags, shoes, belts, scarves, hair accessories, sunglasses, gift items and more" in an "upscale shopping environment comparable to better specialty and department stores."

The new store will employ about 25 people, Cato said.

"Versona Accessories promises to be a unique fashion destination where women can find the perfect accents to any outfit, no matter what the occasion. We are excited about our first Versona store opening in Charlotte," said Cato CEO John Cato.

The Arboretum store will be followed by openings in Columbia, SC, Baton Rouge, LA, and Louisville, KY in October. Cato plans to open 40 to 50 more Versona stores over the next 18 months. The retailer's real estate materials say Cato is searching for 7,000 to 9,000-square-foot stores in high traffic shopping centers and malls with upscale fashion tenants.

For the most recent quarter, Cato reported in August that its profits rose to $18.1 million, up from $17 million last year. Total revenue rose slightly for the quarter, to $237 million.

But sales at stores open for a year or more, considered a key measure of retail health, slumped about 1 percent for the quarter, Cato said. Executives blamed the bad economy, and said still-high fuel and raw materials costs could dampen its results for the rest of the year.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bi-Lo celebrating its 50th anniversary

Mauldin, S.C.-based Bi-Lo is turning 50, and a four-state tour celebrating the occasion will stop Wednesday at a store in Charlotte.

The tour, in a vintage Airstream trailer, will be at the 8120 South Tryon street store (at the intersection with West Arrowood Road) from noon to 2 p.m.

The tour stop will include prize giveaways to customers, including t-shirts and Bi-Lo brand products. Ten shoppers will receive $250 worth of groceries and ten will win $70 worth of gas. A six-pack of glass bottles of Coca-Cola will be priced at 99 cents, the same as they cost in 1961.

Bi-Lo operates 207 grocery stores in the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee.