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.