Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What's open on Christmas day?

If you need a last-last-last-minute gift, some toothpaste, or just to get away from the family for a few minutes on Christmas, there are a few stores that will be open Christmas day itself.

Here's a list of some of the chains that aren't closing:

  • Walgreen's
  • CVS Pharmacy
  • 7-Eleven
  • Denny's
  • IHOP
  • Starbucks
  • Waffle House
  • McDonald's is reportedly urging its franchised locations to stay open
Domino's, Dunkin Donuts and Burger King are opening select locations.

For more information, check out a summary of personal finance site GoBankingRates.com's survey of retailers.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Vinnie's Grill & Raw Bar closes on South Boulevard

After 20 years, Vinnie's Grill & Raw Bar has closed up shop at its South Boulevard location.

Former general manager David Luckey said the restaurant's last day of business was Sunday. The closure is permanent, he confirmed.

He said the general economic conditions had caused Vinnie's to struggle. "This economy makes everybody broke," said Luckey, who was helping to clean out the restaurant Thursday afternoon.

There are no plans to close the second Vinnie's location in Mooresville, which remains open, Luckey said.

View Larger Map

Crisp opening Latta Arcade location

Crisp, a restaurant with a plethora of salads, is opening an uptown location soon, in Latta Arcade off of Tryon Street.

Crisp at Latta Arcade
It will be the company's third Charlotte store. There are Crisp locations on 7th Street and East Boulevard. The owners couldn't immediately be reached to pin down an opening date for the Latta Arcade store.

Jerry and Kerin McCarthy opened Crisp in 2007 in the Elizabeth neighborhood.

Crisp will be joining a lineup that includes a Quizno's, Indian, Japanese, pizza, and sandwich restaurants. Latta Arcade is popular with the uptown office crowd as a lunch destination.

Here's a link to Crisp's Facebook page, where they post specials and daily menu options.

View Larger Map

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Highway 55 opening in north Charlotte

A new Highway 55 Burgers, Shakes, & Fries is opening in north Charlotte, the adding another local store for the eastern North Carolina company.

As previously reported here, Highway 55 is hoping to franchise up to 75 locations in western North Carolina over the coming decade. Another local Highway 55 location opened recently in the University Pointe shopping center (details here).

University Pointe store
The new store opening is on Davis Lake Parkway, and will open Dec. 27. Father and son team Greg Hinson, 55, and his 27-year-old son Brad, 27, are opening the franchised store, their first. Their goal is to open six more stores in north Charlotte, Huntersville, and Mooresville over the next several years.

Greg Hinson previously worked as a mechanic for 30 years, and Brad had been a network engineer.

"When my dad and I discovered Hwy 55, we knew that it was a company we wanted to be involved in. Highway 55 has the family feel and dedication to serving their community we were looking for," said Brad Hinson, in an email.

Highway 55 is also opening a new location soon in Gastonia's Franklin Square, though no exact date has been set.

The chain, headquartered in Mount Olive, was formerly called Andy's Burgers.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Epicentre offering cab vouchers for those who drink

In an effort to help cut down on drunk driving, the uptown Epicentre complex is offering vouchers for cab rides to patrons who consume alcohol.

The $10 vouchers are being offered in conjunction with the Mecklenburg County ABC Board and is funded from the sales of distilled spirits in the county. The vouchers are available at the valet stand to adults over the age of 21, and can be used with City Cab, Crown Cab, or Yellow Cab.

So if you're drinking at Blackfinn, Whiskey River, Howl at the Moon, or any of the many Epicentre watering holes, please be responsible and take a cab (or a pedicab, or the light rail). With $10 off, the choice is even easier.

View Larger Map

Monday, December 17, 2012

Walmart Neighborhood Market opening on Independence Blvd.

A Walmart Neighborhood Market is opening next year on Independence Boulevard, the first store of its kind in Charlotte.

As previously reported on this blog, the store will be in a former Best Buy location at 7421 E. Independence Boulevard, in the Independence Square shopping center. That shopping center also has a Super Global Mart international food store.

The store will be hiring about 85 people to work full and part-time. They'll start working in January as the store prepares for its opening.

There are some 200 Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets nationwide. They're about the same size as traditional supermarkets, and carry similar lines of goods. This is the state's second Neighborhood Market. The first opened in Cary in October. Here's a local news story from Cary with pictures of the store, to give you a better idea what to expect (Their verdict: "Walmart Neighborhood Market looks like a lot like a slightly less fancy Harris Teeter.").

“We are excited to add this Walmart Neighborhood Market to Charlotte and bring good jobs with career opportunities to the area,” said store manager David Thomas, in a statement. He's been with the company for three years, and started his career in Shelby.

The new Neighborhood Market will be a challenge to other supermarkets, of course, and also to other smaller,  discount food retailers, such as Family Dollar. It represents the fourth new grocery option in the region announced or opened this year, along with Whole Foods, 201central, and Publix.

Building permits show Walmart is spending more than $3.5 million to upgrade some 50,000 square feet of the building.

Here's Walmart's description of the Neighborhood Markets: "Walmart Neighborhood Markets were designed in 1998 as a smaller-footprint option for communities in need of a pharmacy, affordable groceries and merchandise. There are now about 200 Neighborhood Markets in the U.S. Each one is approximately 38,000 square feet and employs about 95 associates. Walmart Neighborhood Markets offer fresh produce, meat and dairy products, bakery and deli items, household supplies, health and beauty aids and a pharmacy."

View Larger Map

Friday, December 14, 2012

Frozen yogurt, cupcake shops closing in Dilworth

Two relatively new food options on East Boulevard are closing this weekend, as Freshberry Frozen Yogurt and Smallcakes Cupcakery throw in the towel.

The neon-accented stores opened in the former Blockbuster location at Kenilworth Avenue and East Blvd. just this summer. I wrote about them when they were first announced in February, which you can read about here.

Sunday will be the last day of business for Freshberry and Smallcakes. There's no word yet on what will be replacing the stores. Owner Nick Smith was out of town Thursday, said a woman at the store.

Smith, a longtime Charlotte franchise owner who opened the city's first Jersey Mike's sub shop and Moe's Southwest Grill restaurants, will be featured in an upcoming Observer store on franchising. He said that the Freshberry/Smallcakes concept is closing due to slow traffic.

That certainly seemed to be the case Wednesday night, when I went by the restaurant on my way home from work. A man in a cowboy hat was spinning LED lights to lure people into the nearly-empty parking lot.

Freshberry was entering an already crowded fro-yo marketplace, with a slew of businesses including Yoforia, Tasty Yo, Pinkberry, TCBY, Cherry Berry, and the Frozen Isle. And directly across the street from Freshberry, on the opposite corner in the Kenilworth Commons shopping center, is Menchie's, a fro-yo franchise that opened last year.

Read more here: http://obswhatsinstore.blogspot.com/2012/02/frozen-yogurt-cupcakes-subs-headed-to.html#storylink=cpy

A Jersey Mike's that occupies the other half of the former Blockbuster building will remain open. 

View Larger Map

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Coal oven pizza coming to Concord Mills

A new restaurant, Tony Sacco's Coal Oven Pizza, is set to open next year at mega-mall Concord Mills.

The store is in addition to three more locations set to open in Charlotte next year, although details on the other Tony Sacco's restaurants were not immediately available.

According to a news release from Concord Mills, the new restaurant is 4,500 square feet, and will be opening near Entry 1, across from Sun & Ski Sports. The opening date is currently set for spring 2013.

The restaurants have anthracite coal-burning ovens that operate at 1,000 degrees. In case you were wondering whether they are actually burning coal to cook the food, the FAQ answers that: "Yes we are! We only burn pure anthracite coal from Pennsylvania. It creates twice the energy per pound as wood, and burns cleaner."

 Also noted: Shopping center owner and operator Brixmor Property Group said it has signed leases with two new Sleepy's mattress stores in the Charlotte area. A 10,000-square-foot Sleepy's will be located in the Carolina Pavilion shopping center on South Boulevard, and a 6,150-square-foot Sleepy's will be in the Franklin Square shopping center in Gastonia.

View Larger Map

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Family Dollar CEO Levine to ABC's 'Nightline'

Howard Levine, CEO of Matthews-based Family Dollar, was set to appear on Tuesday's edition of "Nightline," talking about the growth of dollar stores and defending the practice of importing cheap goods from overseas.

The "Nightline" story is about the rapid growth of dollar store chains, which have become a $56 billion industry. The major chains, including Dollar General and Dollar Tree, have opened thousands of new stores over the past years.

During the segment, Levine told the interviewer he doesn't mind when he - or his 7,550 stores - are called cheap.

"If somebody told me I was cheap, I would take that as a compliment," Levine said. "That means we are looking for value. That means we don't overpay for stuff."

He also defended the fact that about a third of the goods the company sells are made overseas, much of it in China, as a necessity. "Unfortunately, a lot of manufacturing has gone overseas," Levine said. "They have a cheap way of doing it and consumers accept it. There is no backlash from that so you got to go where you get the value and you got to go where you have the workmanship and the factories to do that."

So, did you see the video? What did you think?

(Editor's note: The show featuring Levine was bumped for extra coverage of a mall shooting in Oregon that happened earlier in the day).

Monday, December 3, 2012

See you next week - I'm off

Hi readers. I'll be out of the office and traveling for this week and a bit of next. I'll be back Dec. 11. In the meantime, if you have any news about store openings or closings, or any questions, please email me at elyportillo@charlotteobserver.com. Thanks!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Men's boutique Silverfly to hold grand opening

A new menswear store in the Metropolitan complex outside of uptown, Silverfly, is having a grand opening celebration Saturday, Dec. 1.

The store opened its doors in early November. "offers a polished, edited and reinterpreted classic look," according to its description of itself. Silverfly carries menswear brands including DL1961, Joe's, Hudson Jeans, Silver Jeans, Chadburry, Alternative Apparel and Ben Sherman.

The company's grand opening celebration will feature food and drinks with a DJ from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., as well as promotional give-aways with purchases throughout the day.

Here's a link to a CLT Buzz story about the opening with a picture of the store's interior.

View Larger Map

Thursday, November 29, 2012

New Chef'Store opening in former Wal-Mart location

Restaurant supply company US Foods is opening its first Chef'Store in east Charlotte, a new supply store concept for restaurant operators and other  food service professionals.

There's a video tour of the new store posted to the right. The store, at 3304 Eastway Drive, is holding a grand opening Thursday morning with a 10 a.m. ribbon cutting.

The store, open to chefs and other professionals, is 30,000 square feet, with 30 employees. The Chef'Store has foods such as seafood and meat, and restaurant supplies such as cookware and knives. Products will generally be available in individual or case sizes.

“There are many busy chefs and restaurant owners in Charlotte looking for an easier, more convenient way to get the products they need at competitive prices,” said Bob Stout, US Foods' southeast region president, in a statement. “Chef’Store is bright and clean with an intuitive layout and wide aisles for fast, easy maneuvering."

The store will be open seven days a week. Building permits filed earlier this year show US Foods spent more than $2.3 million renovating and refitting its space.

Privately-held US Foods has over $20 billion in annual revenue. The company also plans to open Chef'Store locations in Oklahoma City and Columbia, S.C.

View Larger Map

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gander Mountain to open Gastonia store

Firearms, hunting and outdoor supply store Gander Mountain is opening a new store in Gastonia, its sixth in North Carolina.

The store will be in the Franklin Square Shopping Center, on East Franklin Boulevard near I-85 and Cox Road. Gander Mountain said it's new store will be 43,000 square feet and will open in the late spring.

"Our newest North Carolina neighbors' passion for the outdoors and active performance living will be a perfect match with our ‘We Live Outdoors’ culture," said Gander Mountain CEO David Pratt, in a statement.

The store will carry new and used firearms, along with supplies for hunting, fishing, camping, boating, and archery, Gander Mountain said. It will also sell outdoor apparel from brands such as North Face, Under Armour, and Carhartt.

The St. Paul, Minn.-based company operates 119 stores in 24 states. In the Charlotte area, Gander Mountain has a store in Mooresville. Last year, Gander Mountain also opened new stores in Winston-Salem and Morrisville, N.C.

Note: Several months ago, a reader asked me if I knew what was going into this shopping center. Sorry the reply took so long, but here it is. Thanks, as always, for emailing me.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ilios Noche heading to Quail Corners

Ilios Noche, part of Xenia Hospitality group, is planning to open a second location in the Quail Corners Shopping Center.

According to an email sent to nearby residents, the restaurant will be located "at the pavilion, about where Nationwide and part of Mecklenburg Bridal was formerly located." Quail Corners is undergoing a multi-million redevelopment.

The message to neighbors also said that the shopping center broke ground on a new McDonald's, which should be open in mid to late February.

Xenia Hospitality also operates popular eateries including Nolen Kitchen, Big View Diner, and Maverick Rock Taco.

View Larger Map

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Amelie's opens online store

Amelie's, the ever-popular French bakery in NoDa, has started an online store, where people can purchase edible goods, home decor, and gifts.

The Amelie's Emporium offers goods for sale either for delivery on in-person pickup. The edibles section includes a hot cocoa set, do-it-yourself twice-baked croissants, and salted caramel brownie balls. In the trinkets and gifts sections, you'll find things such as t-shirts and a gourmet coffee set, and seasonal section includes a gift card ornament.

The site is still under construction, with some sections, such as "About Us," still rather sparse. According to the site, all confirmed orders will be shipped within seven business days, although orders placed after 5 p.m. on Thursday won't be confirmed until Monday.

View Larger Map

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Uncle Maddio's Pizza coming to Overstreet Mall

Local website Restaurant Traffic is reporting that Uncle Maddio's Pizza Joint will soon open a location in uptown's Overstreet Mall.

Uncle Maddio's storefront, from Restaurant Traffic
This will be the company's first Charlotte location. Uncle Maddio's, a fast-casual pizza place where most of the pies are under $10, is on somewhat of a growth spurt, with 75 stores currently under development.

Their signature pizzas include offerings such as Cobb Salad, BBQ Chicken, The Greek, Jamaican Jerk and Portobello pesto.

Most of Uncle Maddio's existing locations are in the Atlanta area. The company is also planning to open stores soon in Jacksonville, Savannah and Columbia.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wolf Camera at Birkdale Village reopens

One of the three Wolf Camera stores shut down earlier this year as part of parent company Ritz Camera's liquidation has reopened under new management.

C&A Marketing Inc. bought some of the Ritz brands, including Wolf Camera, during the final phases of Ritz's bankruptcy proceedings. The Birkdale Village store is one of 18 bricks-and-mortar stores that C&A is bringing back.
Ritz's main website image
The company is also operating the RitzPix online imaging service, with prints, photo books, and other services on order. C&A is also continuing existing customer loyalty programs as an added incentive to Ritz and Wolf customers.

"We chose these eighteen stores to re-open because they are in key markets across the country that need a personal, knowledgeable photo speciality shop, which also serve as an integral part of their communities. Even though the photo industry continues to transform, we are dedicated to bringing a new, sustainable business model to the Ritz Camera stores and their customers," said C&A president Harry Klein, in a statement.

"Our strategic investment focuses on integrating our online sites with our retail locations, and to offer a one-stop photography resource where customers can purchase premium products and popular imaging gifts," said Klein.

The revived stores are staffed with their original employees, C&A said. Here's more on their plans for the Ritz, and Wolf, camera store brands: "The stores and websites will have fresh, current, and comprehensive inventory, and will continue to offer the full range of quality imaging products and services that consumers have come to expect of the Ritz Camera brand. In addition to the stores, C&A will grow the online imaging speciality business, RitzPix.com, which provides high standard photography offerings including film processing, image restorations, premium gifts including custom book printing, and more at the retail locations and a full-service imaging lab."

C&A has some experience with faded imaging brands. The company is the official licensee for many Polaroid products. As the company notes: "C&A already plays a significant role in the resurgence of one iconic American imaging brand."

View Larger Map

Monday, November 19, 2012

Burger 21 heading to Ballantyne Village

Burger 21, a new fast-casual burger company, will open its first Charlotte store in Ballantyne Village.

The company is owned by Front Burner Brands, the same company that runs the Melting Pot restaurants. In Charlotte, Burger 21 will be developed by Todd Dennis and Brian Neel, who operate two Melting Pot franchises in the area.

Burger 21 interior
"We also know Charlotte inside and out and believe people will be really excited about this unique concept with its incredibly diverse menu of hand-crafted burgers and more," said Neel, in a statement. There's no opening date set yet.

As previously reported, Burger 21 has been looking at Charlotte as one of its expansion markets as the company moves beyond Florida. Burger 21 also signed deals to open four restaurants in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, the company said.

The restaurant features a chef-inspired menu, as the company puts it, with 21 burgers. Half are beef, half are other things, such as tuna and turkey, and one a month rotates to a different special.

The Ballantyne Village shopping center has been doing better since the depths of the recession, with higher occupancy rates. But the property was still turned over to its lender recently, to cancel a $50 million loan the owner couldn't pay off.

Burger 21 said it's still seeking franchisees in North Carolina. If you'd like to learn more, click here.

View Larger Map

Friday, November 16, 2012

Designer Andy Stinson showcasing high-end clothes at Taylor Richards & Conger

Andy Stinson has an unconventional view of style, a mix of a throwback to Hollywood's most glamorous days and an ironclad expectation that the U.S. can once again be at the forefront of clothing design and production.

Friday and Saturday, he's showcasing his clothing lines for men and women at Taylor Richards & Conger, the upscale clothing store at Philips Place. He'll be showing off the clothes between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. both days, along with wines from his personal collection.

"I started it about pants," said Stinson, whose bespoke brand is only about 1 1/2 years old. "I have this point of view about pants that I really like. It's this 1940s view." Stinson's pants feature a Hollywood waistband, in which there is no separate piece of material sewn on to create the waistband. Think suits that you saw the

That leads to pants that ride high, with a full cut, that elongate a man's legs. The thin belt and high waist minimizes the man's waist, Stinson said - which is often not a man's most flattering feature.

"The cut of it was designed to make a man look somewhat like a Greek god," said Stinson. His clothes are also firmly in the "dandy" mode, with bright colors and bold designs.

"It's a throwback to those great looking things in the '40s when men almost had these flamboyant fashions," said Stinson. "It had fabulous colors. There was a daring sense of color, the pattern motifs were large."

The look eventually faded after it became exaggerated and turned into a zoot suit, Stinson said.

TRC Style, Taylor Richards & Conger's blog, says Stinson's clothes have a uniquely old-school atmosphere: "A range of unique details such as exterior brace buttons, Hollywood waistbands and D-ring side tabs give his collection a nostalgic feel not to be found elsewhere."

The price tag on his made-in-America pants, Stinson's signature item, ranges from $650 to $2,000. He also has alligator belts handmade by an artisan in Florida, and hand-enameled cuff links made by a mother-daughter team in Atlantic City. The collection also includes shirts, ties, and pocket squares.

Made-in-America products are central to Stinson's vision. "Americans make great things," said Stinson. "Every bit as good as what comes out of Italy and Europe."

View Larger Map

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Journeys Kidz opening at Carolina Place mall

Shoe retailer Journeys Kidz is opening a store at Carolina Place mall in Pineville on Saturday, Nov. 17.

The store is an offshoot of the Journeys footwear stores, targeting kids ages 5 to 12 with "trendy and aspirational" shoes. Journeys Kidz carries brands including Toms, UGG, DC, Hello Kitty, Sperry, Converse and Vans.

Journeys Kidz also carries accessories such as socks and backpacks, and plays kid-oriented music and cartoons on the in-store televisions. The new Journeys Kidz is located in Carolina Place's upper level, next to Build-A-Bear and The Limited.

There are some 150 Journeys Kidz locations in the U.S., including a new store at Concord Mills that opened in August.

View Larger Map

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Food Lion freshening up its produce offerings

Looking for crunchier lettuce or fewer brown bananas? Tired of cutting into avocados and finding them brown? Salisbury-based Food Lion is undertaking a major effort to ensure its produce is fresh, as well as expanding its selection, the company said Tuesday.

"We have made a new commitment to fresh produce," said Cathy Green Burns, Food Lion's president, in a statement. "We heard from our customers that they wanted fresher produce for their families. Today, we are taking additional steps to continually improve the quality and freshness of produce, and offer a wider selection."

The initiative is starting at 581 of Food Lion's stores, including those in and around Charlotte. The company expects to expand it next year.

Food Lion said the new program is a complete overhaul of its produce practices. The company is purchasing better produce, changing temperatures produce is stored at, and reducing the amount of time produce spends in distribution centers. Warehouse, transportation and in-store produce associates have had new training in better handling practices to improve produce freshness, the company said.

Food Lion is also adding more produce items, the company said, and starting a customer education program with tip cards on storing fresh produce. In-store signage in what the company calls its new "market" produce section includes tips such as storing potatoes in a perforated plastic bag in a cool, dark place to maintain freshness.

The grocer is also offering a double-money back guarantee on any produce customers are dissatisfied with.

Food Lion is owned by the Belgian supermarket conglomerate Delhaize, and the company operates 1,100 locations.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Carolina Beer Temple opening in Matthews

You might not have seen it at the end of my colleague Helen Schwab's excellent article about Charlotte's thriving craft beer scene, so I thought I'd highlight some of the news: A new craft beer store, the Carolina Beer Temple, is opening soon in Matthews.

The store is planned to open early next year. There will be 8 to 16 taps, the owners say, and half of those will be N.C. craft beers. Owners Rob and Megan Jacik don't know exactly how many different bottles they'll carry, but say they plan to focus on local beers, especially those that are hard to find in Charlotte.

Carolina Beer Temple will be in downtown Matthews, in the shopping center on Matthews Station Street.

Here's what the owners told Charlotte Beer: “With 70 breweries currently in operation in North Carolina we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fantastic if North Carolina embraced its beer industry in much the same way as Belgium?’” Rob said. “In an attempt to elevate the beer scene in North Carolina to a similar level as Belgium we felt our store should resonate with a similar reverence for the beers made here.”

View Larger Map

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What does Obama's reelection mean for retailers?

What will a second term for President Barack Obama mean for retailers in the US? The National Retail Federation's take on things is a little glum, foreseeing likely higher costs from health care reform and a greater emphasis on labor issues that could make it easier for workers to unionize.

"The top issue facing our nation the day after the election is the same as it was the day before the election – the economy," NRF chief executive Matthew Shay said Tuesday morning, in a statement. "The U.S. needs public policy that encourages economic growth and removes barriers to job creation."

 In the NRF's view, Obama's reelection is likely to lead to faster implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and eliminate the possibility of its repeal. That could raise the cost of doing business for retailers who employ lots of part-time workers.

On labor relations, the Obama administration is seen as more sympathetic to employees: "Reelection will likely mean a more active labor agenda ahead...Some of the more controversial approaches taken by the National Labor Relations Board on ambush elections, micro-unions and union access to the workplace are already under legal challenge."

One area many bricks-and-mortar retailers are concerned with is making online companies pay state sales tax. The retailers badly want to see online businesses charge the same taxes, which they think will help level the playing field. That legislation could move forward, the NRF said: "A new bipartisan sales tax fairness bill, granting states’ authority to require online sellers to collect sales tax on all sales if certain simplifications are adopted, is expected to be released by cosponsors reconciling differences between the current House and Senate versions. As lead cosponsor of the Senate bill, Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., will continue his push to pass the legislation while fiscal cliff negotiations continue." 

An Obama administration could mean higher taxes on small businesses and high earners, the NRF says, although those are not completely certain as fiscal cliff negotiations begin. "Most of the $500 billion in tax increases are as a result of the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for individuals, and could have a substantial impact on consumer spending," the NRF warns.

Two other issues might not be as prominent in consumers' minds, but could still have a big impact on retailers. Cyber-security and  consumer privacy are both likely to be areas the administration focuses on, the NRF says: "This includes the administration’s efforts on the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, examination of mobile app privacy policies by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. Privacy and data breach notification legislation will likely be reintroduced without many changes in both the House and Senate."

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Family Dollar turns to 'sin items' for growth

There was an interesting story in Forbes on Tuesday about Matthews-based Family Dollar's increasing reliance on so-called "sin items," such as cigarettes, to sustain growth in the face of fiercer competition.

Family Dollar cigarette display
Since the recession, Family Dollar and its competitors, such as Dollar General and Dollar Tree, have enjoyed a major period of growth. Their sales have soared to record levels, they've added thousands of stores, and they're preparing to open thousands more over the coming years.

The reasons behind the dollar store boom are myriad. There are more people in poverty or struggling, and there are more people willing to "trade down" the stores they shop at to save money. The dollar stores have added better-quality items, and thousands of different items such as food, to drive repeat trips. Larger discount competitors, such as Wal-Mart, stumbled, and with more locations, dollar stores benefited from being closer to home in an era of rising gas prices.

But now, competition is heating up, especially from Wal-Mart. The world's largest retailer is opening more small-format stores, and that means dollar stores have to come up with more ways to lure customers. Enter alcohol and tobacco. As an analyst is quoted saying in the Forbes piece: “Any time you’re selling liquor or tobacco, it’s another reason to go into the store, (they're)...addictive repeat purchases.”

Monday, November 5, 2012

Steve Smith's sandwich debuts at Harris Teeter

Smith catching a delicious sub
"The Smitty" is coming to Charlotte-area Harris Teeter stores, and it's being billed as Steve Smith's "personally designed Signature Sub Sandwich which is guaranteed to fill even the largest appetite."

Designed in conjunction with Harris Teeter, the sub will cost $3.99, Harris Teeter said. It will include: "Pastrami and Genoa Salami with cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and a light brushing of mustard on toasted sourdough bread."

On Election Day (Tuesday Nov. 6), Smith will be at the Morrocroft Harris Teeter promoting his new sub. He'll be there during the lunch hour, from noon to 1 p.m. He'll be signing autographs, although presumably not on the subs themselves. Harris Teeter is likely glad Smith didn't get traded this year.

View Larger Map

Friday, November 2, 2012

Survey's in: Men plan to spend more on holiday shopping

A new survey from Mint.com shows some interesting trends in holiday shopping: Men plan to spend more, on average, but women plan to start earlier.

Men surveyed plan to spend &775.78, while women in the survey plan to spend $724.23 on gifts. Out of that total spending, men said they plan to spend slightly less on gifts for family members ($416) than women do ($427), but more on gifts for friends ($89 v. $62) and co-workers ($30 v. $17).

Part of the reason for the discrepancy could be that women are simply thriftier. Of those surveyed, 60.7 percent of men said they planned to shop in discount stores, compared with 69.7 percent of women. Men are also more likely to shop at electronics stores (38.7 percent v. 25.4 percent), which could lead to more big ticket purchases by men.

Another could be that women start their shopping earlier, on average, than men. By November, 46.4 percent of women have already started their shopping, compared with 35.9 percent of men. And almost twice as many men, 4.6 percent, plan to wait until the last two weeks of December. Just 2.5 percent of women say they're going to wait that long.

How about you? Have you started shopping yet? If you're a guy, do you think you'll spend more than the women in your life on the holidays (or vice versa)?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tax holiday for Energy Star this weekend

Energy-efficient appliances will be sales-tax free this weekend, from Friday, Nov. 2 through Sunday, Nov. 4.

In Mecklenburg County, that means saving 7.25 percent in taxes on Energy Star-rated appliances. That equates to $72.5 on a $1,000 purchase, which isn't too shabby. The sales tax holiday covers washing machines, freezers, refrigerators, central air conditioners, room air conditioners, air-source heat pumps, ceiling fans, dehumidifiers and programmable thermostats

A few conditions to note:
  •  There is no price floor or ceiling for qualifying purchases. 
  • Appliance rentals are not covered.
  • Appliance deliveries that are delayed due to stocking issues are still covered, but not if the customer requests delayed delivery. From the Department of revenue: "An item is eligible for the exemption if the customer pays for it during the holiday period and the retailer accepts the order and takes an action to fill the order for immediate delivery."
  • Purchases by businesses aren't exempt. The sales tax holiday covers only individuals.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

New grill store opening on Tremont Avenue

A new, high-end outdoor cooking store, Charlotte Grill Company, is opening Nov. 1 near the Dilworth and South End areas.

Store owner Randy Utsey has been selling and distributing Big Green Egg cookers for 16 years. He started his company, DJ Distributing Company, in 1985, selling ventilation hoods and other cooking materials to retailers.

In 1996, Utsey was in Atlanta on business when he was introduced to the founder of Big Green Egg, a ceramic, dome-shaped (well, egg-shaped) grill. Utsey was convinced to try one out, then started selling them in Charlotte.

"Every time I went back to Atlanta, I'd load up with Big Green Eggs and bring them back to Charlotte," said Utsey.

The store on Tremont, tucked into the back of an industrial park, is the company's first major foray into the customer-facing retail world. Utsey said he plans to expand the store, learning what to stock and how to sell it to customers.

The Utseys have grills on display and for sale at the store, including Big Green Eggs, Napoleon, and Luxor. They also have spices, charcoal, tongs, and other accessories you might need. Utsey's hope is to expand the store, which is currently somewhere around 1,500 square feet, and move into a more accessible location. The back of the Tremont Ave. store houses the company's warehouse and distribution.

Eventually, Utsey said he hopes to have a business that's dedicated to all aspects of outdoor cooking, and can help customers design and build outdoor kitchen areas.

Randy Utsey and son in the store

View Larger Map

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Retail industry seeks to turn out votes

The National Retail Federation has been trying to get voters interested in the upcoming election and business issues from a retail-oriented point of view, with their "Retail Means Votes" campaign.

The non-partisan campaign offers voters information on Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and where they stand on retail-related issues such as tax reform and health care reform. The website also has information on all of the Senate races, and where each candidate stands on the issues.

"With an election largely centered on the economy and jobs, it’s important to make sure America’s 3.6 million retailers and their employees know what’s at stake for the industry,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay , in a statement.

Although the website and NRF campaign don't specifically endorse any candidates, the issues highlighted offer some insight into retailer's major concerns. The industry group supports repealing the Affordable Care Act, fighting efforts to unionize employees, and lowering corporate tax rates.

Here are six questions the NRF suggests asking of candidates for office:

1. American employers pay the highest corporate tax rate in the world. Do you support efforts to reform the corporate tax code? What rate should corporations pay? Do you support the idea of individual rates being aligned with corporate tax rates?

2. Today’s sales tax system unfairly favors online retailers — who are not required to collect sales tax due on most sales — to the disadvantage of brick-and-mortar merchants. Do you support current Congressional efforts to level the playing field and allow states to collect the taxes they are owed from online purchases?

3. Do you support or oppose repealing the Affordable Care Act? Do you support repealing the employer mandate penalties, which could tax jobs regardless of a retailer’s profitability?

4. Do you believe that there should be an open and transparent process for how much banks and credit cards can charge retailers for processing a credit card payment?

5. The current median timeframe for union organizing elections after a union files a petition is 38 days. Recent changes imposed by the National Labor Relations Board would allow for union organizing elections to be held as little as 14 days after a union files a petition. Do you support these changes? Do you see the creation of micro-unions as presenting challenges to employers and employees, especially for small businesses?

6. What will you do and what policies will you support to help eliminate foreign and domestic tariffs and other trade barriers, particularly on highly-protected consumer products like clothing and shoes?

"These resources will equip retailers and their employees with a firm understanding of retail’s public policy priorities – be it combating micro-unions, fighting for sales tax fairness, or reducing swipe fees – and help put the election into context,” said Shay, in a statement.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Winestore opening third location near Lake Norman

Charlotte-based Winestore is opening its third shop this week, in Cornelius. The store plans to open its doors Thursday, Nov. 1.

The company opened its first retail location in 2006, with its SouthPark store. In 2009, Winestore expanded, opening a second location in the Blakeney shopping center, on Rea Road.

The new store is at the corner of Jetton Road and West Catawba Avenue. "We are very excited to be entering this new market and believe we have the most unique wine retail concept in the Southeast," said Matt Snyder, the company's vice president, via email.

Here's a bit about the thought process behind the store, which positions itself as an easy, non-intimidating place to buy wine: "Usually, it takes quite a bit of knowledge and experience to wade through the choices – and one is always fearful of making the wrong one. We wanted to eliminate that fear and extend the favorable experience on the retail side. We have built our brand value on providing a positive experience for our customers above all else. Winestore is the result of that concept – a contemporary solution to the wine purchasing experience."

View Larger Map

Friday, October 26, 2012

Microsoft pop-up store open at SouthPark

People were waiting in line for a new electronic gadget at SouthPark mall Friday, but they weren't at the Apple store: They were at Microsoft's new pop-up store, waiting to buy the new Surface tablet.

The open kiosk, which could be a prelude to a permanent store in the area, is one of 34 temporary Microsoft stores the computer giant opened Friday for the holidays. The point of the stores is to get new products in customers' hands and generate buzz about them.

Friday, that buzz was about the Surface tablet. In between the Abercrombie & Fitch and Bath & Body Works stores, customers lined up to play with and purchase the Surface, which starts at $499, or $599 for one with the flip-cover keyboard.

The Surface, for now, is only available online and at the Microsoft stores.

Microsoft also released Windows 8 on Friday, and workers were showing customers how to use the new products.

"We want them to come so they can learn whole Windows 8 product," said store manager Maryam Alhammami. "Customer service is the whole thing."

Microsoft will use the temporary store as a launching pad for hot items this holiday season. The company is also planning release events for Halo 4 and the Windows 8 phone, both of which could be big holiday sellers.

Here's a good article in the Wall Street Journal about people lining up for Microsoft products. An excerpt, and some nostalgia Microsoft is doubtless trying to recreate: "In 1995, when PCs were the center of the action in technology, customers lined street corners in major cities around the world hoping to get their hands on Windows 95, one of the first big overhauls of the software that runs on most PCs."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Holiday sales expected to slow in some categories

Toys, video games, electronics: All staples of the holidays, right?

Well, while holiday sales are forecast to rise more than 4 percent this year, they're expected to rise more slowly in the above-mentioned areas, according to a story in Time.

Here's a quick rundown of the categories experts say are likely to see slowing growth this year, and why.

  • Toys: Per capita spending on toys is down to $60, from $85 in 1998, and the trend has been accelerating. Kids are more likely to want electronic gadgets, video games, and other items than a doll or a board game or an action figure, it seems. (Although if you think about it, $60 per capita spending on toys is still kind of a lot).
  • Video games: Well, when we said kids wanted video games, we didn't really mean it. Sales of video games have been declining, and software sales fell 2 percent in the fourth quarter last year, usually a boom time.While the Wii U will likely be a huge hit, X-Box and Playstation haven't had a new console in a while. And maybe kids are more likely to be playing a 99 cent (or free!) game on their phone than a $59 new release on a console.
  • And though there are always plenty of electronics gadgets to buy, some analysts are forecasting a dip in electronics sales. Some people "are approaching high-tech saturation," according to a study from Booz & Co., which seems a bit unlikely if you've seen an Apple store lately. But many cell phones, tablets, flat-screen TVs and other electronic items are also less expensive than they used to be even just a few years ago.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

See's Candies, Microsoft opening holiday stores

See's Candies is opening two temporary stores, one in SouthPark and one at Northlake Mall, in time to lure people with something sweet for the holidays.

Mary See

Both stores will open November 8. The Northlake store will close December 26, the day after Christmas, while the SouthPark store will remain open until April 4, through Valentine's Day and Easter.

See's, headquartered in California, was founded in 1921. In addition to its retail outlets, the company also does a large amount of mail-order business.

"A tradition in the West, See’s has consistently maintained the timeless virtues of quality, caring and friendly service. Made in America, using no added preservatives and only the freshest, highest quality ingredients available, each piece of delicious See’s candy is sure to delight this holiday season," See's said, in a statement.

Also, Microsoft's temporary holiday store is opening Friday, Oct. 26, at SouthPark. The store will sell a "curated collection of the coolest Microsoft products," according to its website. The store will be located on the mall's lower level, Microsoft says, across from the Abercrombie & Fitch store.

Microsoft will likely be emphasizing its new Tablet, Surface, as well as the Windows Phone and Xbox 360.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New ice cream company targeting Charlotte

Sloan's, an ice cream store/toy shop/candy wonderland hybrid based in South Florida, is looking for franchisees to open a Charlotte location.

The company, which currently has four south Florida locations, hopes to open 200 stores in the coming years. They're focusing on the Carolinas, Florida, California, Georgia, New York and New England to start.

Sloan's in Florida

Sloan's hopes to have its first franchised locations up and running by early 2013.

Here's some information about the company, which was founded by chef Sloan Kamenstein 14 years ago: "Sloan himself has designed the complete menu of creative ice cream, candy and sweet treats. These include dozens of innovative flavors such as Tracy’s Scrumptious Pretzel (caramel ice cream with milk chocolate covered salty pretzels and peanut butter swirls), Cookie Monster (made with homemade chocolate chip cookies) and Mom’s Apple Pie (apple pie ice cream with pieces of homemade apple pie). Plus, a collection of homemade cookies, brownies, shakes, smoothies, ice cream sodas, sundaes and all varieties of candies fill out the awe-inspiring options for Sloan’s guests."

If you're interested in bringing some Sloan's franchises to Charlotte, check out some more information here. And let us know how the ice cream tastes.
Sloan's Interior

Monday, October 22, 2012

Queen City Tennis Shop opening next week

A new tennis store, Queen City Tennis Shop, is opening soon in the StoneCrest at Piper Glen shopping center.

The store is planning a soft opening Oct. 29, and a grand opening Nov. 10. Queen City Tennis will sell a wide range of racquets, apparel, and footwear. The store will offer restringing services with 40 different types of string, and tennis accessories such as grips, hats, bags and balls.

The new storefront

Owner Mike Leffke is a lifelong tennis devotee, according to his bio: "A native of Lynchburg, VA, he played Division I tennis at UNC-Ashville, is a 5.0 level player, and has 10 years of teaching experience (as a USPTA P1 Certified Instructor) in the Charlotte area, most recently at Providence Country Club. Leffke’s wife, Maggie, was a Division I tennis player at UNC-Greensboro."

He decided to strike out on his own after teaching to meet growing market demand, Leffke said.

"Growth of the sport in this part of the city is booming, and I feel that it is the ideal time to open a shop to meet the needs of the growing population of tennis players in the Charlotte area. Our goal at QCTS is to offer a full-service tennis shop that is owned and run by a certified instructor with a true passion for the game," said Leffke, in a statement.

The grand opening will include discounts, free stringings with purchase of a new racquet, and a "Racquet Tuning Center" machine to test players' racquet weight, balance, and swing weight.

View Larger Map

Friday, October 19, 2012

Heist Brewery grand opening in NoDa

Another local brewery has joined the Charlotte beer scene, and Heist Brewery is holding its official grand opening Friday night in NoDa.

Heist brewer at work
Here's an earlier story by one of my colleagues with some background about the pub's development and owner Kurt Hogan.

Friday's grand opening kicks off at 6 p.m., with live music from The Josh Carter Band and The Dread Nots. The company is giving away $1,700 worth of prizes, including merchandise, gift certificates, and growlers.

The brewpub is offering "twisted American food" along with its lineup of beers. The menu lists items such as Lobster Bisque Test Tubes, Duck Quesadillas, and a Jerk Chicken sandwich. Heist also sells fresh bread at its building, a 6,700-square-foot renovated former mill.

On the beer side, Heist has wide range of beers on tap, including an IPA, an Oatmeal Stout, and an American-style Red Ale. "Using a Johann Albrecht German brewhouse we are going to utilize old world techniques of brewing and infuse them with "Heist" attitude! We believe there are no limits in brewing delicious ales and lagers, but we are going to try and find them," the company says of its brewing process.

The decor is mostly, as you might expect, heist-themed. Wanted posters for classic gangsters such as John Dillinger hang on the walls, and a chandelier made of old copper pipes riddled with bullet holes lights the room when you first walk in.

View Larger Map

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Halloween spending expected to top $8 billion this year

Halloween is serious business for retailers: Americans are expected to spend some $8 billion on candy, costumes, decorations and other holiday goods.

That estimate is based on a survey of shoppers by the National Retail Federation. The total spending is up from an estimated$6.86 billion last year.

According to the survey, per-person spending among those celebrating Halloween is expected to rise to $79.82, up from $72.31 last year.

The average amount people spend on costumes is expected to rise to $28.65, up from $26.52 in 2011. Consumers are also estimated to spend $23.27 on average for candy, up from $21.05 last year, and $23.56 on decorations, up from $19.79.

And, if you need to look for a place the American consumer could probably afford to cut expenses, 15.1 percent of those surveyed said they plan to dress their pet in costume. Spending on pet costumes in the U.S. is expected to total around $370 million this year.

 Of those surveyed, 71.5 percent said they would celebrate Halloween this year, up from 68.6 last year. The survey has margin of error of plus or minus 1 percent. The survey was conducted by BIGInsight, and covered 9,393 consumers, the NRF said.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New fast-casual burger concept headed to Charlotte

Burger 21, a new fast-casual burger company, plans to open a franchised location in Charlotte next year, as the restaurant expands into North Carolina.

The burger company is owned by Tampa Bay-based Front Burner Brands, the same company that franchises The Melting Pot Restaurants. Dan Stone, vice president of franchise development of Front Burner Brands, said the restaurant differs from competitors like Five Guys Burgers & Fries by offering less customization and more "chef-inspired" burgers.

"We took a very different approach," said Stone. The menu includes 20 burgers - 10 beef, 10 non-beef, including tuna and black bean burgers - and one rotating burger that changes every month on the 21st.

"We are very popular with females and kids because of the non-beef varieties," said Stone. He said 40 percent of their burgers served are currently non-beef, and 69 percent of their revenue comes from non-beef items, including salads.

There are currently four Burger 21 locations in Tampa and six more under development in Florida, Georgia and New Jersey.

In Charlotte, Burger 21 will be joining other competitors in the so-called "better burger" segment of the market, including Five Guys and Smashburger. That's part of the reason Burger 21 hopes to expand so quickly, adding 20 to 30 new locations next year.

"We want to be in the retail hubs where we'll find a Chipotle or a Panera," said Stone. "Some landlords, once they get a Five Guys or someone like that, they don't want another burger concept. "We don't want to lose our position in markets."

If you're interested in becoming a franchisee, you can check out Burger 21's franchising site here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cheese shop now open in 7th Street Public Market

A new store is selling handmade cheeses in 7th Street Public Market, and the owner of Orrman's Cheese Shop said she's excited to bring more interesting cheese to Charlotte.

"I just like the taste of cheese," said owner Rachel Klebaur. "I like meeting the cheese makers, and visiting the farms."

Klebaur said she first got into cheese during culinary school, when she worked at Murray's Cheese in New York City. "I just stayed on in Murray's for a few years and learned about cheese" after school, she said. "It's something I really enjoyed, vs. busting the line in a kitchen."

Now, with her own small store, Klebaur is handpicking each cheese, which all come from small farms who use sustainable practices, she said. "It's a very small selection, but nothing's missing from that case," Klebaur said. "They're favorites of mine."

She plans to rotate the selection seasonally. "I really like aged sheep's milk cheeses, and we're getting into that season. In the spring, we look forward to the fresh goat's milk cheeses."

"I really encourage tasting of the cheeses before purchasing," she said. Klebaur said she wants to help people understand where their cheese comes from and how it's made.

And as the number of artisanal cheese makers in the U.S. grows, she said we're developing even more of an American cheese culture. "We don't need to go to Europe for great cheeses," Klebaur said. "They're here, in the U.S. and in the South."

View Larger Map

Monday, October 15, 2012

Harris Teeter's 201Central stores opening Wednesday

Matthews-based Harris Teeter is holding a grand opening for two new specialty stores named 201central on Wednesday, as the grocer works to expand its offerings and stay competitive in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

As we reported last month, the stores are both former Lowes Foods locations that Harris Teeter acquired in a deal earlier this year. The stores are in Huntersville and Wesley Chapel, and will have ribbon cuttings at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Named for store #201 on Central Avenue, one of the original Harris Teeter locations, the stores sell various specialty items, including 3,100 types of wine, 680 varieties of beer, 35 varieties of beer in kegs, cigars, cheeses, and international foods. They'll also carry bulk foods, including coffee, tea, nuts, grains and rice, a humidor, and beer- and wine-making equipment.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/09/17/3535498/201central-harris-teeter-launch.html#storylink=cpy

Here's some more from the company's announcement, about new services offered at the stores: "These services include event coordination and party rentals, as well as educational classes focused on wine, beer and food pairings. Meeting the demanding needs for convenience, 201central will also provide guests with the ability to explore a wide variety of wines utilizing the WineStation. This try-before-you buy, temperature controlled technology will enable guests to enjoy featured wines by the taste, half and full glass."

The stores give Harris Teeter a platform to experiment with new offerings, such as bulk food. They also give Harris Teeter more differentiation in an upscale market with two new competitors opening in Charlotte this year - Publix and Whole Foods.

View Larger Map

View Larger Map