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New (pricey) Frozen merchandise unveiled

We did a story last month about the continued popularity of merchandise surrounding Disney's smash hit movie "Frozen." Eight months after the movie hit theaters, manufacturers are still struggling to keep up, leaving retailer shelves empty and parents desperately searching for anything emblazoned with Anna, Elsa or Olaf.

But "for the first time in forever," Kohl's sent out an e-mail blast this morning trumpeting a new line of Frozen merchandise hitting shelves.

But hang onto your carrots, Kristoff, because you haven't had sticker shock this bad since you tried to buy a rope at Wandering Oaken's Trading Post.




There's a beautiful, reversible Anna and Elsa charm that can be worn on a necklace or bracelet. Too bad it's $100.



  Olaf charm

Too pricey? You can get Olaf for $85.


Or a non-descript snowflake for $55.




How about something more practical, like a cup?

Olafcup Frozencup






They'll set you back $18.99 apiece. But don't worry, it's a steal compared to the original price of $27.

How about something really practical, like underwear?

That'll be $18, please. That's only about $2.50 per pair. Maybe you and seven of your friends can pitch in and split them up!

There was no sign of the elusive Frozen backpack kids are dreaming about for back to school. But there was a link to the sought-after 12-inch Anna doll--out of stock, of course.


---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Orchard Fresh executive chef wins Supermarket Chef Showdown

HortoncookingErin Horton, executive chef at Orchard Fresh supermarket in Orchard Park, won the "best side dish or mini meal" category at this year's Supermarket Chef Showdown in Chicago.

The Supermarket Chef Showdown is an annual recipe competition presented by the Food Marketing Institute.

Horton and 24 other finalists had 20 minutes to prepare a dish incorporating three mandatory ingredients in a live showdown before a panel of judges. Her Mediterranean Chicken Meatballs recipe beat out a total of 130 other submissions from 30 different retailers.

Horton's recipe was inspired by the Mediterranean Chicken Sliders dish sold in the prepared foods section at Orchard Fresh.

“What I love about the Supermarket Chef Showdown is that these talented chefs are finally getting some credit for preparing the wide variety of delicious food that feeds millions of Americans every day, said Janet McCracken, Supermarket Chef Showdown judge and test kitchen director for Everyday with Rachael Ray, in a release. “It’s giving a face to the men and women behind everything from that delicious rotisserie chicken that I personally rely on heavily for weeknight meals, to the wonderful salads, vegetable side dishes and desserts.”

Horton is from Springville.

Titanfall for Xbox One midnight release party at Galleria



A much-anticipated video game release will have fans lining up at Walden Galleria for a midnight release party Monday.
Titanfall, a first-person shooter game, will be available for the Xbox One gaming system at the Microsoft Store. The critically-acclaimed game has won several awards and has been awaited by fans since its introduction at the Electronic Entertainment Expo press conference in June.
“Don’t remember the last time I was looking forward to anything as much as I am this,” wrote one eager fan on a Web page devoted to counting down the days until the game is available. “Getting so close.”
Fans will be allowed to begin lining up at 10 p.m.

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Goodwill Store opens in Batavia

Goodwill Industries of Western New York cut the ribbon on a new retail location in Batavia Wednesday.

The Goodwill Store is in the Value Home Center Plaza, 4152 W. Main Street. The site doubles as a donation center, which accepts donations of clothing, toys and household items from the community. The store resells the donated items.

“Not only do we want to provide shoppers with a modern retail experience, but we want to make the donor’s experience as convenient as possible,” said Lisa Churakos, director of donated goods and retail for the company, in a press release.

It’s the not-for-profit organization’s eleventh store and its first in Genesee County.
The Goodwill was founded in 1902 to provide jobs and training to people who lack education or experience or who have disabilities. The Western New York chapter was formed in 1920.


---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

All abuzz over Trader Joe's

So maybe Trader Joe's, the California specialty grocer that has built an almost cult-like following, is coming to Western New York.

We don't know where - or even if Trader Joe's is coming for sure. But the good folks at the Kenmore Village Improvement Society, who have been practically begging the chain to come to Kenmore, say they have it on good authority that Trader Joe's will make its debut here sometime by the end of next year.

"We created a buzz," says Melissa Foster, the group's president, referring to its campaign to lure the chain to Kenmore.

Unfortunately for the Kenmore folks, it doesn't look like Trader Joe's has its eyes on the village, but rather other potential destinations in the Buffalo Niagara region.

But it does make sense for Trader Joe's to move into Buffalo. The chain opened its first store in the Albany suburbs in early August, with a line of several hundred shoppers that, in the words of the Albany Business Review, "snaked from the front door, around the parking lot and to the main entrance at 79 Wolf Road."

I can't say I've ever been excited enough about grocery shopping to wait in line to do it. Then again, I don't like shopping much.

Trader Joe's also set to open in the Rochester market - in the suburb of Pittsford - next month.

Buffalo will be just another stop along the way.

Of course, Trader Joe's arrival would be bad news for all of the other grocery stores in the Buffalo Niagara region, for the simple reason that any customers who shop at Trader Joe's won't be buying those same items at Tops, Wegmans, Dash's, Aldi, or Save-A-Lot.

That's not an inconsequential impact, because the Buffalo Niagara region is losing people, which means there are fewer people buying groceries here. And since grocery shopping isn't the kind of thing you drive to another city a couple hours away to do (your ice cream would melt!), all Trader Joe's would do is take its slice of the region's food-shopping dollars from the chains that already are here.

But it will keep Tops, Wegmans, Walmart and all the rest on their toes. And that's a good thing.

-David Robinson




Canadians welcome here!

Canadian1With the loonie above par, Western New Yorkers can rejoice that we will get a fresh influx of dollars from cross-border Canadian shoppers.

We can, but sometimes we don't.

How many times have you heard someone complain about the "Canadians making a mess of mall parking lots" or grumbled about the driving skills of someone behind the wheel of a car with an Ontario license plate?

You would think anyone who has passed Economics 101 would thank their lucky stars to have Canadian consumers propping up our struggling economy. Our local retailers, hoteliers and small business owners certainly get it. And communities elsewhere would love to have something similar.

Yet you still hear the grumbles. And you still see stories like this one, where shoppers have begun calling Canadian shoppers "milk piranhas" for buying so much milk at U.S. grocery stores. One consumer calls shopping among Canadians a "nightmare." Doing without the $400.99 million in sales tax Canadian shoppers brought in to Erie County last year sounds like more of a nightmare to me. And I'm sure if you talked to our local dairy farmers, they count Canadian "milk piranhas" as a blessing.

Canadian2Shoppers in Bellingham, Washington have created a Facebook page called, "Bellingham Costco needs a special time just for Americans." It has 4,090 likes.

This story spells out why:

Canadians are being admonished on the Facebook page for littering, bad parking, cutting off other drivers, pushing past other customers to grab merchandise and clearing Costco shelves of milk.

“It’s not Costco, it’s everywhere!!! I feel like I’m in Canada anytime I drive anywhere in Bellingham. I wouldn’t have a problem if they were considerate people ... but they are the rudest people I’ve ever encountered,” according to poster Julie Lawson.

According to the same article, a handful of Canadians have started a movement of their own:

It’s that kind of ire that inspired Todd Smith, 25, of Coquitlam B.C., to launch his own Facebook page: “Canadians invade Bellingham Costco,” inviting Canadians to shop the Bellingham Costco on Saturday, Aug. 18.

Smith says he and his partner make the half-hour drive across the border weekly, not only because gas, food and clothes are cheaper in the U.S., but because stores there offer greater variety. About a dozen people have said they’re interested in the shop-the-Bellingham-Costco event.

“It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but we do go down there quite regularly and we might go down Saturday,” said Smith. “I find it kind of odd that these people would take such trivial things out of context. Have they not stopped to consider that we’re supporting their economy?”

It's a good question.

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann


Wealthy toddlers dressed to kill (the family budget)

There's a fascinating story in today's Business section about the market for luxury childrenswear, which makes up about 3 percent of the $34 billion childrenswear industry. It turns out dressing affluent children can be very lucrative. We can't have mommy's favorite fashion accessory looking shabby, now can we?

"They're a walking billboard of you. They're a reflection of who you are, so if you are someone highly stylized, then you want to make sure your kids are the best-dressed kids out there," said Sasha Charnin Morrison, fashion director at Us Weekly.

After all, look how much celebrities and celebrity wanna-bes spend to deck out their dogs. And they will never even be able to drop names among their playmates!

But what exactly does a $2,000 children's dress look like?

Here are some looks from some of the priciest childrenswear lines. Mouse over each photo for the designer:

  Lanvin Blossom

Fendi    Gucci

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

No victory in swipe fee settlement

CCMerchants have been fighting credit card companies over swipe fees for years. As the battle drags on, you may have noticed more mom-and-pop retailers have instituted a minimum purchase amount for credit card purchases.

Thanks to a recent settlement, merchants will now be able to pass swipe fees on to consumers rather than incurring them themselves.

The Wall Street Journal interviewed about two dozen retailers, many of whom said they aren't sure whether they want to risk alienating their customers by passing the cost of swipe fees on to them:

Steven Resnick, a partner at the accounting firm Resnick Amsterdam Leshner in Blue Bell, Pa., which sued Visa and Mastercard, says he would "definitely not" impose a surcharge on clients because "it would be like we're nickel-and-diming them," he says.

SwipeAfter complaining about being nickel-and-dimed by the credit card companies, one would hope merchants wouldn't want to turn around and do the same to their own customers.

The swipe fee settlement is a messy victory for merchants. They are no longer required to pay the surcharge themselves, but they still have to figure out who pays it. The credit card companies still get their money, which amounts to about 1 percent to 3 percent per transaction. But it begs the question, especially in a society where one almost cannot function without plastic, what is so costly about the system that every swipe costs so much?

According to swipe fee reform group the Merchants Payments Coalition, the money brought in through swipe fees far exceed the cost of doing business. In fact, they bring in twice as much money as ATM fees and overdraft charges:

What started in the 1960s as a fee to cover the transaction costs of using plastic is now a cash-cow for the big banks that issue 90% plus of all MasterCard and Visa cards.  According to a consultant for the big banks, only 13% of the credit card interchange fee goes to processing credit card transactions; much of the rest goes to pay for billions of pieces of unsolicited junk mail annually among other dubious credit card marketing activities aimed at students or those with bad credit histories.

The more people you ask, the more it sounds like the recent settlement was a victory for no one but the banks, who get to keep the status quo.

Walmart turns 50, and remains controversial

RogersArkOn this day in 1962, Sam Walton opened the first Walmart store in Arkansas. A lot has happened in those 50 years.

Not only has Walmart become the most successful retailer in history, it has become one of the most polarizing. Bad news and critics just seem to follow Walmart everywhere.

In North Tonawanda, the company is constructing a super store it had fought residents for years to build. It's the kind of opposition that follows the store everywhere it tries to make a home. Even as I type this blog, thousands of people are protesting a proposed Walmart store in Los Angeles' Chinatown.

WalmartThis film by Robert Greenwald paints Walmart as a worse villain than anything Hollywood could have dreamed up.

 Walmart's most recent bad publicity concerns a bribery scandal in Mexico that implicated top executives. But over the years there has been outcry over just about any economic and social crime you can think of: child labor, depressing wages, driving jobs overseas, withholding employee pay, putting mom and pop companies out of business, polluting the environment, union busting, discrimination.

Type any crime plus the word "Walmart" into a search engine and you're bound to find something. On a lark, I Googled the most heinous thing I could think of, "Walmart kills kittens," and got this.

Why don't other mega retailers have this problem? Do you recall anyone protesting the arrival of a Target store or a Wegmans?

Does a minimum wage help or hurt workers?

AppleSome retail employees of the Apple Store will soon be getting raises, by as much as 25 percent. Workers there typically earn $9 to $15 per hour, while tech support makes as much as $30 per hour.

The company said it is instituting the performance-review-based raises after a survey found its workers were underpaid, but analysts speculated the company was also motivated to better compensate workers once it found they were being poached by Microsoft for its own retail stores.

Employee compensation is an interesting subject. Here is a neat little tutorial about wage determination in competitive markets. It's from the United Kingdom, but still works.

Here's a video lesson:


Subscribing to free market theory, many folks believe minimum wage and other regulations concerning wages and benefits should be done away with.

This Web site lists what it believes to be the pros of ending minimum wage. It says abolishing minimum wage would create more jobs, prevent outsourcing for cheaper labor and keep out illegal aliens.

Here is Ron Paul advisor Peter Schiff advocating the abolition of the minimum wage:


Other folks don't think so.

Here is a lengthy rebuttal:



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