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BusINess » Consumer

Archives for the ‘Consumer’ Category

Holiday shoppers came out to spend in November

A shopper leaves a Target store in Boston. Discount retailer Target Corp. said Thursday more shoppers came to its stores in November and spent more than a year earlier, helping a key revenue figure rise 5.5 percent during the month, more than expected. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

A shopper leaves a Target store in Boston. Discount retailer Target Corp. said Thursday more shoppers came to its stores in November and spent more than a year earlier, helping a key revenue figure rise 5.5 percent during the month, more than expected.
(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Generous discounts lured Americans to stores and online for holiday gifts in November, providing cheer and delivering the best gains for retailers in four years.

That raises hopes, already buoyed by reports of crowded malls and early numbers, for a strong holiday shopping season and is an encouraging sign for the economic recovery.

The International Council of Shopping Centers’ index reported a 5.8 percent gain, much better than the 3 to 4 percent increase expected.
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12 holiday money mistakes to avoid

In this file photo taken November 23, 2010, a woman looks at a DKNY holiday window display, in New York. The holiday season is full of pitfalls that can drain your bank account. If you're not careful, you can end up taking a year to pay for all the spending. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

In this file photo taken November 23, 2010, a woman looks at a DKNY holiday window display, in New York. The holiday season is full of pitfalls that can drain your bank account. If you're not careful, you can end up taking a year to pay for all the spending.
(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

The holiday season is full of pitfalls that can drain your bank account.

If you’re not careful, you can end up taking a year to pay for all the spending. More than 13 million shoppers are still paying off last year’s holiday debts, according to Consumer Reports.

It’s fine to cut back on gifts if your finances are stretched thin. But if you plan to join the holiday shop-a-palooza, remember that it’s not going against the holiday spirit to keep your bottom line in mind.
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Shoppers out earlier than ever for Black Friday deals

A shopper at the Hobart Target on U.S. 30 carries a box on his head just after 4 a.m. on Black Friday, November 26, 2010. Hundreds of deal seekers lined-up outside stores and battled freezing temperatures to purchase items at discount prices. (Photograph by Jon L. Hendricks/The Times.)

A shopper at the Hobart Target on U.S. 30 carries a box on his head just after 4 a.m. on Black Friday, November 26, 2010. Hundreds of deal seekers lined-up outside stores and battled freezing temperatures to purchase items at discount prices.
(Photograph by Jon L. Hendricks/The Times.)

It was nearly 4 a.m., the wind chill was a frigid 5 degrees and Jim Willson was ready to go.

Willson of St. John got to Best Buy at 11:30 p.m. Thanksgiving night to get his spot toward the front of the line.

“It’s worth it,” Willson said, adding that he was going to save about $500 on laptops going for $189 that normally sell for $449 each.
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Local businesses hoping Small Business Saturday succeeds

Jon Au Naturel Market employee Bobby Schaeferin, left, scans the groceries Autumn Osborne is buying from the Valparaiso business on Wednesday. Kenneth Chenault, CEO for American Express, announced plans early this month for Small Business Saturday, encouraging consumers to shop locally the Saturday after Thanksgiving. (Photography by Jon L. Hendricks/The Times.)

Jon Au Naturel Market employee Bobby Schaeferin, left, scans the groceries Autumn Osborne is buying from the Valparaiso business on Wednesday. Kenneth Chenault, CEO for American Express, announced plans early this month for Small Business Saturday, encouraging consumers to shop locally the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
(Photography by Jon L. Hendricks/The Times.)

National chains have Black Friday, online retailers have Cyber Monday and now the CEO of American Express is hoping small businesses will have their day, too.

Kenneth Chenault, CEO for American Express, announced plans early this month for Small Business Saturday, encouraging consumers to shop locally the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
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Local retailers hope Black Friday turn sales golden

Sean Charles, left, and Mark Atchison organize merchandise Thursday that will go on sale on Black Friday at the Schererville Walmart. (Photograph by Tim Hunt/The Times.)

Sean Charles, left, and Mark Atchison organize merchandise Thursday that will go on sale on Black Friday at the Schererville Walmart. (Photograph by Tim Hunt/The Times.)

Holiday shoppers could find better-than-average Black Friday bargains when they begin their hunt early—very early, when retailers are expecting eager crowds.

“We have better pricing than last year,” said Tony Marzilli, manager of the Best Buy store at the Crossings of Hobart. “We definitely have lower prices than last year on similar merchandise and better financing deals than last year.”
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Some economists see tepid spending for middle, lower class

A Christmas display is shown inside Ralph Lauren on North Michigan Avenue. Clothing is the most requested holiday item after gift cards this year, according to the National Retail Federation. (Photograph by Erin Schumaker/Medill.)

A Christmas display is shown inside Ralph Lauren on North Michigan Avenue. Clothing is the most requested holiday item after gift cards this year, according to the National Retail Federation.
(Photograph by Erin Schumaker/Medill.)

The 2010 holiday season may mark another divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Affluent households are expected to splurge more than they have in the past two years, while middle- and lower-income households will continue to be frugal and focus on the basics, predicts Chicago economist Diane Swonk.

“Members of upper-income households, in particular, are expected to loosen their purse strings and increase discretionary spending for both gifts and themselves, while middle-and lower-income households continue to stick to necessities,” Swonk said in her annual holiday outlook report Tuesday.

After last year’s lackluster holiday sales numbers and a disastrous 2008, almost anything looks good. The National Retail Federation is forecasting holiday sales will grow 2.3 percent and reach $447.1 billion for 2010. In 2009, sales hardly budged, up only 0.4 percent, and they actually declined 3.9 percent in 2008. The 10-year average for holiday sales growth is 2.5 percent.

“There is a lot of pent-up demand by consumers,” said Scott Krugman, spokesman for the National Retail Federation. “When deep discounts meet pent-up demand you tend to see more discretionary spending.”

Trey Matson seems to be the kind of person Swonk is talking about. Matson, a 56-year-old retired physician from Chicago, said he expects to spend “at least the same, possibly more,” this year on holiday gifts.
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NIPSCO’s seismic rate shift rattles consumers

Jerry Armellino, of Valparaiso, holds up recent NIPSCO bills. He is disgusted by the 16.8 percent proposed NIPSCO electric rate hike for residential customers and has written to elected officials asking them to fight it. The increase is under appeal. (Photograph by The Times.)

Jerry Armellino, of Valparaiso, holds up recent NIPSCO bills. He is disgusted by the 16.8 percent proposed NIPSCO electric rate hike for residential customers and has written to elected officials asking them to fight it. The increase is under appeal.
(Photograph by The Times.)

A proposed 16.8 percent electric rate hike for NIPSCO residential customers is being driven in large part by a shift of cost burdens from industry to residential customers, according to regulatory filings and interviews with parties involved in the case.

Some consumer advocates are drawing parallels with the 2002 property tax reassessment, which reduced assessments on the region’s largest industries by hundreds of millions of dollars and shifted the tax burden to homeowners and landlords. That shift was upheld by the courts as fair.

“The homeowners already took it on the chin during the reassessment, and now they are taking it on the chin with the NIPSCO rate increase,” said Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., who had the city sign on as an intervener in the first months of the NIPSCO rate case.

NIPSCO maintains its rates for individual customer classes have grown out of whack in the 20 years since its last rate case, with industrial and commercial customers subsidizing residential service.

“NIPSCO laid that on the table,” said NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer. “The challenge is trying to decide what is fair and what is appropriate, but it does make it difficult to obtain agreement.”

The proposed rates

The monthly bill for a typical customer using 735 kilowatts of electricity would increase to $92.96 from the current $79.57 under NIPSCO’s proposed rates, according to the utility.
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Nick’s Liquors keeps customers in mind

Nick Kikalos Jr., left, and his sister, Liz Kikalos, own the six Nick's Liquor locations including the one recently opened in Merrillville at 8103 Taft Street. (Photograph by The Times.)

Nick Kikalos Jr., left, and his sister, Liz Kikalos, own the six Nick's Liquor locations including the one recently opened in Merrillville at 8103 Taft Street.
(Photograph by The Times.)

Nick Liquors has expanded to six liquor and two tobacco stores give its owners’ children the same opportunities their parents and grandparents gave them.

Nick Kikalos Jr. and his sister, Liz Kikalos, own the six Nick’s Liquor locations including the one recently opened in Merrillville. They also own and operate two Nick’s Cigarettes stores, one in Hammond and the other in Dyer.

“My grandfather came from Greece and opened restaurants that gave my father an opportunity, and my sister and I want to give our children the same opportunities,” Kikalos Jr. said. “From my parents there are 21 grandkids. For any who want to get involved and show an interest, there’s an opportunity.”

His father, Nick Kikalos Sr., and mother, Helen, opened the first Nick’s Liquors in December 1971 at 4702 Calumet Avenue. Now retired, the elder Kikaloses expanded to a second Hammond store in 1982 and to a third location in the city that same year. Other locations followed.

“We built on our success,” said Kikalos Jr., president of Nick’s Liquors.

The Times readers have selected the business as The Best of the Region in 2010 and in the previous nine years. Kikalos says his customers voted for Nick’s Liquors because of its commitment to service and pricing.
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In a tough economy, old stigmas fall away

Goodwill Industries employee Sheba Albert, center, helps customers at a Goodwill store, in Paramus, N.J. The Paramus store is one of 100 new locations for the nonprofit Goodwill. Many are in middle-class suburbs. The strategy: Attract not only people in need, but also the many Americans who are looking for more value when they shop. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Goodwill Industries employee Sheba Albert, center, helps customers at a Goodwill store, in Paramus, N.J. The Paramus store is one of 100 new locations for the nonprofit Goodwill. Many are in middle-class suburbs. The strategy: Attract not only people in need, but also the many Americans who are looking for more value when they shop. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

The Goodwill store in this middle-class New York suburb is buzzing on a recent weekend afternoon. A steady flow of shoppers comb through racks filled with second-hand clothes, shoes, blankets and dishes.

A few years ago, opening a Goodwill store here wouldn’t have made sense. Paramus is one of the biggest ZIP codes in the country for retail sales. Shoppers have their pick of hundreds of respected names like Macy’s and Lord &Taylor along this busy highway strip.
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NIPSCO customers to get small cut in gas bills

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission has approved NIPSCO’s natural gas rate case settlement with consumer groups, which will result in a small decrease in bills for customers.

The IURC on Thursday approved an overall rate reduction of $14.8 million, which should result in an average yearly savings of $7.50 for residential customers, according to NIPSCO. Industrial and commercial customers also will see bill savings.

It was NIPSCO’s first natural gas rate case in more than 20 years and took only six months to resolve from first filing to Thursday’s order.
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