Crate and Barrel fundraiser turned into party planner's nightmare

The prelude to Crate & Barrel's grand opening in Tampa last week was a charity event that turned into a party planner's nightmare.

A 90-minute power failure pulled the plug on the festivities an hour before store doors opened to 400 guests. It took a half-hour to free caterers trapped in the stalled elevator. A torrential downpour backed up cars 35 deep at the valet stand.

"We had to tell guests to sit down and sip a margarita, but not shop in the darkness," said company spokeswoman Bette Kahn, noting shoppers nonetheless spent more than $10,000 in two hours once power was restored, a percentage of which goes to the First Generation Scholarship program at USF.

The full-line Crate & Barrel at International Plaza may not be the Chicago chain's only furniture store between Boca Raton and Atlanta for long.

"We're trying to add a furniture department to our housewares store in Orlando," said Barbara Turf, chief executive officer, just in from a mall developer convention. The landlord, who also happens to be lining up tenants for proposed high-end shopping center projects in Naples and Sarasota, pitched two more stores.

No deals yet.

"But you have to believe people will start moving to Florida again," Turf said.

• • •

If keeping up with the Joneses is your reason to buy an HDTV, chances just edged past 50-50 that you should take the plunge.

The average household spent $1,229 on consumer electronics in the past year, down $176 thanks mostly to lower prices and less discretionary cash.

But 52 percent now claim to be HD homes, says the Consumer Electronics Association. That's twice the penetration of two years ago.

• • •

British and Indian investors have teamed up to toss a lifeline to 120-year-old Hartmarx Corp., among the last bastions of men's tailored clothing able to sew a Made in the USA label in suits.

Owed $114 million, banks led by Wells Fargo are pressing for liquidation of the Chicago maker of Hickey-Freeman, Hart Shaffner & Marx and President Barack Obama's suits. But Emerisque Brands and a U.S. unit of Mumbai-based S. Kumars Nationwide have filed a $70.5 million cash bid for the clothier plus a $15 million loan while assuming $33 million in debt.

Quoting unnamed sources, the New York Times says Wells Fargo is pressing anyway for liquidation of Hartmarx's U.S. plants, which employ about 3,600 union workers. The unions are appealing to sympathetic Democratic congressional leaders and publicly attacking Wells Fargo for wiping out their jobs despite the bank taking $25 billion in federal bailout money.

• • •

Shoppers may be tapped out, but customer satisfaction ratings continued to inch up in the latest quarterly survey compiled by the University of Michigan.

That's another harbinger of recovery, once people find more money in their pockets.

Ratings of full-service restaurants, which have suffered in sales, were up 5 percent to a best-in-three-years 84 on the customer satisfaction index. Credit restaurants cutting prices by slimming down portions, says Claes Fornell, the marketing professor who manages the survey.

Chains improved, but didn't fare as well as independents.

The top two were Orlando-based Olive Garden and Red Lobster at 81 and 80 respectively. Tampa-based Outback Steakhouse, which is touting new entrees as low as $9.99, scored a 77, up 1.3 percent, while Chili's scored a 74, up 1.4 percent.

Domino's led the pizza chains by slipping ahead of Papa John's and Pizza Hut, both of which declined in ratings.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Crate and Barrel fundraiser turned into party planner's nightmare 05/25/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 7:06am]

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