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Store for celebrity-obsessed opens at International Plaza

Hollywood Obsessions is designed to be nirvana for celebrity worshippers.

From a $1,900 Dark Knight poster signed by the late actor Heath Ledger to $50 knock-offs of T-shirts worn by stars caught in casual moments by the paparazzi, this shop at International Plaza wallows in name- dropping.

It's a test store dreamed up by the Orlando owner of a Las Vegas celebrity memorabilia shop inside Planet Hollywood Casino.

The test: see if autographed memorabilia worthy of a Hard Rock Cafe can help sell pricey limited-edition art and apparel such as $325 black T-shirts accented with a skull fashioned from Swarovksi crystal beads.

"We've been more than surprised by how well we've been embraced by Tampa," said Andy Trujillo, manager of the store, whose temporary lease expires New Year's Eve.

Meanwhile, some new IP tenant debuts mentioned here in recent months have firmed up opening dates. Crate & Barrel plans an April opening of a full-line store with a second floor for furniture. Casual-restaurant guru Cameron Mitchell's Ocean Prime wants to be open before the Super Bowl on Feb. 1, as does Posh 27, a flashy late-night spot for dining and dancing.

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Plato's Closet, which sells used popular apparel brands for young women, has an upscale cousin for more mature women that buys and sells upscale brands such as Ann Taylor, Talbots, Creek and Chicos.

The first Clothes Mentor in Florida opened last week in the Cypress Point Shopping Center at 25897 U.S. 19 N in Clearwater.

Started by the folks who created but no longer own Plato's, Clothes Mentor pays for used goods less than 2 years old, then resells them at a 30 percent markup.

"So far we've had more people selling than buying," said store owner Gisele Iglesias, a 48-year-old litigator who left a legal career to start her own business.

Once word gets out she stocks Coach handbags priced mostly below $100, the sales trend should perk up.

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If the promotional drumbeat over Cyber Monday — this week's official start of the yuletide online shopping season — seemed louder and more price-driven this year, here's why:

The easy-growth era for online retail sites is about over, subjecting Web retailers to the same economic/consumer moods brick-and-mortar stores face.

In fact, November online retail merchandise sales declined 4 percent through Saturday, according to comScore Inc., which tracks the industry. The Reston, Va., firm forecasts no growth over last year's $29.2-billion in online retail sales for the November/December holiday period.

Cyber Monday has become a good bellwether for online retail prospects for a season that peaks Dec. 15. That's the day most free shipping deals expire.

Shop.org, the industry trade group, forecast an 18 percent spike in Cyber Monday business.

That would be a jolt.

"Early reports suggest Black Friday sales in stores were slightly better than anticipated," said Gian Fulgoni, comScore chairman.

"That performance apparently extended to the online channel, which saw Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales combined increase 2 percent over a year ago."

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The stock market has beaten up retail stocks enough that some chains may face unfriendly takeovers. Top of the list: Saks Fifth Avenue, which last week adopted a "poison pill" defense when Mexican telcom titan Carlos Slim Helu assembled 19 percent of the luxury retailer's stock.

The world's second-wealthiest person, Slim once owned Comp­USA and runs Saks in Mexico under license. The poison pill lets the company fend off raiders by selling current shareholders newly issued stock at half price should anyone acquire 20 percent of Saks without the board's approval. The market valued Saks, with 2007 revenues of $3.2-billion, at $531-million Monday.

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

Store for celebrity-obsessed opens at International Plaza 12/01/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 2, 2008 7:37am]

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