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Stores' hope of reduced debit card fees backed by Senate

Retailers' crusade against $48 billion in hidden bank fees they pay for credit and debit card transactions has won a spot in the federal financial reform bill.

The U.S. Senate-approved bill requires the Federal Reserve to limit fees retailers pay on each Visa and MasterCard debit card transaction to real cost, rather than fattening bank profits. The requirement still has to pass the House.

Retailers, who build about $20 billion in 1.5 percent debit card fees into retail prices, claim banks need only a fifth of that to pay actual costs.

The new rules would apply only to banks with at least $10 billion in assets. That may not sound sweeping, but consider that retailers currently have no choice but to pay whatever banks dictate.

The proposal would cover only 2 percent of all banks, but those banks account for three-quarters of all debit card transactions.

Campaign organizers, who coined the catch-phrase of "swipe fees" (get the double meaning?) for what's otherwise known as "interchange fees," concede their win sounds incremental.

"But it's a good start," said Doug Kantor, counsel for the Merchants Payments Coalition.

Indeed, it would be fleeting if it vanishes as trade bait in negotiations for the bigger bill with the House.

• • •

What happened to Mom Inc., a reality TV series being produced for the Learning Channel that offers entrepreneurial moms a chance to sell their inventions on HSN?

The show starring Kelly Ripa remains in development, but retitled as Homemade Millionaire. Details of when the six-episode series airs are sketchy.

Meanwhile, TLC turns to retail Wednesday to launch yet another reality show. It's Mall Cops, which stars real-world Paul Blarts working security at the Mall of America near Minneapolis.

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Three tenant moves at International Plaza illustrate how retail evolves.

Spice and Tea Exchange, a St. Augustine chain with shops in tourist hot spots in Johns Pass and Tarpon Springs, came up with its first slicked-up version for malls that opens in August.

Done up like an old apothecary, the shop grinds and blends more than 70 spice mixtures on site for everything from rib rubs to popcorn seasoning.

"We use alluring scents to create an enticing experience," said Paulette Callendar, who owns Spice Exchanges in upscale centers in Boca Raton and Sarasota.

Meanwhile, Ariel La in June steps up from a small shop in Bay Street to a store three times the size inside the mall. Featuring apparel, accessories and jewelry, Ariel La started as a kiosk.

BCBG Max Azria reopened last week after an eight-year hiatus.

The chain, which was one of the original stores in IP, returns as a hotter designer brand with a presence in upscale department stores and four other malls in the Tampa Bay market.

How hot? A BCBG Max Azria a mile away in WestShore Plaza will remain open.

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Evos, the self-proclaimed, frier-free, fast-food alternative, recently opened its first store in Miami. In five years of selling franchises, the Tampa chain has grown to 10 stores in four states.

• • •

The Tampa restaurateurs who opened Tsunami Japanese Steakhouse in St. Petersburg last year have a deal to open another this fall at Westfield Brandon.

Located next to Cheesecake Factory, it will be called Ryuu (Japanese for dragon) because another nearby business claimed the name "Tsunami."

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

Stores' hope of reduced debit card fees backed by Senate 05/24/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 24, 2010 10:31pm]

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