With closures, just one Dillard's to serve Manatee, Sarasota counties

How rough has the economy been for department stores? Dillard's Inc. confirmed it will close full-line stores in Bradenton's moribund DeSoto Square Mall and Westfield Sarasota Square Mall by the end of the year.

After running the stores for almost two decades, Dillard's deemed them unprofitable.

That will leave Dillard's with 45 Florida locations, but only one to serve once fast-growing Manatee and Sarasota counties from Westfield Southgate Shopping Center in Sarasota. The next closest Dillard's will be those in Port Charlotte and St. Petersburg.

"We'll offer to transfer as many people as we can to jobs at other stores," said Julie Bull, director of investor relations at the Little Rock, Ark., chain.

Dillard's was not lined up to be in University Town Center, a high-end mall project along I-75 in Sarasota shelved on indefinite hold last year after signing up Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus.

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National ad spending has slumped, but on-the-cheap, word-of-mouth marketing tactics — read "buzz" fed by viral campaigns, social media and other new forms of the good ol' publicity stunt — rose 14 percent to $1.5 billion last year.

Stamford, Conn., research firm PQ Media forecasts spending will rise 10 percent this year despite the recession, with about a third of the effort bankrolled by food and drink brands.

Virtually all the money is headed to consultants and ad agencies that create and orchestrate the campaigns.

Despite the media hype over Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, actual brand marketing money poured into those forms of social networking jumped 27 percent to only $119 million in 2008.

"Despite impressive growth, word-of-mouth remains just a fraction of the overall advertising and marketing landscape," said Patrick Quinn, chief executive of PQ Media, noting such growth suggests a bigger role in the future.

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Dollar stores may be cheap, but they are not always cheaper than discount stores, drugstores and supermarkets, says a price check at 100 stores by ShopSmart, a shopping guide published by Consumer Reports.

Comparing unit prices, the magazine found dollar stores cheaper on heavy-duty aluminum foil, gift wrap, party supplies and cotton rounds. But tissue paper was a fraction of the price at Walgreens, and foam plates, napkins, composition notebooks, birthday candles, brown paper bags and 16-ounce plastic cups cost the same at supermarkets and discount stores Target and Wal-Mart.

That's why it's called shopping.

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The economy has done a number on 100-calorie packs, the snack industry's answer to dieters clinging to old indulgences through portion control.

Through spring, unit 2009 sales in 100-calorie sizes were down sharply across the board: 59 percent among Nabisco granola bars, 28 percent among Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and 22 percent among General Mills Chex salted snacks, said Information Resources Inc., which tracks store scanner data.

With obesity high on government and health industry radar screens, analysts doubt manufacturers will give up on 100-calorie packages yet. Rather, surveys done by Mintel International say a third of buyers switched to larger conventional sizes to save money and 40 percent of those interested in buying them would if the prices came down.

About 14 percent buy them now.

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

With closures, just one Dillard's to serve Manatee, Sarasota counties 08/03/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 3, 2009 9:26pm]

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