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Take off your coat and stay awhile

Put yourself in the place of a Checkers Drive-In Restaurant Inc. executive. You've tried adding tacos to the menu; that fizzled. You've tried snappy advertising; sales are still in the gutter. Why not get rid of one of those drive-thrus and pop a dining room onto your restaurant?

That's the next move for Clearwater-based Checkers. The first 34-seat dining module, made by the company's Champion manufacturing division, was added in October to a Checkers in Englewood. By Thanksgiving, the company hopes to have one tacked onto its restaurant on the corner of Ulmerton Road and 49th Street in Clearwater. A third site is likely later this year in Philadelphia, Chicago or Atlanta.

By testing a sit-down option in three different markets, Checkers hopes to uncover the secret to boosting sales. And they may be on to something. As anyone who's ever tried eating a Champburger behind the wheel knows, it's not a pretty sight.

_ Kris Hundley

In America, EVERYONE uses a Ronco Wart Peeler

No, that wasn't a reunion of the Home Shopping Network Old Guard at Clearwater's CPN Television Studios last week. It was a taping for yet another incarnation of the TV shopping pioneer _ this time in Italy.

Shopping America Srl is the brainchild of Nando DiFilippo, an Italian citizen and HSN's former general counsel and vice chairman. He spent three years assembling investors and a team of HSN old-timers to mount an American competitor to the dozens of TV shopping shows that now dot Italian TV.

Many Italians, it seems, go home for an extended lunch. About 12 percent of them watch TV shopping shows between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. every weekday.

"Italian TV shopping is all mom-and-pop operations. The products are junkie stuff you'd find at a flea market. The shows look like they were filmed in a garage," said DiFilippo. "We're going to give them something of Hollywood quality that specializes in branded American products."

On the show, Italian TV star Maria Giovanna Elmi takes viewers on a shopping spree to the United States, where she encounters former HSN show hosts Bob Circosta and Mindy DeMarco McCortney. The pair introduces her to air walkers, Ivana Trump jewelry, and buckwheat husk pillows.

The one-hour shows are recorded in English, then dubbed in Italian.

_ MARK ALBRIGHT

Here's a solution: Don't do it

BellSouth Corp., the largest local phone carrier in Florida, wants to reach out to high school students in Tampa Bay to teach them how to safely operate cellular phones while driving.

The Atlanta-based regional Bell company says the instruction should be part of high school driver education classes. The timing of the offering is no coincidence. BellSouth is launching wireless phone service in the bay area some time next year.

The "Safetalk" program is already being taught to some high school students in Orlando, Jacksonville and Miami _ some of BellSouth's largest markets. Students are told to pull off the road if engaging in a conversation and to dial a number before entering traffic.

Sounds like common sense, right? But not too many drivers heed those warnings. A recent study showed that talking on a cell phone while driving quadruples the risk of having an accident, making it as dangerous as driving while drunk. Even the cellular industry's main trade group urges drivers not to use wireless phones while driving.

One skeptical local educator says learning to drive is hard enough. "As a parent and an educator, I would have some questions myself" about the Safetalk program, said Ron Stone, assistant superintendent for human resources and public affairs for Pinellas County Schools.

_ Ameet Sachdev

Drop and give me 50 megawatts

How do you energize a stodgy bunch of electric utility executives? Bring in a charismatic speaker like retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, a Tampa resident, who can electrify a crowd with the best of them. The former gulf war commander recently spoke at a conference in Orlando sponsored by the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group representing investor-owned electric utilities.

His lunchtime speech focused on leadership using examples from his wartime experience. Dressed casually in a blue blazer and black baseball cap emblazoned with four gold stars, Schwarzkopf even included a few zingers about the electric industry. He speaks from experience. He served on the board of Washington Water Power Co., based in Spokane, Wash., for almost four years.

"My first couple of years were boring," Schwarzkopf said. "I mean really boring. Now we are going to a competitive environment, and that's going to require leadership."

_ AMEET SACHDEV

QUOTABLE

"You're not saving. You're better off gambling in Las Vegas, where at least you can get a free drink."

_- Stock market bear Albert Sindlinger, 90, of consumer research firm Sindlinger & Co., after last Monday's dive in stocks.

You can't get cash, but you can get a good deal on a Pomeranian

A Big Mac. An X-rated video. A parrot. Legal advice. You can get all these things at former bank branches around Tampa Bay. Many have been transformed into rather un-banklike businesses, such as an adult video store on 66th Street N in St. Petersburg. With NationsBank Corp. buying Barnett Banks, dozens more branch buildings around the area will likely be sold, and some may be closed. That could create more opportunities for even more fresh ideas for the small buildings with the drive-through windows.

_ ERIC TORBENSON

MOVED IN

Other current tenants of former bank buildings:

The Tampa Bay Holocaust Museum, downtown St. Petersburg

Value Cleaners, Skyway Shopping Center in St. Petersburg

66th Street Video, 38th Avenue and 66th Street N in St. Petersburg

McDonald's, Tampa Palms

Church of Scientology administrative offices and mess hall, downtown Clearwater

TAMPA BAY TRENDS

A look at facts about life in Tampa Bay

The best seat in the house

How much would it cost to get a season ticket for of the best seats to watch Tampa Bay's four pro sports teams in action? It wouldn't be cheap:

Team Sport Games Cost

Buccaneers Football 8 $2,450

Devil Rays Baseball 81 $15,795

Lightning Hockey 41 $2,336

Mutiny Soccer 16 $408

Totals 146 $20,989

Note: Bucs seat is a club seat; Devil Rays seat is 40 feet from home plate; Lightning seat is on the lower level at center ice; Mutiny seat is at mid-center field

Source: The teams

_ Compiled by Times researcher Barbara Oliver

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