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IKEA IS MOVING INTO THE FLORIDA DORM SCENE

IKEA won't have a store in Tampa until 2009, but that didn't stop the some-assembly-required Swedish furnishings giant from outfitting a model dorm room at USF St. Petersburg.

IKEA and Wal-Mart donated decor for a four-person suite that serves as a year-round tour stop for prospective students.

There's a reason the stores want the exposure.

"Our students spend $100 to $500 decorating their rooms,'' said Kay-Lynne Taylor, campus housing director. "Some put a TV in every room.''

There may be no IKEA in Florida yet. But the chain last week started hiring and training 350 people to staff its first stores in Orlando and Sunrise, both of which open this fall.

Or you can buy most of the stuff online.

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After I chronicled retailer complaints about ever-increasing fees they pay credit card companies, some readers wondered why merchants don't protest by charging less to customers who pay cash.

Some independent gas stations now do just that.

Central Chevron in St. Petersburg, for instance, charges 4 cents a gallon less to motorists paying with cash or a Chevron credit card. Other cardholders pay a premium. The deal is posted on the pumps. But roadside signs list only the lower price.

Credit card companies get about 4 cents a gallon in fees from stations for each tankful, which wipes out half of a typical independent station's profit.

"It is a discount-for-cash, not a surcharge to pay the credit card companies,'' said Bill McKnight, president of Automated Petroleum and Energy Inc., a Brandon jobber that supplies 151 independent stations in Central Florida that operate as Sunoco, Chevron, BP and Citgo. "We offer the discount on gas credit cards that don't charge us fees.''

More than 70 percent of motorists put gas on plastic. Stations owned by the big oil companies have fatter profit margins, so they don't feel the same squeeze. But independents risk losing business and sanctions from card companies by charging difference prices.

So far, the number of stations across Florida charging more for Visa, MasterCard and American Express cards is in the dozens.

"But it's going to get widespread,'' said Jim Smith, chief executive officer of the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association. "When the credit card company makes more on $3-a-gallon gas than the station owner, something's got to give.''

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Question: Who owns the rights to make American Eagle shoes?

a) American Eagle Outfitters.

b) George W. Bush

c) Payless ShoeSource

Answer: Payless, which in creating its own fashion brands, acquired U.S. rights to American Eagle from ... wait for it ... an Italian firm.

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is slowing its new store growth nationally, but Tampa Bay area shoppers won't notice. The world's largest retailer has added four more stores to its local development pipeline .

Two supercenters would replace Sticks 'n' Stuff on Gandy Boulevard in Tampa and the former Montgomery Ward & Co. in St. Petersburg's Central Plaza. Two Neighborhood Markets, Wal-Mart's version of a conventional grocery store, are planned on U.S. 19 in Pinellas Park and N Highland Avenue in Clearwater. Existing Wal-Mart discount stores in Palm Harbor and on Sunset Point Road in Clearwater, meanwhile, would be expanded to supercenters.

If these projects are all completed, Wal-Mart would have 46 stores in the bay area, including eight Sam's Clubs.

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

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