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RETAILER SLATES FIVE NEW STORES

HHGregg, the Indianapolis consumer electronics retailer, has confirmed the Tampa Bay stores slated to open in October.

Most are in spaces vacated by the demise of Circuit City and Linens 'n Things.

The locations: 13199 Cortez Blvd. in Spring Hill; 2669 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd. in Clearwater Mall; 4495 14th St. W in Bradenton; 10277 E Adamo Drive in Brandon; and 6250 Commerce Palms Drive near the entrance to Tampa Palms.

More stores might come later now that HHGregg accelerated its expansion into the Tampa Bay area thanks to bargain rents for empty retail space.

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Shelley G. Broader, who led the transformation of Tampa-based Kash n' Karry Food Stores into Sweetbay Supermarket, abruptly left last week as chief operating officer of Michaels Stores Inc. "to pursue other opportunities."

Michaels said little about the move, other that to thank her for improving customer service and the shopping experience at the 1,025-store craft chain. An SEC filing reported she had "separated from employment" after two years. Controlled by private equity firms Bain Capital and Blackstone Group, Michaels has been marginally profitable. But sales held up comparatively well in a poor economy for discretionary spending.

Broader, who signed a confidentiality agreement, declined comment. She still visits the bay area often as a director of Raymond James Financial Inc.

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In another blow to downtown St. Petersburg retailing, Ronay Jewelers has given up on Beach Drive after three profitless years at Parkshore Plaza.

Ronay had anticipated other high-end shops would follow.

"Unfortunately that never happened," said owner Jorge Ronay, ticking off a list of troubles ranging from marketing to parking. "As a result, today's traffic is worse than ever, the recession is at its summit and this (summer) tourist season is the lowest ever."

Ronay, who said he lost $1.8 million on the Beach Drive location, will keep open his store in its 14th year at the Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa in St. Pete Beach.

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Leukens Big Town Liquors, a Dunedin liquor, beer and wine superstore as big as any Total Wine, is branching out to get closer to prospective customers.

After opening a small, 2,200-square-foot store at 3163 Curlew Road in Oldsmar, the mom-and-pop company opens a third location next month twice that size at 23055 U.S. 19 in Clearwater.

Both new stores are in shopping centers owned by the Jallo family that acquired Leukens two years ago.

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Despite retail jobs looking more appealing to those who once rejected them out of hand, depressed hiring shows signs of improving.

So says Chelmsford, Mass., Kronos Inc., which runs hiring systems for chains that fill 15 percent of all retail jobs.

Retailers hired 2.99 people in July from every 100 applications. That's up slightly from 2.75 per 100 in January.

"This may be a sign of stability in the retail industry," said Robert Yerex, Kronos' chief economist.

It's less than half the 7.5 jobs per 100 applicants hired in 2006.

In the first seven months this year, applications for retail jobs rose 12 percent, to 8.9 million, compared with 2008. They soared 33 percent higher since 2007.

So landing a greeter job at Wal-Mart may not be a sure thing.

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

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