OPERATIONS

Blockbuster to keep 1,500 stores open

BY Marianne Wilson

McKinney, Texas — Blockbuster announced that it has assumed contracts with property owners nationwide and will maintain operations of more than 1,500 U.S. Blockbuster stores that would have closed under liquidation, as approved in a New York bankruptcy court this week. The chain also will retain more than 15,000 store employees.

"We’re pleased that we will continue to operate more than 90% of the stores that were offered at auction in April," said Michael Kelly, president of Blockbuster. "By lowering pricing and offering competitive summer promotions, we’ve brought millions of customers back into Blockbuster stores in the last three months to experience the best in convenience, choice and value.”

In April, Dish Network Corp. purchased Blockbuster in a bankruptcy auction. In a counter move to rival Netflix, which recently raised its subscription rate, the retailer has been touting lower rental prices.

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JCPenney supports youth programs one penny at a time

BY CSA STAFF

PLANO, Texas — JCPenney announced that it is launching a new philanthropic initiative that invites customers in over 1,100 stores to turn small change into “pennies from heaven” by rounding up their purchases and donating the difference to afterschool programs. Serving as the company’s signature cause-related event, pennies from heaven will be held four times a year starting July 31 through Aug. 27 during the Back-to-School season.

“Compelling national research reveals that one in four students in America is unsupervised between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. each day. This represents more than 15 million kids who could benefit from the academic and social development opportunities that afterschool programs provide,” said Mike Theilmann, group EVP for JCPenney and chairman of jcpenney afterschool. “With communities facing severe cuts in education and school resources, there’s never been a more important time to raise awareness of the afterschool issue and get our customers involved in helping to narrow the education gap.”

JCPenney said it would promote the initiative with national and Hispanic advertising, which utilizes broadcast, print and online media, showcases youth in afterschool programs through themed ads representing “pennies for art,” “pennies for science” and “pennies for music” — demonstrating the power of a penny to create new opportunities for learning.

The company also announced that Olsenboye designers Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen are lending their support to the initiative by releasing a limited edition change purse available exclusively at jcpenney. Each purse will sell for $9.99 and 100% of the sale proceeds will be donated to the pennies from heaven campaign. “Every child should have the opportunity to be part of a positive and nurturing environment after school,” said Ashley Olsen. “Through the purchase of an Olsenboye change purse, customers can help support afterschool programs and impact a child’s life,” added Mary-Kate Olsen.

JCPenney’s pennies from heaven campaign also includes a social media element.Prior to the official launch in stores, customers will be able to collect virtual pennies as part of a fun, interactive experience on jcp.com/pennies. This new microsite serves as a personalized social hub for supporters to learn more about the issue and get involved through various online activities that trigger a donation to afterschool programs. Once users collectively generate 100 million virtual pennies, jcpenney will donate $1 million to the afterschool cause.

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Turning the Page on Bookstores

BY Jeff Green

The current upheaval we’re experiencing with booksellers reminds me of those nature documentaries where the host talks about what happens when a giant tree in the forest comes crashing down, leaving a gaping hole in the forest canopy. In those instances, dozens of smaller trees and plants spring up to take advantage of that gap and soak up the new light. With bookselling giants like Barnes & Noble losing money and closing stores by the hundreds and Borders liquidating, I think there’s plenty of new light available for small bookstores to open up and take advantage of the new and evolving market. Question is: Will those smaller independent bookstores capitalize on those book superstore closings? I think they will, and they should.

Let’s face it, from an historical perspective, the book superstores were overbuilt for the category. Combine that with the one-two punch of CDs giving way to digital music, followed by Kindles and other e-readers taking over the book segment, and these brick-and-mortar giants were bound to feel the pressure. Given the rise of digital bookselling, a falling tree might seem like the right metaphor — but I believe there is still a sizable market of folks out there who still like to read the “old-fashioned” way: book in hand, cover to cover, literally. These same people also still enjoy the bookstore “experience.” I’m not talking about the “25,000-sq.-ft. Starbucks-and-couches” superstore experience we’ve gotten so used to, but more the smaller neighborhood mom-and-pop bookstore experience that offers an intimate and quiet setting in which we can actually read the books we purchase.

I think the independents have a few advantages their superstore counterparts never did: They have the ability to take up smaller shop space, allowing them more flexibility. They can also have an edited selection of books. Many even carry used inventory. It’s this old-school/small-scale formula that can really work. Think about it: At roughly 1/10th the size of the superstores (I’m talking anywhere from 1,800 sq. ft. to 3,000 sq. ft.) these independent stores don’t need to do a massive volume of business to be profitable, and they have the freedom to be very convenience oriented.

I think the ideal locations for these independents today are going to be selected based largely on overall convenience and ease of access — strip malls, freestanding stores or a downtown/village center location where bookstores originated. Their growth will likely be dictated by the actions and the absence of the big names, those markets where Borders has closed and Barnes & Noble has pulled back the most. What’s really interesting about this full-circle, back-to-basics small and independent store phenomenon is that it’s something we just don’t see all that often (if ever) in the retail world. The shift away from big names and big stores back to small neighborhood specialty stores may have seemed about as likely as Google giving way to the rolodex and the Dewey Decimal system — but it is happening. The big challenge is a familiar one for small business owners everywhere: Financing can be difficult. Aspiring store owners may need to rely on incentives and programs through small business associations and other groups to get their businesses off the ground.

It will certainly be interesting to watch as we “turn the page” on the retail book sector. What do you think? Will the smaller independent bookstores of old be revived? Have you seen any open up in your market? Email me at [email protected].

Jeff Green is president and CEO of Phoenix-based Jeff Green Partners (jeffgreenpartners.com), a leading consulting firm specializing in retail real estate feasibility, retail expansion planning, medical retail planning, location analysis and commercial land use.

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