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Consumer Report: Economy making unsteady progress

BY CSA STAFF

Yonkers, N.Y. A consumer report released Tuesday found that slow job creation and continued consumer troubles are causing Americans to act cautiously.

The Consumer Reports Employment Index is down to 50.2 in August, compared with 51.1 in July. The overall labor force activity has slowed considerably in the past month with significantly fewer Americans claiming to have started a new job in the past 30-days — 5.9% versus 7.8% the prior month.

While the Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker Index declined this month to 56.6 from 57.6 the prior month, and is down from its recent high in June (63.5), as well as from a year ago (61.7), the overall specific improvement over the past 30 days were small, according to the Consumer Reports Index. The positive developments for Americans included: a decline in missed mortgage payments to 2.4% from 3.9% in June, and a drop in the proportion of Americans’ homes entering foreclosure — 0.6% following two months of increases.

According to the report, healthcare coverage continues to be problematic. Nearly one-in-10 (9.7%) reported reduced coverage, up from the prior month (8.9%) and at its highest level recorded since April 2009.

The Consumer Reports’ Sentiment Index is unchanged for August at 44.7 versus 45.2 in July. It has changed little since October 2009, when it stood at 42.1, and has not entered positive territory since it was first measured in October 2008.

“This is a recovery at risk,” said Ed Farrell, a director of the Consumer Reports National Research Center. “There are several factors fueling this uncertainty, including job creation, which remains anemic along with consumers’ sentiment, which has held steady in negative territory for two years reflecting that Americans have not seen any real improvement in their financial situations since we entered this recession.”

However, the Consumer Reports Retail Index for August, reflective of July activity, is at 11.4 — its highest level since the holiday season. The Past 30-Day Retail Index is up from the prior month (10.4) and from one year ago (9.5). Per capita spending for the past 30-days was up slightly for August, reflecting July activity, to $286, from July’s $274 — capping three periods of steady growth.

The proportion of Americans buying across categories in the past 30 days showed that the largest gains were posted by personal electronics (24.9% up from 22.5%); small appliances (20.3% up from 17.4%); major home electronics (12.7% up from 10.8).

The Consumer Reports Index, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, is a monthly telephone and cell phone poll. A total of 1,259 interviews were completed between July 29 and Aug.1.

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Splashdown in Santa Monica

BY Katherine Boccaccio

The opening of the newly redeveloped Santa Monica Place, in Santa Monica, Calif., on Aug. 6, is noteworthy on several levels, not the least being that it marks the debut of the most ambitious shopping center in some time. In fact, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, it is the only major mall to debut in the United States this year.

Locally based Macerich Co., which bought the Frank Gehry-designed mall in 1999 from what was then The Rouse Co., has transformed the aging, enclosed circa-1980 mall into a three-level, open-air study in modernity with views of the Pacific Ocean, Santa Monica Mountains and Santa Monica Pier. (The property closed in January 2008 as it embarked on its 30-month reinvention.)

Macerich not only redid the center, which connects with the Third Street Promenade and downtown Santa Monica, but also significantly changed its tenant base, signing on an upscale tenant line that includes Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Barneys Co-op, Tiffany, Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, Tory Burch, Coach, and Michael Kors.

Open-air walkways and public gathering spaces augment the 524,000-sq.-ft. space, which also features a third-level rooftop Dining Deck that incorporates — besides both ocean and city views — chef-driven restaurant concepts, fast-casual eateries and The Market, a collection of artisanal, gourmet and organic food purveyors. The custom-designed furnishings, a large-scale fireplace and a signature olive tree accent the Dining Deck space.

The first-level Plaza provides cafe tables and a crescent-shaped fountain in an urban plaza-like setting reminiscent of those found in European cities.

Landscaping throughout the reborn Santa Monica Place is distinctive, from the seashells and mother of pearl in the paving to an urban kelp garden and sculptural dragon trees.

The Jerde Partnership, Venice, Calif., is the design architect for the project, which was created via the adaptive re-use of the former enclosed mall structure. The executive architect is Omniplan, out of Dallas.

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Publix testing out ‘Curbside’ delivery service

BY CSA STAFF

Lakeland , Fla. Publix announced that it is testing its Publix Curbside online grocery ordering and at-store pickup service at one Atlanta and one Tampa, Fla. store in the near future.

According to the company, customers can visit www.publix.com/curbside to place their orders and select their desired pickup location.  No minimum order amount is required and a $7.99 service fee per Curbside order will be added to the total. As an introductory offer, the $7.99 service fee is waived for first time users, the company said.

“As we continue to provide our customers with the service they have grown to expect, we need to provide new and more advanced ways to meet the needs of their growing and changing families,” said Maria Brous, Publix director media and community relations. “Publix Curbside is a natural extension of our service commitment, especially for time-starved families.”

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