Penney’s catalogues to return

Remember Penney’s catalogs? For decades, Penney’s put out 1,000-page “Big Book” catalogs a couple of times a year and dozens of smaller ones.

The retail giant stopped producing the hefty catalogs in 2009, then phased out the smaller ones the next year as the Recession and the rise of online sales took its toll.

But now Penney’s catalogs are coming back. At least the smaller ones are with a focus on home goods, the Wall Street Journal reports.

It turned out those catalogs were great for branding and driving sales. They generated loyal customers who also shopped in the chain’s brick and mortar stores. And many of its online customers weren’t new customers, but former catalog shoppers, according to the Journal.

Home items were the biggest sellers in the Penney’s catalogs, the Journal said. Indeed, the catalogs’ offerings of moderately-priced rugs, window treatments and bedding  and other household items were more extensive than what its stores carried. It was where you could find just the right style and size you needed.

At 120 pages, the first new Penney’s catalog will be sent out in March. But the mailing list will be limited to a select list of former catalog shoppers whom Penney’s wants to lure back, the Journal said.

The move comes as catalog mailings appear to be rebounding. After declining since 2007, catalog mailings increased in 2013, the Journal said.

And the storefront winners are….

The winners of this year’s downtown Duluth holiday storefront window display and lighting contest were revealed today. Of the 27 participating businesses in the annual Greater Downtown Council contest, here’s the category winners:

LIghting: Fitger’s Brewery Complex.

Most Original Window Display: CSL Plasma (commercial division) and Electric Fetus (retail division).

Most Traditional Window Display: Tele-Resources (commercial division) and Fig Leaf’s Boutique (retail division).

People’s Choice: Duluth Trading Co. with 178 votes (retail division) and CSL Plasma with 158 votes (commercial division).

Facebook Favorite: The Frame Corner & Gallery

So there you have it. Now go out check them out!

Best deals come before Black Friday

So you think you’ll get the best deals during Black Friday sales, huh?

Think again. You might want to hit the stores this weekend, instead.

The best deals are actually found in the weeks before Thanksgiving, according to data gathered by Adobe Systems Inc.

And the very best shopping days? The Sunday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

“Retailers’ biggest price cuts last year came on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and shoppers who bought items on the day before Thanksgiving snapped up the season’s lowest prices,” according to a Wall Street Journal story on the data.

So if you started your Christmas shopping weeks ago and finish by Thanksgiving, you’ve probably gotten the best prices and have bragging rights.

“The weeks before the Black Friday weekend offered better deals than the weeks leading up to Christmas. What’s more, those who shopped on Black Friday were more likely to find items out of stock,” the Journal reports.

The research shows how much holiday hype differs from pricing reality, the Journal said.

Check out holiday storefronts downtown

By now, nearly 30 businesses in the Duluth’s downtown and Canal Park area should be covered with red curtains while the windows are transformed into holiday displays.

The curtains come down Friday, before the Christmas City of the North Parade, revealing festive windows. All are vying in the Greater Downtown Council’s ninth annual storefront window display and lighting contest.

Then you get to vote on your favorites. I’d like to tell you how to vote, but that detail is missing in the downtown council’s press release, nor can I find it on their website. But if it’s like last year, you can drop your vote in ballot boxes set up at the participating businesses or vote on the Greater Downtown Council’s Facebook page.

Anyway, if you vote, you become eligible to win one of the gifts offered up by the merchants. Those gifts are on display in the store window of 209 E. Superior St., next to the Norshor Theater.

Participating in the contest are Apricot Lane, Art in the Alley, Bagley & Co. Barbo’s Columbia Clothing, CSL Plasma Services, Duluth Pack, Duluth Trading Company, Electric Fetus, Fig Leaf’s Boutique, Fitger’s Brewery Complex, Frame Corner, Grandma’s Saloon & Grill, the Greenery, Happy Space, Lake Superior Art Glass, Mainstream Fashions, Minnesota Power, Minnesota Surplus & Outfitters, Pizza Luce, Protein Pub, Ragstock, Security Jewelers, Siiviis (Sivertson’s Gallery), Tele Resources Inc., Trailfitters, Visit Duluth and the YMCA.

Straight Talk

Awards are handed out for all sorts of things. But this could be the kicker. An award for talking straight. No legalese. No double talk. Just plain language.

The recipient?

The Minnesota Department of Revenue.

Yep, the department got an award for its use of clear and simple language. The University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs gave the department its State Innovation Award last week in St. Paul for providing information in its letters, webpages and other materials that’s easy to find, understand and use.

Plain language saves people time, energy and headaches and makes the department more efficient, Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans said in a press release.

Too bad its such a rarity. Now, if only the IRS would follow their lead.

No Costco for Duluth

If you haven’t heard the rumor yet, you probably will.

Costco is looking to open a store in Duluth in 2016, so reports the cd in Duluth blog in an entry posted Wednesday without attribution. It said the company was looking for a site in Duluth large enough to build one of its warehouse-type stores. It’s even been re-posted on State Sen. Roger Reinert’s Facebook page, repeating the blog’s lack of a named source.

Too bad it’s not true.

Chris Eng, the city’s business and economic development director, responded yesterday by calling Costco’s corporate real estate department and talking to its realtor.

The realtor’s response?  It’s not happening in Duluth.

Costco, is similar to a Sam’s Club, selling in bulk items at discounted prices and requiring membership to shop there. It’s a popular chain, with eight locations in Minnesota but none north of Brainerd.

“Whoever put that blog out there, it’s not true, it’s not true at all,” Eng said. “Would we love to have a Costco? Absolutely.

But, he said, it’s a “made-up rumor.”


Grounds for gardens

Caribou Coffee baristas aren’t throwing out their used coffee grounds these days.

They’re bagging them up for gardeners.

Free five-pound bags are available at Caribou Coffee shops around the country, including the ones in Duluth.

The program —Grounds For Your Ground — started last weekcq to recycle the grounds and help gardeners.

Coffee and espresso grounds — which are high in nitrogen, potassium and other plant nutrients — work well as organic soil fertilizer in gardens. Moreover, coffee grounds deter pests, speed up composting and stimulate some plant growth.

“This program is part of a larger corporate-wide sustainability initiative that includes water conservation, composting and waste reduction that we’ll be rolling out this spring,” Michele Vig, Caribou’s vice president of marketing, said in a statement.

As bags are filled at each Caribou location, they become available to the public. A check with Caribou Coffee shops in Duluth last week found one to three bags available at each site.

Sephora opens Saturday

The grand opening of the new Sephora department at the Miller Hill Mall Penney’s store is Friday, May 2.

But it’s actually opening quietly tomorrow (April 26).

The classy 2,200-square-foot department — just inside the store’s entrance inside the mall — marks the return of fragrances and premium cosmetics to the Duluth Penney’s. It’ll be staffed with specially-trained beauty consultants and have studio space for skin care and makeup applications.

In March, store manager Ted Cuva said a Sephora is the next natural step for the Duluth store. In the last few years, the two-story department store has gone through a complete remodel, including an expanded and revamped home department.

Besides Sephora’s own makeup and skin care products, the new department will offer 50 other national brands. The store-within-a-store features open displays that allow customers to browse and touch products.

Sephora — which has more than 300 standalone stores in North America — partnered with J.C. Penney in 2006. Today it has “stores” in about 380 Penney’s stores.

For its May 2 grand opening in Duluth, the first 100 customers in line get a Sephora gift card worth $5, $50 or $100. And 750 free gift bags will be given out that day containing Sephora makeup samples.

A limo, anyone?

Not many are in the market to rent a limo or party bus.

Bur for those who are — say to go in style to prom or a wedding — the Minnesota Department of Transportation has plenty of advice.

Don’t just choose a limo service based on price alone. The cheapest deal isn’t necessarily the best quality, nor the safest ride, according to MnDot’s Mike McKay whose office regulates more than 400 limousine operators in the state.

McKay and MnDot are recommending renters do their homework and ask questions. Lots of questions.

So clear your schedule. This is going to take some time. They recommend you:

–Check for online reviews of the business.

–Check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints.

–Check with MnDot to make sure the operator is licensed and has liability insurance, both of which are required in Minnesota.

–Figure out how many people are in your group. That will determine the type off vehicle you need. Then ask to see the vehicle.

–Get a signed contract.

–Read the contract carefully. Make sure it includes cost, the deposit required, refund and tip policies, pick-up and drop-off times, arrival and departure sites, the specific type of limo you want and the services expected.

But there’s more.

MnDot says renters should also ask to see copies of the vehicle’s most recent annual inspection report, the limo operator’s certificate, certificate of registration and the identification of authority card (I don’t even know what that is).


For those who do rent a limo, they warn that the State Patrol routinely inspects limos and party buses on prom nights. If alcohol is found in these vehicles with only minors, the driver is supposed to return them to the original pick-up site.

For more questions, call MnDot’s Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations at 651-215-6330.



Paper cups in, plastic foam out at McDonald’s

Starbucks and Caribou Coffee uses them. Dunkin’ Donuts is trying them out. Now heavy hitter McDonald’s is going green with its coffee drinks.

Call it an Earth Day victory.

The mammoth fast food chain is replacing its plastic foam cups for its mochas, lattes and hot chocolates with paper cups at its 14,000 McCafe restaurants that serve the hot drinks, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The company says the switch is to be more environmentally conscious and to cut down on trash costs, according to the Journal.

McDonald’s has been using paper cups, double-walled for insulation, at 2,000 restaurants on the West Coast since 2012. Now it’s expanding the practice to the Midwest and parts of the East Coast, the Journal said.

I’m partial to McDonald’s caramel mochas myself. So far, I haven’t encountered the switch to paper in Duluth yet. But I’m looking forward to enjoying the hot drink without the guilt.

International Paper Inc. is among the paper cup manufacturers responding to a rebounding demand for paper cups for hot drinks. It’s coming up with new cup designs and is already producing a fully bio-degradable cup with a plant-based lining.

Polystyrene foam (the correct term)  is bad for the Earth because it isn’t bio-degradable, and recyclers are hard to find. And when it breaks into pieces in landfills, animals mistake it for food.

So embrace the paper cup… but don’t forget to recycle the plastic lid.