No Social Security COLA in 2016

Counting on a cost of living boost to your Social Security benefits in 2016? It’s not likely to happen, because inflation has been too low.

The annual increases are automatic when the Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners is higher in the prior third quarter than the same quarter the year before.

But the first two quarters of 2015 were actually lower than 2014. And we’re in the third quarter now.

“So unless inflation surges during the remainder of the summer, it’s unlikely that the third quarter of 2015 will surpass the third quarter of 2014,” according to an online Investment News story.

In its recently released report for 2015, the Social Security Board of Trustees confirmed it, saying a COLA or cost of living adjustment wasn’t expected in 2016. But 2017 looks much better for an increase, with trustees projecting a possible 3.1 percent increase.

Since 1975, only two years had no Social Security benefit increases — 2010 and 2011. This year, benefits increased 1.7 percent, similar to 2014 and 2013.

Too many Subways?

If it  seems like there’s a Subway sandwich shop everywhere you go, you’re kind of right.

Thanks to an aggressive franchising system, the Subway chain has been growing for 50 years, popping up in strip malls, as standalone restaurants and paired up with other busineses.

Today it’s the reigning retail king with more than 27,000 stores in the United States. That’s more than McDonald’s 14,350 stores, a chain which also seems to have outlets everywhere.

But in 2014, sales dropped 3.3 percent to $11.9 billion for the Subway chain, the first time in a decade that sales fell. Quiznos was the only other sandwich chain that saw a sales decline, the Journal reported last week.

So has Subway reached its saturation point? Has its growth limits been reached, especially as other sandwich shops open and steal market share? The journal posed those questions, as well as noting that some franchise owners are frustrated and selling their businesses at a reduced price.

Subway store owners are still making money, on average $475,000 per store last year; it’s just not as much as before, the journal said.

Perhaps in response, Subway has slowed its expansion in recent years. Where it once opened up to 2,000 stores annually, it now is opening about 400 stores a year, the journal said.


Gas prices to tumble

Get ready for a great autumn at the pumps.

Gas prices have dropped since they hit the year’s likely high in Duluth of $2.75 per gallon for unleaded regular on July 23.

On Monday, prices in Duluth ranged from $2.52 to $2.55 per gallon, according to, online data base of fuel prices.

But price drops will accelerate in coming months and stay low well into 2016. At least, that’s the projection of the petroleum analysts at GasBuddy.

They say the big drops will begin after Labor Day and will continue through autumn. Before Christmas, gas is expected to slip below $2 per gallon in up to 20 states, bringing the national average for December to $1.98 per gallon.

But don’t get too excited. Minnesota and Wisconsin are not among those states expected to see prices dip that low.

We enjoyed a similar drop in prices last winter, culminating with a low $1.87 per gallon in Duluth on Jan. 20, Gas Buddy data shows.

Prices are dropping because global supply and demand is pushing crude oil prices down. That’s on top of the usual decline in demand that comes after summer vacation road trips are done, the experts say.

Another factor is the seasonal switch to a cheaper winter grade gasoline that’s coming, producing an ample supply of discounted gasoline for motorists, Will Speer, a GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst said in a statement.

“It’s the perfect recipe for savings at the pump til the end of the year,” he said.

Nationwide, average monthly gas prices are expected to drop from $2.75 in July to $2.54 in August, then drop to $2.43 in September, $2.28 in October, $2.10 in November and $1.98 in December, according to GasBuddy.



Good-bye Allegiant

Allegiant Air’s Las Vegas flights in and out of Duluth on Monday night were the last for the Northland.

With its flight arriving from Las Vegas at 7:40 p.m. and one departing Duluth around 8:30 p.m., the airlines ended nine years of service in Duluth.

The discount airlines serving vacation destinations entered the Duluth market in 2006 with direct Duluth-Las Vegas service. In 2009, it added non-stop flights between Duluth and Orlando-Sanford, then added Phoenix service in 2011.

Passenger numbers built from 2006 to 2012, then started to decline. In response, Allegiant eliminated Duluth-Phoenix service in July, than ended the Orlando service in September, after a series of seasonal suspensions.

In January, airport director Tom Werner told the News Tribune that those Las Vegas flights were more than 70 to 75 percent full, which was an acceptable level for Allegiant. But an Allegiant spokesman said its target was 90 percent capacity. Most of the planes used for the Duluth Las Vegas service were Douglas MD-80s which seat 166 passengers.

So why did the twice-weekly Las Vegas flights’ popularity decline?

“You can’t beat it, you can’t beat the price, and the Duluth airport’s so easy,” said one co-worker who routinely used Allegiant’s Duluth-Las Vegas service.

But another frequent Duluth traveler to Las Vegas would fly out of the Twin Cities airport instead, saying the Allegiant “nickel and dimed you” too much.

Yet another co-worker drove to the Twin Cities last winter for his flight to Las Vegas. Even factoring in the cost of gas and parking, he said he found a better deal on a combination of hotel, air fair and car rental than what Allegiant was offering. Moreover, the two days a week Allegiant flew in and out of Duluth were inconvenient for him.

Art in the Alley to open mall store

Art in the Alley — which has played a key role in revitalizing Duluth’s Old Downtown with its artsy women’s clothing and home decor store — will open a second clothing boutique next month at Miller Hill Mall.

The expansion was announced Thursday in the store’s online newsletter.  It will be “smack dab in the center of the MIller Hill Mall,” it said.

The store will open in the former Sleep Number store across the busy corridor from Pam’s Hallmark. The build-out for the new store is already underway. “The fun and colorful transformation has begun…” the newsletter said.

Art in the Alley opened at 230 E. Superior St. in downtown Duluth in September, 2012 after its owners had operated Art in the Alley for five years in Superior’s Old City Hall. The business features vintage, repurposed and upcycled clothing and accessories and home decor and wares. They are the work of dozens of local artists, including store owners Tami LaPole Edmunds and Dan Edmunds. It’s all very colorful, upbeat and fun.

Three months after the Duluth store opened, they closed their Superior store and opened a second downtown Duluth store, Art in the Alley Home. It opened across the street from their other store, in the NorShor Theatre annex. It focused on the home decor segment of the business, including furniture, lamps, wall art and other home accessories — all creations of local artists.

Last fall, the Edmunds closed Art in the Alley Home in anticipation of the coming renovations of the historic theater that would eventually displace the store, anyway. At that time, Tami LaPole Edmunds said they might eventually open another store somewhere else in Duluth.

When to get the cheapest airfares

So does it matter what day of the week you buy your airline ticket?

You bet, if you want a deal.

How about how far in advance of your trip?


The general thinking is that Tuesday is the best day to get a deal. But according to the Wall Street Journal, better rates can be snared on the weekend, especially on Sundays.

The Journal reports  findings by Airlines Reporting Corp. which evaluated 130 million domestic and international round-trip tickets sold over a 19-month period ending in July. It found the lowest round-trip domestic tickets — which averaged $432 — were purchased on Sundays with Saturday’s average, $439, the second best day. Compare that with Tuesday’s average ticket price of $497. The most expensive day was Wednesday with an average cost of $503. The rest of the week hovered around $500.

As for how far in advance to buy tickets for the lowest rates, the study found the lowest average round-trip price — $402 — gotten 57 days before departure for domestic flights. For international flights, the best deal — $1,004 — came 171 days before departures.

Part of the reason is that business travel isn’t booked on weekends, the Journal said.

However, when it comes to holidays, such as Thanksgiving, booking early doesn’t make much difference.

“In general, airlines know they’ll fill their flights so prices start high and stay high,” the Journal said.

Free roses this Friday

If you happen to be in or around downtown Superior on Friday, check this out.

If you are among the first 500 people to stop in at Engwall Wolff’s Flower Shop, 1315 Tower Ave., and make a monetary donation to the Humane Society of Douglas County, you’ll get six free roses.

It’s part of Superior Good Neighbor Day on Friday.

No donation is too big or too small, says Rod Saline, who owns the floral shop.

“This is a great opportunity to pay it forward as we’re encouraging those who receive the roses to keep one for themselves and give the other five away to friends, family, neighbors, co-workers or anyone needing a smile,” Saline said.

It’s a nice idea. And the donations go to a good cause — to prevent cruelty to animals in the county, relieve the suffering of mistreated animals and to further humane education.

Rerun: No Kwik Trip likely for hillside

In case you missed this story in Monday’s business section, here’s the latest on the Kwik Trip that was to be built this year on the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue East and Fourth Street in Duluth:



Kwik Trip apparently has backed out of plans to build a store in Duluth’s East Hillside.

“That’s their current stance at this point,” said Keith Hamre, the city’s director of planning and construction services. “They’re not looking at that site anymore.”

Calls to Kwik Trip spokesman Scott Teigen late last week seeking confirmation were not returned to the News Tribune.

Last year, the chain had listed the site on the northeast corner of Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue East as one of five Twin Ports locations where it would build stores in 2015.

Plans to build stores at the other four locations this year are moving forward, but so far not the Hillside location, said Layne Froehlich, Kwik Trip’s district leader.

The property is below the alley and encompasses the Last Chance Liquor store at 619 E. Fourth St. and the former Auto Lube building at 601 E. Fourth St. It is across the street from Whole Foods Co-op and a new SuperAmerica store and gas station.

According to St. Louis County property records, the properties have not been sold and still are owned by Irene Katoski. Two of her grandchildren, who own Last Chance Liquor, still plan to close the business this year.

The city and a contingent of community agencies have sought more housing for the area, or a mix of housing and commercial activities.

“Those agencies have been talking about a development at that site and have been exploring it,” Hamre said. “I don’t know if they have anything; they’re just working on the feasibility,”

It is not the first time Kwik Trip has backed away from a site in Duluth. The chain also looked at building a store at West Arrowhead and Rice Lake roads but opted against it, Hamre said.

Coffee and cookies at Fitger’s

Duluth Homebrew Supply isn’t the only new store coming soon to Fitger’s Brewery Complex at 600 E. Superior St. in Duluth. (See today’s story in the DNT’s business section on the new home beer-brewing and wine-making store).

Cookie Temptations gourmet cookies will open a coffee shop in a lounge area on Fitger’s retail level next to Trailfitters. Besides coffee, the shop will feature the  decorated sugar cookies that are almost too fun and pretty to eat. Build-out for the coffee shop should begin around May 1 with it opening in June.

The cookie business will continue to operate its store and bakery at 4025 Woodland Ave. in Duluth.

The additions will fill the historic mall complex to capacity. What a difference a few years can make!


What’s next for the Brownie Furniture space?

On Saturday, the DNT broke the news that a Valentini’s satellite eatery and How Sweet It Is Cakes, a bakery and deli, are moving into the Holiday Center’s Skywalk level. Both plan to open in early June.

But what of the expansive space on the first level vacated by Brownie Furniture late last year?

The space isn’t leased. But while many would like to see retail in there, that’s not likely to happen.

While property manager Barb Perrella has shown the space to prospective tenants, it hasn’t been for retail use.

“Retail is very difficult downtown,” she said. “It’s not coming forward like we would like to see it.”

So expect the 26,000-square-foot space to be eventually converted into office or some other non-retail use. And expect the space broken up into smaller spaces.

“We won’t have 10 tenants in there,” Perrella said. “It will be two or three large users.”

“But it’s a large space,” she continued. “It will be perfect for someone.

Make that several someones.