WBEZ | Retail http://www.wbez.org/tags/retail Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Sears may spin off Lands' End, Auto Center http://www.wbez.org/news/sears-may-spin-lands-end-auto-center-109030 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/SEARS.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Sears Holdings might split off its Lands&rsquo; End and Auto Center businesses. It&rsquo;s one of the strategies the retailer is considering in its turnaround efforts.</p><p>The Hoffman Estates-based company reported another quarter of declining sales. Same-store sales for the quarter ending October 26 fell 3.7 percent. The parent company of Sears and Kmart expects a net loss close to $550 million for the third quarter.</p><p>Sears announced Tuesday it would likely reposition its auto service and pursue a spin-off of its Lands&rsquo; End business rather than an outright sale. This would allow Sears to share cash flow with another entity.</p><p>But equity analyst Paul Swinand with Morningstar says Sears might just be testing the waters and that the right price could trigger a sale.</p><p>&ldquo;If Sears itself looks kind of distressed, then buyers might be tempted to wait hoping to get it at a lower price when Sears was in deeper trouble. So this is a little bit of posturing,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Swinand says with increasing competition from big box stores and the Internet, the company needs to improve its core retail business.</p><p>Sears plans to continue selling off its more unprofitable stores.</p></p> Tue, 29 Oct 2013 14:07:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/sears-may-spin-lands-end-auto-center-109030 Chicago retailer credits ignorance of risk for its success http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-retailer-credits-ignorance-risk-its-success-108911 <p><p>Sometimes risk can be masked by a lack of experience and knowledge. But that doesn&#39;t mean someone can&#39;t find success. More than 10 years ago, Jon Cotay took a chance on a venture he knew nothing about. Today, it&rsquo;s paying off.</p><p>Cotay&rsquo;s a man with a lot of energy.&nbsp; If he&rsquo;s not managing 400 vendor accounts or keeping tabs on 270 employees, he&rsquo;s likely at a fashion event.</p><p>&ldquo;The funny part is all three of us are really not the most fashionable people out there. If we had to look back, we were just like what the heck were we thinking?&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Eleven years ago, he and two college friends founded Akira, a fashion retail company. Cotay said fashion still doesn&rsquo;t come naturally to him. His assistant had to tell him not to wear shorts and flip-flops to our interview. Instead, he wore a sharp blazer and jeans.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/success%203.jpg" style="float: left; height: 234px; width: 350px;" title="Akira’s Block 37 store. The company has opened 17 stores since 2002. (Photo courtesy of Akira)" />In just over a decade, he and his two partners Erikka Wang and Eric Hsueh built Akira into 17 stores across the Chicago region with an online shop that sells internationally. And yet when they all attended the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign not one of them studied fashion or business. Hsueh and Wang studied Management Information Systems. Cotay majored in nursing.</p><p>&ldquo;We actually bonded around food. All of us are Asians. Different people worked in different restaurants. The three of us would get together and barter food,&rdquo; Cotay said.</p><p>After graduation, all three worked in fields related to their majors. Cotay had multiple nursing jobs, including a full time shift at a hospital just to keep busy. Then, one day, Erikka Wang wasn&rsquo;t feeling satisfied with her job. She wanted something new. So she presented Eric Hsueh and Cotay with a crazy idea, a career in fashion retail.</p><p>&ldquo;We started laughing. We&rsquo;re like,&rsquo;really, the three of us would open something in retail.&rsquo; And we didn&rsquo;t even know what the scope of retail was. We didn&rsquo;t know about brands. We didn&rsquo;t know anything about distribution. We didn&rsquo;t know anything about how the retail market worked,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We just thought it was kind of like a cool idea to get started.&rdquo;</p><p>Cotay was 28-years-old at the time. After a few years of nursing experience, his parents expected him to go to med school, not run a business. But he decided to take a chance. He and his partners opened their first Akira store in Bucktown in 2002.</p><p>&ldquo;For the first three years, I didn&rsquo;t actually tell my parents I owned the business. My parents are conservative and everything like that, so I didn&rsquo;t want to put them on a lot of stress,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Cotay never really officially told his parents he had started a business.</p><p>&ldquo;Over time, they just realized, &lsquo;what is Jon doing at this store. Why are you always there?&rsquo; Every time they asked me why are you always there a lot. I say, &lsquo;oh, I work there part time,&rsquo;&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Actually, he and his partners worked overtime. They noticed most stores in the area sold luxury goods and were only open from 11 to 5. They tried something different. They brought in more affordable options and kept the doors open until 9, sometimes later if they were just hanging out on a Friday night.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/success%202.jpg" style="float: right; height: 233px; width: 350px;" title="From left to right, Eric Hsueh, Erikka Wang and Jon Cotay. The three college friends founded Akira 11 years ago. They were successful despite knowing little about fashion or business. (Photo courtesy of Akira)" />&ldquo;We didn&rsquo;t even think about the risk factor. We just had the mentality like &lsquo;well, we have to pay our bills.&rsquo; So we have to make sure whatever we can do, we just do it,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Cotay said it was an immigrant work ethic that drove them. Before he was born, Cotay&rsquo;s grandparents emigrated from China to the Philippines. He watched them work hard to keep their own small business going. That stuck with him when he came to the U.S.</p><p>But his parents still wonder about his career in medicine.</p><p>&ldquo;I think even 7 years into the business they asked me if I would still consider going to med school. And I&rsquo;m like I don&rsquo;t think that&rsquo;s going to happen now. This is it. This is my baby right now,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Cotay&rsquo;s parents might&rsquo;ve worried if they knew their son put his savings into opening a clothing store without having a business plan. This is the first year the company brought in business consultants. And Cotay said they all question how Akira got where it is today without a set strategy.</p><p>&ldquo;We were all in some way ignorant about it. We kind of like had more confidence in ourselves to get it done. But if we knew now how challenging it was, we would probably talk ourselves out of it,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>It all seems pretty risky in hindsight. But Cotay and his partners may have been too busy building a successful business to notice.</p><p><em>&ldquo;At What Cost?&rdquo; is made possible in part by the John A. Wing Society, an initiative of the Illinois Humanities Council to improve dialogue about business and the common good.</em></p></p> Mon, 14 Oct 2013 10:29:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-retailer-credits-ignorance-risk-its-success-108911 Multi-million dollar retail experiment opens by O’Hare http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/multi-million-dollar-retail-experiment-opens-o%E2%80%99hare-108245 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/shopping_130801_ay.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">A retail experiment opens Thursday in Rosemont near Chicago&rsquo;s O&rsquo;Hare International Airport.</p><p>Most outlets are in remote areas, but the Fashion Outlets of Chicago is next to the Kennedy Expressway, the airport, and not too far from downtown Chicago.</p><p>Retail consultant Neil Stern says mall developers nationwide will be watching this experiment.</p><p>&ldquo;Not only is this the most well connected outlet mall in Chicago, it might be the most well-connected outlet mall in the country,&rdquo; Stern says.</p><p>Unlike traditional outlet malls, this one is indoors, features art installations from a <a href="http://theartsinitiative.com/">group of 11 artists</a>, and services for travelers. For example, flyers can print boarding passes and check bags directly to their flight from the mall.</p><p>But these amenities come at a price: more than $200 million.</p><p>Stern says the experiment comes at a time when <a href="http://business.time.com/2011/08/12/as-regular-malls-struggle-outlet-malls-are-booming/">outlet malls are growing quicker than traditional malls</a>. He adds that if it pays off, we could see similar developments around the country.</p><p>Developers say this outlet is meant to function differently than other outlets. Retailers and manufacturers used to build outlets either to get rid of merchandise they can&rsquo;t sell, or separate the customers who will pay a premium for cutting edge products and those will travel to buy for the same brand at a lower price, says Jean-Pierre Dubé, a marketing professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. That&rsquo;s why outlets aren&rsquo;t particularly close to major cities.</p><p>Stern says manufacturers now have a different reason to sell at outlets -- they want direct access to their customers for greater profits. He points to companies like Coach, Apple and Tiffany, businesses that rely on selling directly to customers and as a result, became some of the most successful retailers.</p><p>Arthur Weiner, chairman of Fashion Outlets of Chicago developer AWE Talisman, agrees. He says the artwork and other services not found at other outlet malls give businesses a greater opportunity to show brand pride. He also sees this as the outlet to change all outlets.</p><p>&ldquo;The product that was being presented in America was a very stale product, outdated, underdeveloped, didn&rsquo;t have the ingredients that consumers wanted,&rdquo; Weiner says. &ldquo;When we were presented with the opportunity for this piece of exquisite dirt, we saw the vehicle for the change that we thought was necessary for outlet shopping.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Alan Yu is a WBEZ metro desk intern. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/Alan_Yu039">@Alan_Yu039</a></em></p></p> Wed, 31 Jul 2013 12:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/multi-million-dollar-retail-experiment-opens-o%E2%80%99hare-108245 Being a breadwinner on $8.25 an hour http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/being-breadwinner-825-hour-107296 <p><p>Listener Maggie Cassidy recently got a master&rsquo;s degree in urban planning. She hasn&rsquo;t found a job in her field yet, so she&rsquo;s now working for about $10 an hour at two different part-time jobs. She said her own hustle has made her think seriously about people who hustle for even less. Little wonder, then, that she asked Curious City:<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/MAGGIE question asker 2.jpg" style="height: 165px; width: 125px; float: right;" title="Maggie Cassidy, who asked this Curious City question. (Photo courtesy Maggie Cassidy)" /></p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>What is it like to live on a minimum-wage job in Chicago?</em></p><p>And Maggie got even more specific. She wanted to know who lives on Illinois&rsquo; state minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, and why.</p><p>&ldquo;What is it like for people for whom this is their only option?&rdquo; Maggie asked.</p><p>Well, it&rsquo;s an opportune time for this question, because low-wage work is increasingly common in the Chicago area and nationwide. Since the 2008 recession, the majority of job growth has been in lower-wage positions, while middle class jobs have bounced back more slowly.</p><p>Recent debates at the national, state and local level about what the minimum wage should be, and whether raising that minimum wage is bad or good for business, have brought the issue to the forefront. Here I&rsquo;m going to focus on Maggie&#39;s very personal question: What is it like to live here in Chicago on minimum wage, and who does it?</p><p><strong>Someone who&rsquo;s been waiting for us to ask</strong></p><p>Krystal Maxie-Collins was 28 years old when I interviewed her for this story. Her last birthday (May 23), didn&rsquo;t go as planned.</p><p>&ldquo;Last year sucked,&rdquo; said Maxie-Collins. She&rsquo;s worked at Macy&rsquo;s downtown for two years at minimum wage, with commissions on top of that. She has another part-time minimum wage job conducting phone interviews for a research center. Last May 23 she was expecting a decent deposit &mdash; nearly $500 &mdash; to drop into her account in the early evening.</p><p>She planned to do something fun, maybe get her hair done or go out.</p><p>&ldquo;My check did not hit until 11:53 that night,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m like, it&rsquo;s my birthday and all I did was sit around the house waiting on my money to hit my account.&rdquo;</p><p>Maxie-Collins has four children (the oldest is nine, the youngest is three), a fiance who also works a minimum wage job downtown, and very little free time.</p><p>&ldquo;I have been waiting for someone to ask me about how my day goes,&rdquo; said Maxie-Collins, settling into a soft gray chair in her West Englewood home.</p><div id="PictoBrowser130521161442">Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer</div><script type="text/javascript" src="http://www.db798.com/pictobrowser/swfobject.js"></script><script type="text/javascript"> var so = new SWFObject("http://www.db798.com/pictobrowser.swf", "PictoBrowser", "620", "630", "8", "#EEEEEE"); so.addVariable("source", "sets"); so.addVariable("names", "Curious City: What is it like to live on minimum wage?"); so.addVariable("userName", "chicagopublicmedia"); so.addVariable("userId", "33876038@N00"); so.addVariable("ids", "72157633578812294"); so.addVariable("titles", "on"); so.addVariable("displayNotes", "on"); so.addVariable("thumbAutoHide", "off"); so.addVariable("imageSize", "medium"); so.addVariable("vAlign", "mid"); so.addVariable("vertOffset", "0"); so.addVariable("colorHexVar", "EEEEEE"); so.addVariable("initialScale", "off"); so.addVariable("bgAlpha", "90"); so.write("PictoBrowser130521161442"); </script><p>&nbsp;</p><p>A typical day for Maxie-Collins starts around 6 a.m. She gets dressed, makes breakfast, gets her kids ready for the day and flies out the door to a bus to get downtown. Selling shoes at Macy&rsquo;s is a grind: She has to meet daily sales quotas in order to qualify for commissions. She takes few breaks, she says. After Macy&rsquo;s, Maxie-Collins often hurries to her other job, where she sometimes stays until ten at night. She attends jobs several days a week, but her schedule varies.</p><p>Her brother-in-law cares for the kids while their parents are at work, and her two older children are with their father in Indiana for the year because Maxie-Collins didn&rsquo;t want them to be in Chicago Public Schools, at least not while <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/fact-check-chicago-school-closings-107216">some schools are threatened with closure</a>.</p><p>Despite constantly working, Maxie-Collins says she&rsquo;s barely surviving.</p><p>&ldquo;At the end of the week, I still don&rsquo;t have enough money to put food on the table or clothes on my kids&rsquo; back, buy them shoes or school supplies,&rdquo; she said. She buys a weekly CTA pass because she never has enough on hand for the month, and she and her fiance barely cover the household bills.</p><p>&ldquo;It would just help if &hellip; what I&rsquo;m doing was actually something that I could feed my family off of without having to be on public assistance,&rdquo; Maxie-Collins said. She receives food stamps and Medicaid to supplement a budget that barely makes ends meet.</p><p>That domestic situation is belied by Maxie-Collins&rsquo; physical appearance. She invests in make-up, good clothes (she&rsquo;s in a fine white sweater when I visit), and jewelry.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/FOR WEB Curious City Minimum Wage-2.jpg" style="float: left; width: 267px; height: 400px;" title="'At Macy’s they want you to have this image,' Krystal says. (WBEZ/Shawn Allee)" />&ldquo;At Macy&rsquo;s they want you to have this image,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;You have to look nice. But I can&rsquo;t even afford to buy the clothes that would help me sell shoes for them.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>A growing, but disparate low-wage workforce</strong></p><p>One of Maggie&#39;s follow-up questions had to do with paying bills. &ldquo;How does a ComEd bill get paid on minimum wage?&rdquo; she asked. &ldquo;How does a CTA pass get purchased on minimum wage?&rdquo;</p><p>The answer is &mdash; the bills barely get paid at all.</p><p>A <a href="http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/62303110?access_key=key-exk4nmep8tr6o5pofbx">2009 study by policy research group Social IMPACT</a> Research Center found that to independently meet basic needs (housing, child care, food, transportation and health care) in Illinois, a parent with a preschooler and a school-age kid would need to make $23.22 an hour working full-time. That calculation assumes the family receives neither public aid nor the help of family members, but it considers relevant tax credits. There&rsquo;s no budget for leisure, travel or emergencies.</p><p>&ldquo;It is such a bare-bones budget that if anything happens, anything unexpected, then that family is no longer economically self-sufficient,&rdquo; said Jennifer Clary, the study&rsquo;s author. Clary crunched numbers for 2012 to run a different scenario, one that includes modest savings for emergencies and retirement. With those accounted for, Clary says a worker with two children would need to make $34.29 per hour.</p><p>That&rsquo;s more than four times what Maxie-Collins makes.</p><p>&ldquo;Increasingly this is the situation that families are facing and will continue to face if low-wage jobs really do come to dominate our labor market,&rdquo; Clary said.</p><p>There are an estimated 400,000 minimum-wage earners in Illinois. When it comes to low-wage work, however, one <a href="http://www.womenemployed.org/sites/default/files/resources/Chicago%27s%20Growing%20Low-Wage%20Workforce%20FINAL.pdf">study</a> suggests a troubling trend. At the request of minimum wage activist groups, University of Illinois researcher Marc Doussard looked at workers who make $12 or less in the greater Chicago area. In 2011, the study suggests, <a href="https://soundcloud.com/wbez/the-rise-of-low-wage-workers">these workers represented nearly a third of the area&rsquo;s employed adults</a>. That&rsquo;s up from a quarter of the adult employed workforce just a decade ago.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/FOR WEB Curious City Minimum Wage-8.jpg" style="width: 267px; height: 400px; float: right;" title="Krystal Maxie-Collins, who makes minimum wage at her job at Macy's, has four children. (WBEZ/Shawn Allee)" /></p><p>&ldquo;You probably would have to go ask a few people on the street and you&rsquo;d find somebody,&rdquo; said Doussard. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s just that big a portion of the workforce at this point.&rdquo;</p><p>Doussard&rsquo;s research suggests there&rsquo;s no such thing as a typical low-wage worker in the Chicago area; the numbers distribute across race, age and education level with few clear majorities, although the low-wage workforce is generally getting <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/new-study-low-wage-workers-chicago-are-older-more-educated-102686">older, whiter and more educated</a>. That said, women, African-Americans, Latinos and those with less than a college education are still disproportionately represented among low-wage workers. And a majority of Chicago&rsquo;s adult low-wage workers live in households whose only income is from low-wage work.</p><p>There&rsquo;s also no typical low-wage job. Chicago&rsquo;s low-wage jobs are distributed between the retail, food service, administrative and transportation sectors, with smaller percentages in production, cleaning and maintenance, personal care, management, education, healthcare and protective services. Increasingly, low-wage jobs are part-time or use flexible scheduling that varies week-to-week.</p><p>Jose Luis Gallardo, a construction worker and day labor organizer with the <a href="http://www.latinounion.org/">Latino Union</a>, sees that instability with the day labor population.</p><p>&ldquo;In the morning they are day laborers and in the afternoon they work for restaurant or for a valet parking,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t place our hopes only in construction as a source of work, because many times there&rsquo;s nothing.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Economic mobility on the decline</strong></p><p>Maggie&rsquo;s question about living on minimum wage raises a related question: If living on minimum wage is tough, how do minimum-wage earners see their future prospects?</p><p>We received some striking comments from Dale Mitchell, a retired 64-year-old who now works at a Target store in Chicago&rsquo;s Uptown neighborhood. He devotes his minimum-wage earnings to his son&rsquo;s college education. Although he feels he has a choice about the job (he retired from a lucrative career in advertising), he thinks his younger co-workers have a dramatically different outlook.</p><p>&ldquo;I think what gets eroded is high expectations,&rdquo; Mitchell said. &ldquo;When we started out looking for jobs out of college we had all the expectations we were gonna be getting a job. ... And we were gonna be getting a job that was gonna be a salary, not punching a clock.&rdquo;</p><p>A recent <a href="http://www.apnorc.org/projects/Pages/americas-lower-wage-workforce.aspx">national study spearheaded by the Associated Press</a> found workers making less than $35,000 a year are overwhelmingly pessimistic about their future opportunities for advancement. Satisfaction with the work lagged behind the rest of the working population, and 37 percent said they &ldquo;feel like their employer treats them like they could be easily replaced.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/FOR WEB Curious City Minimum Wage-11.jpg" style="height: 200px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="Dale Mitchell (left), a retired 64-year-old who now works at a Target store in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood to earn money toward's his son's college education. (WBEZ/Shawn Allee)" />The prognosis was even more devastating when workers were asked about wages and benefits: Less than half said that their employers offer good benefits, and just a third think they are paid well for their jobs.</p><p>&ldquo;What&rsquo;s your future as far as wages are concerned?&rdquo; Mitchell said of the young people at Target. &ldquo;And if it&rsquo;s uncertain, how do you plan your future? When you&rsquo;re 22 years old and you&rsquo;re holding down two jobs ... for what?&rdquo;</p><p>Krystal Maxie-Collins knows those questions well. She wants to leave Chicago and return to Minneapolis, where she once lived for awhile with her children in a homeless shelter. She remembers it warmly, as a friendlier, safer place than Chicago. She had a job at Macy&rsquo;s there, too. Here, she says it&rsquo;s harder to get through the day.</p><p>&ldquo;We put out this great image,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;And then when we come home we&rsquo;re coming home to bad neighborhoods, we come home to violence, gang activity.&rdquo;</p><p>She came back to Chicago, pregnant, to take care of her mother, who died of breast cancer days before her youngest son was born.</p><p>It was a logical choice to go back to Macy&rsquo;s. And after her recent involvement in a downtown low-wage workers&rsquo; strike, Maxie-Collins says her store raised the base wage for all employees from $8.25 to $8.50, and offered her full-time hours there. But that does little, she says, to get her closer to her goals.</p><p>&ldquo;People who run the store, they&rsquo;re driving off in Jags, they&rsquo;re driving off in &lsquo;Benzes,&rdquo; Maxie-Collins said. She wants to go back to school, to save money for her kids&rsquo; college, and she wants a little freedom. &ldquo;I would like to drive my kids to the zoo one day, or something.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Lewis Wallace is a Pritzker Journalism Fellow at WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://www.twitter.com/lewispants">@lewispants</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 21 May 2013 16:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/being-breadwinner-825-hour-107296 Downtown walkout for higher minimum wage shakes up Chicago businesses http://www.wbez.org/news/downtown-walkout-higher-minimum-wage-shakes-chicago-businesses-106827 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/minwage1.jpg" title="Protesters stopped outside a Nike store on Michigan Avenue. They’re calling for downtown workers to make a 5 minimum. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></div><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F89347637&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>A group of fast food and retail workers in downtown Chicago staged a protest and walkout Wednesday to demand a minimum wage of $15 an hour for all downtown workers. Beginning very early in the morning, the roving protest grew in size as it made noise in front of stores including Macy&rsquo;s, Nordstrom Rack, Dunkin&rsquo; Donuts and McDonald&rsquo;s.</p><p dir="ltr">Felix Mendez said he changed out of his uniform and into a red shirt and walked out of his job at Subway early Wednesday morning.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Every two weeks my check is less than $500,&rdquo; he said. In two years at Subway he said he&rsquo;s never gotten a raise, and he and his family recently had to move because they couldn&rsquo;t pay rent. He lives with his girlfriend, who&rsquo;s a teacher, and his two kids. &ldquo;We make it, but it would be nice not to have to struggle, just to live comfortable live everybody else.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/minwage2.jpg" style="float: right;" title="Amani Johnson says he’s worked at Subway for six years and walked out because he still barely makes enough to get by. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" />Managers at Mendez&rsquo;s Subway didn&rsquo;t want to comment. But another Subway manager whose employees walked out said he&rsquo;d support a higher state minimum wage.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Why not?&rdquo; said Subway manager Firoj Ali. But he said Subway won&rsquo;t be the one to set that new minimum. &ldquo;The franchise is not going to decide minimum wage.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I have to go paycheck by paycheck struggling,&rdquo; said Amani Johnson, who works at the same Subway. The 26-year-old has two young children, and he&rsquo;s been at Subway for six years. &ldquo;Why be greedy and keep the money to yourself when you could be helping many others out here that are struggling?&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Earlier this year in his State of the State address, Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn voiced his support for raising the state minimum above $8.25. But lawmakers have not yet addressed legislation this session. The last change in the state minimum wage was in 2010.</p><p dir="ltr">A <a href="http://www.nelp.org/page/-/Job_Creation/LowWageRecovery2012.pdf?nocdn=1">study by the National Employment Law Project</a> shows that since the economic crash in 2008, the growth of low-wage jobs has far outpaced mid- and high-wage jobs.</p><p dir="ltr">The group behind Wednesday&rsquo;s protest, the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC), wants downtown businesses to raise pay on their own rather than waiting for a change in laws. The WOCC is using a protest strategy that has also been gaining some traction <a href="http://www.wbez.org/programs/afternoon-shift/2013-04-24/afternoon-shift-labor-pains-106821">with fast food workers in New York City</a>: getting workers to go out on &ldquo;strike&rdquo; without officially forming a union. But Wednesday&rsquo;s demonstration was more a walkout than a strike; workers said they will be back on the job Thursday.</p><p><em>Lewis Wallace is a Pritzker Journalism Fellow at WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants">@lewispants</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 24 Apr 2013 16:32:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/downtown-walkout-higher-minimum-wage-shakes-chicago-businesses-106827 Fast food and retail workers march on the Magnificent Mile http://www.wbez.org/news/fast-food-and-retail-workers-march-magnificent-mile-104377 <p><p>A worker advocacy group is asking downtown businesses to pay their employees at least $15 an hour.</p><p>Over 100 people marched on Chicago&rsquo;s Magnificent Mile Thursday to protest low wages for retail and fast food workers as a part of the&nbsp;<a href="http://fightfor15.org/2012/12/07/growing-and-standing-together/" target="_blank">Fight For 15 Campaign</a>, a new project of the&nbsp;Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago.</p><p>&ldquo;I literally live paycheck to paycheck, like right now I have a dollar and thirty-six cent in my bank account,&rdquo; said Kenyanna Brown. She works at Victoria&rsquo;s Secret in Watertower Place for $8.75 an hour; Illinois&rsquo; current minimum wage is $8.25. &ldquo;If I didn&rsquo;t live with my mom I&rsquo;d be on the streets, I wouldn&rsquo;t be able to provide for myself.&rdquo;</p><p>Protesters delivered a letter to the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, a downtown business group, and asked for a response by Dec. 22.</p><p>Brown said she was part of the small group who launched the campaign last month. The committee is&nbsp;affiliated with the community organization Action Now, and many who attended the protest wore Service Employees International Union (SEIU) shirts and hats. Protesters represented their home neighborhoods with large canvas signs.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6818_025-scr.JPG" style="height: 210px; width: 280px; float: right;" title="Kenyanna Brown spoke at the rally. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p><a href="http://www.nelp.org/page/-/Job_Creation/LowWageRecovery2012.pdf?nocdn=1" target="_blank">A recent study</a> by the National Employment Law Project says that although only 21 percent of jobs lost in the recession were in low-wage occupations, jobs paying less that $13.84 per hour account for 58 percent of new positions created since 2008. Of those new low-wage jobs, the sectors with the most growth are retail sales and food preparation.</p><p>And more low-wage workers in Chicago are above the age of 30 or supporting a whole household, according to <a href="http://standupchicago.org/files/2012/12/Final-Low-Wage-Report.pdf" target="_blank">a study affiliated with the campaign</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;I think that there&rsquo;s a misconception of the people that do work for minimum wage,&rdquo; said Amie Crawford, another organizer. She&rsquo;s 56 and works at downtown health-food store Protein Bar after struggling to find work in her profession as an interior designer. &ldquo;I feel that they - we - are dismissed because we&rsquo;re high school kids or we&rsquo;re retired people that just want extra money...that&rsquo;s not true.&rdquo;</p><p>Fight For 15 has links to a similar effort in New York that organized a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/29/nyregion/drive-to-unionize-fast-food-workers-opens-in-ny.html?ref=nyregion" target="_blank">fast food worker walk-out</a> in November.</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 13 Dec 2012 20:26:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/fast-food-and-retail-workers-march-magnificent-mile-104377 Labor groups, employees protest during Black Friday at Chicago Wal-Mart stores http://www.wbez.org/news/labor-groups-employees-protest-during-black-friday-chicago-wal-mart-stores-103982 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/walmart_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Chicago area Wal-Marts today as holiday shoppers crowded the stores for Black Friday sales.</p><p>A group of Wal-Mart employees called the Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart (OUR Walmart) transported protesters around the city in buses. Protesters want the nation&rsquo;s largest retailer to offer more dependable schedules, better health care and higher wages to employees.</p><p>Both sides have <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/17/walmart-union-idUSL1E8MGBV920121117" target="_blank">filed complaints</a> with the National Labor Relations Board as part of an their ongoing dispute.</p><p>Park Forest resident and Wal-Mart employee Marie Kanger-Born said she hopes the Black Friday protests will give the movement momentum.</p><p>&quot;The rest of the country has started to take notice of the plight of the Wal-Mart workers,&quot; Kanger-Born said. &quot;This is America. Everyone should be able to work one job and make a decent livable wage.&quot;</p><p>Chicago resident and Sam&#39;s Club employee Rosetta Brown said she has protested how Wal-Mart treats workers like her for more than a decade.</p><p>&quot;We&rsquo;re just tired of taking it and we need to be heard,&quot; Brown said. &quot;I mean, a person should be able to exercise their right to vote if they want a union. The workers are speaking out saying we need help and we&rsquo;re coming together. What&rsquo;s wrong with that? Wal-Mart should be listening and having a meeting with all of us.&quot;</p><p>Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg didn&#39;t address the protesters concerns directly but said Friday morning that the protests were not getting in the way of holiday shoppers. The company was on track to have its best-selling Black Friday event ever.</p><p>&quot;Last night during our Black Friday events we had only 26 protests occurred at stores (nationwide) and many of them did not include any Wal-Mart associates,&quot; Lundberg said.</p><p>He said Wal-Mart estimated that fewer than 50 associates participated in protests nationwide on Friday night.</p><p>&quot;In fact this year, roughly the same number of associates missed their scheduled shift as last year,&quot; Lundberg said.</p></p> Fri, 23 Nov 2012 09:03:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/labor-groups-employees-protest-during-black-friday-chicago-wal-mart-stores-103982 Winning a referendum is no silver bullet http://www.wbez.org/story/200-cut-rate-liquors/winning-referendum-no-silver-bullet <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-March/2011-03-13/REFERENDUM_Rea_Woods.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>The idea behind a referendum is to give voters a direct voice in making their community better. These ballot questions can cover anything from stem-cell research to the fate of an empty lot. They may be binding or just advisory. Last month, referenda were on ballots in nine Chicago precincts. But it&rsquo;s not clear the voters will get what they had in mind &mdash; even if they were on the winning side. We&rsquo;ll hear now from WBEZ reporters in three parts of the city. We start with Chip Mitchell at our West Side bureau.<br /><br />MITCHELL: Kurt Gippert lives near a building here in Humboldt Park that seemed like a magnet.<br /><br />GIPPERT: Gang banging, loitering, drug sales, some prostitution, tons of urinating.<br /><br />MITCHELL: It was a liquor store.<br /><br />GIPPERT: In 2010, we had at least nine people shot in front of that store.<br /><br />MITCHELL: Under city pressure, the store closed last fall. Gippert and his neighbors wanted it gone for good, so they turned to a 77-year-old Illinois law that lets voters ban selling alcohol in their precinct.<br /><br />GIPPERT: It&rsquo;s the only power we had &mdash; the only surefire, effective thing that was going to last longer than six months or a year.<br /><br />MITCHELL: They petitioned to put the referendum on last month&rsquo;s ballot. And voters passed it about 4-to-1. Starting next week, the precinct will be dry. There&rsquo;s just one problem.<br /><br />SOUND: Car alarm.<br /><br />MITCHELL (on the scene): The place with the gang bangers in front wasn&rsquo;t the precinct&rsquo;s only store selling alcohol. I&rsquo;m outside a CVS a few blocks west. The clerks inside tell me booze accounts for about half their sales. But there&rsquo;s also a stream of customers who rely on this CVS for everything from prescription drugs to shampoo and milk. Without its liquor sales here, some of these folks worry CVS might close this store.<br /><br />CUSTOMER 1: Some of my family members get their prescriptions filled here. And it&rsquo;s really convenient that they can walk here instead of worrying about getting a ride or catching the bus.<br /><br />MITCHELL (on the scene): Do they have cars?<br /><br />CUSTOMER 1: No.<br /><br />CUSTOMER 2: I got three kids, so we need milk. If you get something for them from the corner store, it&rsquo;ll probably be old.<br /><br />CUSTOMER 3: Everybody around here, I guess, is poor. So they need to get to a place that most of them can walk to. Bus fare is high. Cab fare is high. So, yeah, it would hurt them.<br /><br />MITCHELL: CVS isn&rsquo;t answering whether it&rsquo;ll keep the store open once it quits selling alcohol. Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) supported the referendum. But he admits there&rsquo;s collateral damage.<br /><br />MALDONADO: We don&rsquo;t have a lot of retail in the area. And we have never heard complaints about CVS. However, if they depend on liquor to remain viable, then they should not be open.<br /><br />MITCHELL: I ask Maldonado about other precincts in his ward.<br /><br />MITCHELL (on the scene): Businesses that are selling alcohol and doing so responsibly, without a lot of problems out in front, do they have anything to worry about?<br /><br />MALDONADO: No, they don&rsquo;t have to worry as long as they are conscious about their own responsibility [to be] a good business neighbor.<br /><br />MITCHELL: And as long as residents don&rsquo;t vote the precinct dry. Reporting from Chicago&rsquo;s West Side, I&rsquo;m Chip Mitchell.<br /><br />MOORE: And I&rsquo;m Natalie Moore at our Side South bureau. The situation was different in a 3rd Ward precinct along East 47th Street. Voters didn&rsquo;t take aim at all liquor. They had specific targets: Night Train, Wild Irish Rose, Thunderbird &mdash; cheap, fortified wines that some residents say attracted low-end elements to the neighborhood. The referendum was nonbinding, nothing more than an opinion poll. Still, the majority voted to ban fortified wines at two stores. No more malt liquor either. But one of the stores took 22-ounce malt liquor off the shelves in July.<br /><br />MICHELIS: Took a hit on sales, between $20,000-$25,000 a month, but I gained it from the wines I put in the store.<br /><br />MOORE: Steve Michelis owns a store called 200 Cut Rate Liquors. Michelis says voters got what they wanted. He says the loitering and begging in front of his place stopped last year. Still, he didn&rsquo;t mind last month&rsquo;s referendum.<br /><br />MICHELIS: I don&rsquo;t care. I don&rsquo;t have anything to hide.<br /><br />MOORE: Maybe another reason Michelis didn&rsquo;t mind so much was because he was already getting other pressure &mdash; from Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).<br /><br />DOWELL: You have people who stand outside, they drink it, they throw the can down, they beg for money or they go back in and get some money from somewhere and go back and buy another can.<br /><br />MOORE: Residents targeted Aristo Food and Liquor on the ballot, too. While residents gathered signatures for the nonbinding referendum, Dowell had her own approach. She&rsquo;s been working on getting the owners to sign agreements to stop selling the cheap liquor. She&rsquo;ll then attach them to their liquor licenses with the city. That would make them binding. The owner of Aristo says he plans to comply with Dowell. But the alderman says she&rsquo;s still waiting to hear back from him. Reporting from the city&rsquo;s South Side, I&rsquo;m Natalie Moore.<br /><br />YOUSEF: And I&rsquo;m Odette Yousef. Here on the North Side, one alderman and some voters are not on the same page. And, the issue isn&rsquo;t liquor. It&rsquo;s land use.<br /><br />GLAZIER: There&rsquo;s going to be three large driveways next to each other.<br /><br />YOUSEF: This is Josh Glazier.<br /><br />GLAZIER: Two for trucks coming in and out of the project, and one for several hundred cars that are going to remain inside the building.<br /><br />YOUSEF: Glazier lives behind this unused hospital garage in Lincoln Park. He&rsquo;s not happy about a developer&rsquo;s plan to turn it into a grocery store.<br /><br />GLAZIER: The community really objects to the grocer and the trucks.<br /><br />YOUSEF: Glazier says Ald. Vi Daley (43rd) has heard him out. He and others recall her saying she&rsquo;d stay neutral until the community reached a consensus on the project. But in spite of overwhelming opposition at public meetings. . .<br /><br />GLAZIER: We&rsquo;ve been hearing for quite some time that the alderman had this secret list, with the names of all the project&rsquo;s supporters and opponents. And increasingly she&rsquo;s been telling us the count was very close. And we didn&rsquo;t feel like a secret list should be the basis for any decision on the project.<br /><br />YOUSEF: So Glazier and fellow opponents gathered signatures to put the issue on their precinct&rsquo;s February ballot.<br /><br />YOUSEF (on the scene): So you knew going into this that this would not be a binding result?<br /><br />GLAZIER: Of course it was not going to be a binding result, but it was going to create some transparency.<br /><br />YOUSEF: And that&rsquo;s what Glazier says he got. Most voters opposed the project at the polls. So he was stunned to hear Ald. Daley&rsquo;s official position just days later. In a statement, she wrote, &ldquo;I will not delay this project any longer and I will vote to approve this project at City Council.&rdquo; Daley said only a narrow majority of voters opposed the development. She said she heard from many ward residents who do want it. They live outside the precinct that voted on it. I asked Prof. Christopher Berry of the University of Chicago if that was a legitimate reason to discount the referendum results:<br /><br />BERRY: Well, it&rsquo;s a legitimate tack to take, but the only way we would really know the answer is to have some sort of scientific public opinion poll that was done, that included everyone in the affected geography.<br /><br />YOUSEF: Berry says referenda are anything but scientific. They&rsquo;re often put together by self-selected groups on one side of an issue. And, usually, only a small fraction of voters come out to decide it. Berry says with referenda, the real story often isn&rsquo;t about how the vote came down. It&rsquo;s that an issue came down to a vote at all.<br /><br />BERRY: When you see a referendum, which means citizens have to be directly making this policy, it suggests some sort of failure or breakdown in the process between the citizens and their representatives.<br /><br />YOUSEF: Berry says those breakdowns are rare because politicians usually want to get reelected. But, in Lincoln Park, that&rsquo;s not the case. Ald. Daley retires in May. On Chicago&rsquo;s North Side, I&rsquo;m Odette Yousef, WBEZ.</p></p> Mon, 14 Mar 2011 11:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/200-cut-rate-liquors/winning-referendum-no-silver-bullet Neighborhood retailers pin hopes on new city leaders http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-mayoral-election/neighborhood-retailers-pin-hopes-new-city-leaders <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/web pic.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>&nbsp;While Chicago has given away millions of dollars in incentives to lure corporations like Boeing and United Airlines, most residents look elsewhere for signs of the city&rsquo;s economic health. For many Chicagoans, it&rsquo;s not what happens downtown that matters &ndash; instead, it&rsquo;s the quality of stores and services in their neighborhoods.&nbsp;Their voices could get louder, now that Chicago is choosing a new mayor and many aldermen. Those communities that have seen their business corridors decline in recent years are hoping that a new city hall can give them a leg up.</p><div>One of those communities is Devon Avenue on Chicago&rsquo;s far north side, where Ann Kalayil grew up and still lives. On the holiday of Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights, the street was filled with cars and people buying groceries in the many ethnic fruit markets.&nbsp;But Kalayil pointed to a South Asian clothing store where she used to work part-time as a teenager. &ldquo;This is one of the oldest clothing stores on Devon Avenue,&rdquo; said Kalayil, &ldquo;and it's empty. We used to have a tremendous amount of people coming to shop on Devon Avenue.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Kalayil co-founded the <a href="http://saapri.org/">South Asian American Policy and Research Institute</a>, which did a <a href="http://saapri.org/pdfs/developing-devon-full-report.pdf">study </a>in 2008 about the troubles facing the Devon Avenue retail corridor. She said that weekend holiday foot traffic may indicate that it&rsquo;s a thriving business community, but the reality is quite different. &ldquo;I still think you walk into a store during the week here, and they'll say they have no business,&rdquo; said Kalayil. &ldquo;Traditionally they have depended on customers coming here on the weekends, and that hasn't been happening. Then, of course, now you have the rise of unemployment, and people are not spending money.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>There are also other signs that business is struggling on Devon, said Kalayil.&nbsp;She said stores are turning over more quickly than she&rsquo;s ever seen, and properties are sitting vacant longer than they used to.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Walking through the cluster of Indian and Pakistani clothing, food, and electronics stores, Kalayil stops at a gaping hole along the south side of the strip. &ldquo;This looks to me like (a) war zone,&rdquo; Kalayil said. The charred, littered, and graffitied lot is where a building burned down four years ago, and has sat empty ever since. &ldquo;This is actually symptomatic of what's happening here on Devon Avenue,&rdquo; said Kalayil. &ldquo;Why is there this, this... it's not even an empty lot.&nbsp;It's literally a big hole in the the ground, that's unused, and it's smack in the middle of one of the most busy sections of Devon Avenue.&rdquo;&nbsp;Despite this, Kalayil feels optimistic the street can bounce back, with strong leadership and a vision.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But further west on Devon, others have given up hope.&nbsp;Avrom Fox, owner of the Jewish bookstore <a href="http://www.alljudaica.com/">Rosenblum&rsquo;s</a>, decided after years of waiting for Devon to improve that his business would be more viable in the northwest suburb of Skokie. &ldquo;I don't have any confidence that Jewish Devon has any future,&rdquo; said Fox, referring to the nickname that the street once had when its stores overwhelmingly catered to Chicago&rsquo;s Orthodox Jewish community. &ldquo;I think the street is done. And I think we have to move on,&rdquo; said Fox.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Rosenblum's had a 40-year history in Chicago, and Fox said he wishes it could have been longer. But he said he&rsquo;s jaded after waiting for others to join him in trying to keep the street clean and vibrant. &ldquo;I can tell you that it's been a lot of talk, and a lot of advocacy, but at the end of the day, all you have to do is look at the street, and see what it looks like,&rdquo; said Fox. &ldquo;The city can't be proud of the way it looks, can't be proud of the huge vacancy rates, can't be proud of the fact that the streets are dirty, that there's garbage all over the place.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Fox blames a lot of people are to blame for Devon&rsquo;s decline, but he points a finger partly at city government. &ldquo;I think the city should recognize that Devon Avenue is a historic shopping district which needs to be beautified so it can be reinstated and maybe someday become what it was more than a generation ago,&rdquo; said Fox.&nbsp;He thinks fewer Jewish business would have fled Chicago if the city had acted sooner in offering them large grants from tax increment financing districts. The grants can be used to make capital improvements to stores. They&rsquo;re available now to Devon Avenue merchants, but Fox said they're too little, too late.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Amie Zander understands Fox&rsquo;s situation, though as Executive Director of the <a href="http://www.westridgechamber.org/">West Ridge Chamber of Commerce</a>, it&rsquo;s her job to keep businesses here.&nbsp;Zander helped start the Devon Avenue Special Service Area, a business taxing district that cleans the street and removes snow. She said it has helped improve the look of the street, but Zander says she needs more help from the city. &ldquo;I think that we're forgotten a lot. We're way up on the North Side,&rdquo; said Zander.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Zander points to rusty light polls and crumbling sidewalks, and lamented that Devon Avenue hasn't had a streetscape in more than twenty years. She said the local alderman, Bernard Stone, should have pushed harder for one. Stone contends the city hasn't given him the money.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Beyond infrastructure, Zander said she feels that far-flung retail corridors are not on the city&rsquo;s radar the way downtown is. &ldquo;You hear a lot in tourism about come to see Navy Pier. Well, that's great. But what about going into the neighborhoods?&rdquo; said Zander. &ldquo;We've had very little assistance from city hall on really designating us as a tourist attraction and telling people about it.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Zander, Kalayil, and Fox note that city hall is not entirely to blame for Devon's struggles.&nbsp;They say the alderman, business owners, residents, and community organizations haven't worked together on a common plan to save the street. Joel Bookman with the Chicago office of <a href="http://www.lisc-chicago.org/home.aspx">Local Initiatives Support Corporation</a>, a non-profit neighborhood development group, believes all those ingredients are important.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Bookman cites Chicago&rsquo;s Chinatown and Little Village neighborhoods as good examples of where residents and businesses work together to make their retail strips enticing and accessible to shoppers. But Bookman feels City Hall can lay a foundation for that development by improving streets, sidewalks, trees and benches. And in this recession, Bookman hopes the city will get even more involved by trying new things, like encouraging skittish banks to start lending again to small businesses.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;We have some very active, bustling, vibrant commercial districts that are the heart of our communities,&rdquo; said Bookman.&nbsp;&ldquo;They are the main street of our communities, the public square in our communities, and all too often around the country we see that without a viable commercial corridor, neighborhoods begin to fall apart.&rdquo;&nbsp;Bookman believes Chicagoans will evaluate their next mayor and city council according to what they can do not just for downtown, but for the neighborhoods.</div></p> Mon, 03 Jan 2011 13:54:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-mayoral-election/neighborhood-retailers-pin-hopes-new-city-leaders Buyers Still Wary Despite Strong Sales For Holidays http://www.wbez.org/story/around-nation/buyers-still-wary-despite-strong-sales-holidays <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/Credit Cards FILE.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>American consumers sent out decidedly contradictory signals Tuesday, spending more in December while telling researchers they were less confident about the economy.</p><p>After showing a slight improvement in November, the Conference Board's index of consumer confidence dropped to 52.5 in December. That's down from 54.3 the month before. A reading of 90 or above indicates a healthy economy.</p><p>Analysts had expected the index to rise to 55.8 in an indication that confidence was on the mend after the longest and deepest economic downturn since the 1930s. That would have been in line with a strong 5.5 percent jump in holiday sales that rose to $584 billion from Nov. 5 through Dec. 24, according to MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse -- the best showing since 2005, well before the recession.</p><p>MasterCard said there had been sizable increases in spending on apparel, jewelry and luxury items over the holiday shopping season.</p><p>"Today's report indicates that consumers are still in a fragile state and confidence remains at depressed levels despite strong holiday retail sales, low prices, and a relatively robust stock market," said Chris Christopher Jr., senior principal economist at HIS Global Insight. "The poor housing market performance, high gasoline prices and a lackluster job market are keeping consumers in a tepid mood."</p><p>The Conference Board, a private research group, played down the significance of the weaker-than-expected consumer confidence report.</p><p>"Consumer confidence is no worse off today than it was a year ago," said Lynn Franco, director of the Consumer Research Center at the Conference Board.</p><p>"Consumers' assessment of the current state of the economy and labor market remains tepid, and their outlook remains cautious," she said. "All signs continue to suggest that the economic expansion will continue well into 2011, but that the pace of growth will remain moderate."</p><p>The percentage of people who said jobs were "plentiful" decreased to 3.9 percent from 4.3 percent, while those stating jobs are "hard to get" edged up to 46.8 percent from 46.3 percent.</p><p>Those expecting an improvement in business conditions over the next six months edged up to 16.6 percent from 16.4 percent, while those anticipating business conditions will worsen edged down to 12.1 percent from 12.4 percent.</p><p>"Employment continues to be a large drag on consumer confidence and I think until we see a substantial turnaround there, we're not likely to see very high confidence levels," Franco said.</p><p>The confidence report helped push stocks lower on some world markets on Tuesday, although the response was muted owing to its contrast with other recent U.S. economic data, especially after the agreement between the White House and Republicans in Congress to extend Bush-era tax cuts.</p><p>"Everybody has done what they need to do. The money that has been put in place has been put in place until the end of the year -- in spite of the fact we may get some modestly surprising data," said Peter Kenny, managing director at Knight Equity Markets in Jersey City, N.J. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. </p> Tue, 28 Dec 2010 10:33:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/around-nation/buyers-still-wary-despite-strong-sales-holidays