NEW YORK: The liquidation of Toys R Us is adding to the clutter of “Store Closing” signs as department stores, mall chains and other retailers close poorly performing locations.

But beware! Liquidation sales may sound like a deal-hunter’s dream, but they don’t always offer the best discounts. Shoppers need to compare prices as they navigate the sales racks, and carefully check the quality of the merchandise since they can’t return items.

“Not everything is a great deal,” said Jerry Robertson, a San Antonio, Texas-based store closing consultant who manages the liquidation sales of small retailers. “Just be careful of what you buy. Do your homework.”

Shoppers also need to understand the store’s policy of redeeming gift cards. When stores go into the bankruptcy, they petition the court to decide whether gift cards can be honored — and for how long, says Shelly Hunter, a representative of, which has tracked gifts cards from stores like Borders to Coldwater Creek in bankruptcy.

Toys R Us honored gift cards while it was trying to reorganize under bankruptcy protection. But after the chain said it would liquidate its remaining 735 U.S. stores last week, it says that the cards will be worthless after 30 days.

Here are four tips that shoppers should follow:

— CHECK OUT PRICES BEFORE THE LIQUIDATION SALES: The goal for liquidators is to squeeze as much money they can from a sale. Robertson says many liquidators, particular those who manage sales of big chains, increase the prices to the manufacturers’ suggested level and then take a discount. That creates the illusion of a better deal. So checking out prices before and after the actual liquidation sale starts is a good idea.

— USE PRICE COMPARISON APPS: Robertson says most of the big liquidators start at about a 20 percent discount and lower prices from there. Shoppers should keep checking the store being liquidated to keep track of the discounts. But if they wait too long, they might not get the best selection, he says. Robertson says bigger discounts can be found on clothing and toys, which have larger profit margins. In comparison, consumer electronics have razor-thin margins.

Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing at, a price comparison website, says shoppers shouldn’t buy impulsively when they see a big liquidation signs.

“These ‘Everything Must Go’ signs make you have a sense of immediacy,” she said. “Take a minute.”

— USE GIFT CARDS IMMEDIATELY: When shoppers have gift cards from a store that’s in financial trouble, experts recommend using them immediately. Hunter points to when Borders shuttered its stores in 2011. The courts initially acknowledged that gift card holders were due a settlement, but it didn’t tell them to file claims. So when the deadline passed, the courts ultimately ruled it was too late to file a claim.

And gadget seller Sharper Image stopped accepting gift cards when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008. A month later, it said they would be accepted only if the holder spent double the value of the gift card in redeeming it. That resulted in a class-action suit, which the company ended up settling. Sharper Image, which shut its stores, has been revived and now sells gadgets online.

And shoppers should beware that when a new buyer comes on board and buys a company in bankruptcy, gift card holders are often left in the cold. That’s what happened with Coldwater Creek. After private equity firm Sycamore Partners, which owns such brands as Talbots, bought the brand in 2014 and relaunched the website, the gift cards became useless.

—EXAMINE THE MERCHANDISE CAREFULLY: Liquidation sales generally last five to seven weeks and most often sales are final. Toys R Us said that shoppers can’t return items once the liquidation begins. So shoppers should scrutinize their items to make sure there are no defects.


Follow Anne D’Innocenzio at

RPM International Inc.’s Rust-Oleum Group has sealed a deal to buy a California company.

The company, Miracle Sealants, based in Arcadia, makes sealers, cleaners, polishes and related products primarily for tile and natural stone.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Miracle Sealants has annual net sales of approximately $25 million, Medina-based RPM said in a news release.

Miracle Sealants has broad national distribution in tile shops across the U.S., as well as big box retailers, such as Home Depot, Lowes and Menards, RPM said.

“Miracle Sealants is an excellent strategic fit that adds another platform within Rust-Oleum’s hard surface care product portfolio,” Frank C. Sullivan, chairman and chief executive officer of RPM, said in a news release.

NEW YORK: Claire’s, the mall chain that has pierced the ears of millions of teens, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The company said Monday that its stores will remain open as it restructures its debt.

It’s just the latest retailer to seek bankruptcy protection, close stores or go out of business entirely. Toys R Us announced last week that it would close or sell all its stores after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year.

Claire’s said Monday it is “confident” it will emerge from bankruptcy protection in September, having reduced its debt by nearly $2 billion. It said it can compete with the shift to online shopping, arguing that its “iconic ear piercing services are unmatched and cannot be replicated online.”

Claire’s, based in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, said it has pierced more than 100 million ears since it began offering the service 40 years ago. The company was founded in the 1960s.


This story corrects that the company was founded in the 1960s.

NEW YORK: Walmart doesn’t just want to sell TVs and furniture — it wants to send a professional home to set them up, too.

The world’s largest retailer is expanding a deal with on-demand online services platform, allowing shoppers to hire helpers at 2,000 of its stores nationwide to mount a TV on their wall or assemble a bookcase.

Other retailers offer similar services as they seek to make shopping more convenient so customers buy more. Wayfair, the online furniture seller, also offers Handy’s services. And Ikea bought Taskrabbit last year and is rolling out the service to its stores.

Walmart, which first tested Handy in 25 stores in Atlanta, said Monday shoppers can hire a Handy professional when then check out at a store or on its website.

Women now make up half of Signet Jewelers Ltd.’s board of directors.

The Akron jewelry retailer on Wednesday announced that its board named business executives Sharon L. McCollam and Nancy A. Reardon as directors, meaning Signet’s 12-person board is now made up of six women and six men.

McCollam was executive vice president, chief administrative officer and chief financial officer of Best Buy Co. from 2012 to 2017. Reardon retired in 2012 as senior vice president, chief human resources and communications officer for Campbell Soup Co.

The two new board members are both known for transformational leadership and have significant business experience with major consumer brands, said H. Todd Stitzer, board chairman.

Signet Jewelers Ltd. shares nosedived Wednesday after the Akron-based national jewelry retailer reported fourth-quarter earnings and lower same-store sales, a weak 2019 financial outlook, a significant increase in its dividend and a cost-cutting plan that involves closing more than 200 stores.

The company also said it will pay one-time bonuses to hourly employees this year, tied to recent federal tax reform.

In addition, Signet announced it will receive $401 million to $435 million in the second and final phase of its credit outsourcing plan, with the proceeds to be used to buy back stock.

Shares fell $9.70, or 20.2 percent, to $38.22, just above their 52-week low reached earlier in the day of $38.10. Shares are down 32.4 percent since Jan. 1 and are down 45.3 percent from a year ago.

“Fiscal 2018 was a challenging year for Signet,” Virginia C. Drosos, chief executive officer, said in a news release. “We gained sales momentum in our Zales banner in the fourth quarter as our strategic initiatives began to take hold, but we experienced challenges at our Kay and Jared banners, including execution issues related to the first phase of our credit outsourcing transaction.”

Signet ran into unexpected and costly problems in the first phase of divesting its credit business. The second phase involves selling its non-prime credit portfolio.

Drosos on Wednesday announced a three-year company-wide comprehensive strategy, the “Signet Path to Brilliance,” aimed at reinvigorating and transforming the company “to be a share-gaining, omnichannel jewelry category leader.”

The three-year plan will let the company invest for the future, drive sustainable sales growth and create shareholder value, according to Signet’s news release.

“Looking ahead, fiscal 2019 will be an important transition year as we implement our transformation plan, and we expect to see improved operational and financial performance beginning in fiscal 2020,” Drosos said.

Signet expects to close more than 200 primarily mall-based stores by the end of fiscal 2019 as part of the plan. About 75 percent of the stores to be closed are in the same mall as another Signet brand, the company said. The company expects to open 35 to 40 stores this year in non-mall locations.

Signet closed 242 stores in fiscal 2018, while opening 116. As of Feb. 3 the company had 3,556 stores.

The transformation plan is expected to save $85 million to $100 million for fiscal 2019, with most of the savings taking place in the second half of the fiscal year. An additional $115 million to $125 million in cost reductions is expected by the end of the three-year program.

Employee bonus

Signet also announced it will pay a “one-time special cash bonus” to all hourly non-managerial employees in fiscal 2019. The bonuses will be funded by the new lower federal corporate tax rate. The company said it also will have a three-year transformation incentive program for all employees.

A company spokesman said Signet is not releasing details on the bonuses other than it will be a “tiered program for hourly employees, dependent upon employment status and tenure.”

Signet’s fourth quarter earnings and revenue beat analyst estimates.

The company reported net income of $343 million, or $5.24 per share, on revenue of $2.29 billion for the quarter ending Feb. 3. That compares to net income of $287.8 million, or $3.92 per share, on revenue of $2.27 billion for the fourth quarter of 2017.

Sales at stores open at least one year were down 5.2 percent from a year ago. Sterling Jewelers’ same-store sales were down 8.6 from a year ago; Zale Jewelry same-store sales were up 4.3 percent; Piercing Pagoda same-store sales were up 4.6 percent; and U.K. jewelry same-store sales were down 9.2 percent.

E-commerce sales totaled $253.8 million, up 52.8 percent from a year ago and accounted for 11.1 percent of all quarterly sales compared to 7.1 percent of total sales a year ago.

For the full 2018 fiscal year, Signet reported earning $486.4 million, or $7.44 per share, on revenue of $6.3 billion. That compares to net income of $543.2 million, or $7.08 per share, on revenue of $6.4 billion for fiscal 2017.

The company said it is increasing its quarterly dividend by 20 percent to 37 cents per share payable June 1 to shareholders of record as of May 4.

Signet executives said they now expect sales at stores open at least one year will be down in the low to mid single digits in fiscal 2019 compared to fiscal 2018 results. Revenue will range from $5.9 billion to $6.1 billion.

The company said it expects no net earnings per share to 60 cents per share for the full year, with adjusted earnings of $3.75 to $4.25 per share.

Reporter Jim Mackinnon covers business and county government. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or [email protected]. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or

Cope Pharmacy, a fixture in New Franklin for 62 years, has closed.

The Suburbanite newspaper reported the family-owned business closed in late February.

Owner Gretchen Birch, whose late father, Don Cope, opened the pharmacy in 1956, told the paper that the continued erosion of the store’s prescription base led to the Feb. 27 closure. Customers increasingly switched prescriptions to mail-order firms and to other businesses that offer discount services, she told the paper.

The store was at West Nimisila Road at Manchester Road.

Cope Pharmacy had the last old-style soda fountain in Summit County, according to the Suburbanite.

NEW YORK: Target is raising its minimum starting pay for workers for the second time in less than a year after seeing a bigger and better pool of candidates.

The Minneapolis retailer, which hiked starting pay to $11 an hour last fall, said all workers this spring will receive a minimum of $12 per hour.

Target said in September that it planned to raise starting hourly pay to $15 an hour by 2020.

On Tuesday, CEO Brian Cornell said that the number of job applicants rose by 60 percent after Target increased its minimum wage by $2, to $11 per hour.

The American job market has been warming for years, meaning that employers are having a harder time attracting and keeping employees.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that wages grew at the fastest pace in eight years in January. U.S. employers added a robust 200,000 jobs during the month, and the unemployment rate hovered at 4.1 percent for the fourth consecutive month.

But Target has essentially been raising their minimum wage each year since 2016, when it boosted pay from $9, to $10.

Walmart said in January that it would boost its starting pay for U.S. employees, though it close dozens of its Sam’ Club warehouse stores as well. Employees at Walmart Inc. previously started at $9 an hour, with a rise to $10 after completing a training program.

Target said last month that at $11, its starting hourly wage was higher than the minimum wage in 48 states. It says the pay hike will affect thousands of its more than 300,000 workers, but it has declined to quantify the percentage of its workforce.

But the higher cost of employment, among other things, has been noticed by Wall Street. Despite huge sales numbers posted Tuesday for the fourth quarter, profit for Target Corp. was less than expected, and its shares slumped 5 percent.

Shares fell another 1 percent after the wage increase was announced.

BENTONVILLE, Ark.: Walmart is expanding its meal kits nationwide after testing the service in some of its stores, a move that will heighten its competition with Amazon.

Walmart Inc. said Monday that meal kits will be in more than 2,000 of its stores this year, after starting the kits out at more than 250 stores initially. Consumers can either buy directly in store, or order kits online and pick them up later that day.

Shoppers can buy pre-portioned meal kits that they need to cook, rotisserie chicken meals or one step meals that just need to be heated up. The meals feed two people and are priced between $8 and $15.

Walmart, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, has continued its battle with Amazon for shoppers. Amazon started selling ready-to-cook meals in July.

WASHINGTON: Americans cut back on purchases of cars, furniture and a variety of other products in January, pushing retail sales down by 0.3 percent, the biggest decline in 11 months.

The January decline, following no change in December, was the largest setback since a 0.5 percent fall in February of last year, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

The surprise slowdown comes after a three-month stretch of sizzling consumer activity, from September through November, which had fueled the most robust holiday sales in a decade.

The January weakness was larger than had been expected and could trim overall growth forecasts for the current quarter. Many analysts had believed that the economy might expand at a solid 3 percent pace in the current quarter, largely because they foresaw strong and sustained spending by Americans.

Auto sales fell 1.3 percent in January, the biggest monthly drop since August, and came on the heels of a smaller 0.1 percent setback in December.

But the weakness was not confined to the auto sector. Excluding autos, retail sales would have been flat in January and a number of key sectors from furniture to building supplies suffered declines.

Department store sales rose a solid 0.8 percent while a broader category that includes big box retail stores such as Walmart, rose a smaller 0.2 percent.

The booming internet shopping sector was flat in January, but is still 10.2 percent higher than a year ago.

Sales at gasoline service stations rose 1.6 percent, but that’s partly due to rising pump prices.

The overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, grew at a solid 2.6 percent annual rate in the final three months of last year. That followed two quarters in which growth had topped 3 percent. That was a significant improvement from modest annual growth rates of around 2 percent the U.S. experienced during the economic recovery, now in its ninth year.

President Donald Trump insists that his economic program, which includes a $1.5 trillion tax cut, deregulation and increased infrastructure spending, will boost economic growth to 3 percent or better. The administration on Monday unveiled a $4.4 trillion budget for next year which shows that the tax cuts and higher government spending will result in $7 trillion in deficits over the next decade.

That was double the estimate for deficits that Trump made in his first budget last year.

NEW YORK: What’s next for Uno? Dos, of course.

Mattel is launching the new card game Dos next month in hopes of giving its nearly 50-year-old Uno brand a second life. Dos has similar rules as Uno, except players make two piles of cards and can throw down two cards at a time instead of one.

It comes as Mattel tries to turn its business around, mainly by updating classic brands, such as Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars. The toy maker’s revenue fell 11 percent last year, hurt by the bankruptcy filing of Toys R Us and the changing tastes of kids, who are increasingly reaching for a tablet instead of a toy.

Uno, however, was a bright spot: The company says Uno sales were up 12 percent in 2017 from the year before. Mattel, which is based in El Segundo, California, has sought to sell Uno in more places, including dollar stores and video game shops. And it has also been chasing trends, releasing Uno cards with emojis, baby animals or unicorns. An Uno smartphone app is in the works for the spring, and Mattel already has launched a way to play the card game through Facebook Messenger.

It may follow a similar a strategy with Dos, says Ray Adler, who oversees Mattel Inc.’s games unit.

Dos, which costs $5.99, will first be sold at Target in March and then roll out to other stores in August.

It took two years to develop Dos, mainly to make sure playing the game was different enough from Uno. But don’t expect to see Tres anytime soon, says Adler.

“We’re happy where we are with Dos right now,” he says.


Contact Joseph Pisani at

NEW YORK: Keurig is buying Dr Pepper Snapple Group, bringing together the make-at-home coffee brand with the company behind Dr Pepper soda, Mott’s apple juice and Snapple iced teas.

The combination lets the company offer “hot and cold beverages to satisfy every consumer throughout the day,” said Larry Young, chief executive of Dr Pepper Snapple.

Keurig Dr Pepper, the combined company, will have about $11 billion in annual sales. That’s still far smaller than PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola Co., which had sales in 2016 of $63 billion and $41 billion, respectively.

Shares of Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. soared 25 percent to $119.20 on Monday.

Keurig Green Mountain Inc., which is a privately held company, is known for its single-serve coffee makers. It also sells coffee pods that are sold in stores under the Green Mountain and Donut Shop name.

The pods, which are placed in the coffee makers and thrown out, have been criticized by environmental advocates as contributing to more waste.

Keurig said Monday that Dr Pepper Snapple shareholders will receive $103.75 per share in a special cash dividend and keep 13 percent of the combined company.

Shareholders of Dr Pepper Snapple still must approve the deal.

Keurig was acquired by Europe’s JAB Holding company in 2016 in a partnership with snack maker Mondelez International. JAB will be the controlling shareholder, and Mondelez will hold a stake of about 13 percent to 14 percent.

Keurig CEO Bob Gamgort will lead the new company. Young will become a director.

Their headquarters won’t change, with Keurig staying in in Waterbury, Vermont, and Dr Pepper Snapple in Plano, Texas.

The deal is expected to close in the second quarter, with the company estimating total debt to be about $16.6 billion at that time.


Toys R Us, a nostalgic favorite even as many shoppers moved to Amazon and huge chains like Walmart, plans to close as many as 182 stores, or about 20 percent of its U.S. locations.

The company that once dominated toy sales in the United States has been operating under bankruptcy protection since last fall, when it filed for Chapter 11 under the weight of $5 billion in debt. Toys R Us operates about 900 U.S. stores, including Babies R Us.

Only four of the affected locations are in Ohio, with stores closing in Mentor, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati.

Loyal fans lamented the closing of their hometown stores. Many said they liked to shop at Toys R Us because of the atmosphere and the variety of toys they found.

“It’s an experience,” said Bryan Likins of Indianapolis, who takes his 4-year-old daughter there. “She likes to walk through the store and point to different toys she liked.”

Likins says he remembers playing with the video games and trying out bikes with his brothers at Toys R Us, and liked continuing that with his child. He said he shopped on Amazon only for specific items that he wasn’t sure if other toy sellers carried.

The store closings will begin in February. The majority of locations identified for closure will go dark by mid-April. At some other locations, Toys R Us and Babies R Us stores will be combined. The bankruptcy court still must sign off on the closings.

Toys R Us wouldn’t say how many jobs will be cut. It said some employees will be moved to other stores and those who cannot be will get severance. Chairman and CEO Dave Brandon said Wednesday that tough decisions are required to save Toys R Us.

He acknowledged “operational missteps” during the critical holiday shopping season when shopping at its stores and online wasn’t as easy as it should have been.

“The actions we are taking are necessary to give us the best chance to emerge from our bankruptcy proceedings as a more viable and competitive company that will provide the level of service and experience you should expect,” he said in a letter to customers.

Gerrick Johnson, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets, had estimated that holiday sales at the company’s North America stores were down more than 10 percent. He attributed much of the decline to people’s confusion around the bankruptcy filing and a fear of buying gifts at Toys R Us because they thought they wouldn’t be able to return them if needed. Johnson also blamed a weak marketing campaign and email promotions that didn’t create a sense of urgency.

Toys R Us, based in Wayne, N.J., has struggled with debt since private-equity firms Bain Capital, KKR & Co. and Vornado Realty Trust took it private in a $6.6 billion leveraged buyout in 2005. The plan had been to take the company public again, but weak sales have prevented that from happening. With such debt levels, Toys R Us has not had the financial flexibility to invest in its business.

Meanwhile, other stores like Target have been increasing their assortment of toys.

Toys R Us closed its flagship store in Manhattan’s Times Square, a huge tourist destination, about two years ago. While its sales numbers have been shrinking, Toys R Us still sells about 20 percent of the toys bought in the U.S., according to Stephanie Wissink, an analyst at Jefferies LLC.

Competitive pressures will force the company to examine all its stores, and more will likely be shuttered over the next year or two, Wissink said. Moody’s lead retail analyst Charlie O’Shea says the closings will let Toys R Us “focus all of its operating efforts on only its best locations.”

Ryan McLaine, mother of a 4-year-old boy, is disappointed that her favorite Toys R Us store in Exton, Pa., was on the list of closures.

She said the next closest Toys R Us location is in King of Prussia, and it’s not well maintained.

Toys R Us reigned supreme in the 1980s and early 1990s, when it was one of the first of the “category killers” — a store totally devoted to one thing: toys. Its scale gave it leverage with toy sellers and it disrupted general merchandise stores and mom-and-pop shops. Children sang along with commercials featuring the mascot, Geoffrey the giraffe.

Now Toys R Us and other category killers like the now-defunct Sports Authority, Borders and Circuit City, are being upended by Amazon and online shopping.

Akron small businesses will be taking part in a first-of-its-kind initiative with eBay.

The 12-month pilot program, called Retail Revival, was announced Friday morning by Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan and eBay Inc. President and CEO Devin Wenig.

Akron is the first U.S. city selected by eBay to take part in Retail Revival.

“We decided Akron was the place to try something really new,” said Wenig, eBay CEO since 2015.

As many as 40 brick-and-mortar businesses — primarily from Akron plus some from nearby Warren — likely will participate, according to the announcement inside the new Northside Marketplace off Furnace Street.

The local businesses will get exclusive support and resources, including training, to market their products and services on eBay. Discussions between Akron and eBay began about six months ago.

Horrigan called the Retail Revival program a “transformational new partnership” between the city and the $9 billion San Jose, Calif., e-commerce and online auction company.

“A partnership that will help make Akron a leader in the digital economy,” Horrigan said. “The program exists to help small local businesses and the broader community harness the power of technology and participate in the global marketplace.”

The city will work with eBay to identify businesses to participate in the program, Horrigan said. “It’s time we share our exceptional goods and customer service with the rest of the world.”

Warren Mayor Doug Franklin said some people wrongly associate Northeast Ohio with the stigma of being the “Rust Belt.”

“That’s a very old perception. And that’s very definitely not who we are now,” he said. “And eBay has validated that.”

Plenty of potential

The Retail Revival initiative has regional and even statewide potential, Horrigan said.

Some Akron small business owners said they found out just recently that they were selected to be part of the experiment. The owners said they still needed to learn more on how the program will work. Retail Revival may formally kick off in March.

“One of the reasons we are here is because we feel wanted,” Wenig said. “We feel wanted by the small businesses. … We feel wanted by two very progressive local governments that say it’s time for change and we can revitalize our small business engine. And the entire U.S. economy is in a period of transition. We’re moving to a digital economy.”

While this was his first time in Akron, Wenig said, eBay has been in Ohio for nearly all 21 years of the company’s existence. Last year Ohio businesses did a billion dollars in sales on eBay, Wenig said.

“Summit County, almost $100 million,” he said. “There is a quiet economy that you may not even know about that is thriving on digital platforms like our own.”

Retail Revival is about helping small businesses grow and thrive in the digital economy and get on the global “digital highway,” Wenig said. The goal is not to just help Akron businesses grow locally but also help them grow around the world.

“We love entrepreneurs. We’re builders,” Wenig said. “And the sense I get is, Akron is a building town. That’s why we’re here. … Akron’s a building city, so let’s build something together.”

EBay will know the program is a success if the Akron retailers increase sales and hire more staff at the end of 12 months, Wenig said. The pilot program will be limited to a maximum of 50 businesses.

Akron small business owners who will be part of this initial Retail Revival program said they look forward to it.

“It’s still too soon to figure out exactly how it is going to work,” said Pete Smakula, owner of Electric Pete’s E-bikes at 331 S. Main St. He hopes to increase business and get more exposure.

Frank Miller III and Preston Clark, partners in 7th Floor Clothing, likewise hope the eBay program will increase sales and exposure. The small clothing company has already been highlighted by Akron native and NBA superstar LeBron James.

Filling the gap

Dominic Falcione, owner of Krunchworks, a custom furnishings and fixtures business, said because Retail Revival is about e-commerce, the online sales will help him fill a gap in his one-person shop in Akron.

John Buntin Jr., owner of Kenmore Komics & Games, also praised the initiative.

“This could actually work,” he said. While Buntin said he has sold on eBay “off and on” for about 20 years, he said the Retail Revival program appears to be more comprehensive. If the program helps local businesses such as his, then the city and county will also be participating in the success, Buntin said. “We’ll all grow and prosper.

Reporter Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or [email protected].

Associated Press

NEW YORK: Amazon narrowed its search for a second headquarters city Thursday to 20 locations, concentrated mostly in the East and the Midwest. Toronto made the list as well, as the company kept its international options open.

The online retailing giant said that after sorting through 238 proposals, the potential locations still include tech-strong places such as Boston and New York. Other contenders: Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Indianapolis; Columbus, Ohio; and Los Angeles, the only West Coast city to make the list.

Among those that didn’t make the cut were Detroit, a disappointment for those excited about progress since the city came out of bankruptcy, and Memphis, Tennessee, where Mayor Jim Strickland said the city gave it its “best shot.”

“Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough,” said Holly Sullivan, who oversees Amazon’s public policy. “All the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity.”

The Seattle-based company’s announcement last fall that it was looking for a second home touched off a fierce competition among states and cities looking to lure Amazon and its promise of 50,000 jobs and construction spending of more than $5 billion.

Both Texas and Pennsylvania had two cities that made the cut: Austin and Dallas, and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In the South, Miami and Atlanta are being considered.

Officials in cities that made the shortlist took the opportunity to further tout their cities, with Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney noting “all that Philadelphia has to offer” and officials in Allegheny County, including Pittsburgh’s Mayor William Peduto, citing the region’s “world-class talent pool” and other advantages.

The other contenders: Denver; Montgomery County, Maryland; Nashville, Tennessee; Newark, New Jersey; Northern Virginia; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Amazon said it will make a final selection sometime this year.

“It’s a long list, for a shortlist,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist at job site Indeed.

He said Amazon may use the list to pit the locations against each other and get better tax breaks or incentives. Two metro areas, New York and Washington, have more than one location that made the list, increasing competition there, he said.

“It’s hard to say whether all these places are in play or Amazon wanted to encourage continued competition,” Kolko said.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether locations would be able to change their proposals or offer better incentives, but said in a statement that it would “work with each of the candidate locations to dive deeper into their proposals.”

State and local governments played up the amenities they think make their locations the best choice for Amazon’s second headquarters. Some pulled off stunts to stand out, such as New York, which lit the Empire State Building in Amazon orange.

Some stunts didn’t work: Tucson, Arizona, which sent a 21-foot cactus to Seattle, did not make the list. Neither did Birmingham, Alabama, which installed giant replicas of Amazon’s Dash buttons.

The company had stipulated that it wanted to be near a metropolitan area with more than 1 million people; be able to attract top technical talent; be within 45 minutes of an international airport; have direct access to mass transit; and be able to expand the headquarters to as much as 8 million square feet in the next decade.

But Amazon also made it very clear it wanted tax breaks, grants and any other incentives.

Some state and local governments have made public the details of the financial incentives they are dangling. Boston’s offer includes $75 million for affordable housing for Amazon employees and others. Before he left office Tuesday, Republican Gov. Chris Christie approved a measure to allow New Jersey to offer up to $5 billion to Amazon. Newark also proposes to give Amazon $2 billion in tax breaks.

But many of the state and local governments competing for the headquarters have refused to disclose the tax breaks or other financial incentives they offered. Of the 20 finalists, 13, including New York, Chicago and Miami, declined requests from The Associated Press to release their applications.

Several said they don’t want their competitors to know what they’re offering, a stance that open-government advocates criticized.

Amazon plans to remain in its sprawling Seattle headquarters, and the second home base will be “a full equal” to it, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos had said.

The extra space will help the rapidly growing company, which had nearly 542,000 employees at the end of September, a 77 percent jump from the year before. Some of that growth came from Amazon’s nearly $14 billion acquisition last year of natural foods grocer Whole Foods and its 89,000 employees.


Associated Press writer Josh Cornfield in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

The economy in Ohio and parts of neighboring states expanded moderately the past six weeks, the latest Beige Book report from the Federal Reserve.

Labor markets tightened in the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s multi-state territory, according to the report released Wednesday. A majority of contacts reported they are replacing departed workers.

Employers reported challenges in attracting and retaining qualified workers, especially for low-skills jobs. The strongest hiring activity was in the construction and nonfinancial services sectors. Hiring by manufacturers trended slowly higher.

The main labor-related challenge reported was attracting and retaining workers for low-skills and middle-skills jobs. Firms were raising wages and creating career paths within these job categories to attract and retain workers.

A professional services contact reported boosting wages for select low-skills jobs by up to 20 percent, while a fast food executive said that wages at her restaurants increased to $11 per hour.

Retailers reported higher-than-expected revenues for the early part of the holiday shopping season.

Manufacturing output grew slowly. There was ongoing strength in the construction and motor vehicle industries and stability in the energy sector.

The housing and commercial real estate markets remained healthy.

Retail chains that invested in technology to enhance shopping experiences saw sales increase.

One chain reported that a growing share of online orders are for in-store pickup, which generated higher in-store sales when customers came in to pick up orders.

A fast food chain reported that the average revenue per transaction from recently installed self-service kiosks was higher than transactions generated by cashiers.

Business lending trended up slowly. Bankers saw higher loan balances compared to a year ago. Increasing confidence in the economy was frequently cited for rising credit demand. Merger and acquisition financing remained strong.

Signet Jewelers Ltd. has polished and expanded its Akron headquarters.

The newly revamped headquarters for the world’s largest jewelry retailer includes a new entrance with a two-story lobby, digital history wall, and so-called alternative work areas – enhanced digital spaces that encourage collaborative and creative work.

The 86,000-square-foot, four-story store support center, at Signet’s West Akron campus off Ghent Road near Summit Mall, also features numerous “green building” attributes, the company said in a news release. The official ribbon-cutting was Monday. According to figures from 2015, before construction started, cost of the expansion was estimated at $18 million.

Signet’s retail brands include Zales, Kay, Jared and others.

WASHINGTON: The Supreme Court announced Friday that it will consider allowing states to require all online sellers to collect sales taxes, revoking an old rule that costs states billions in lost revenues.

The justices said they would hear an appeal from South Dakota and 35 other states that says the current “physical presence” rule is outdated and unfair in an era when Americans do much of their shopping online.

In 1992, when home shopping was dominated by mail order catalogs, the high court ruled a state may require out-of-state companies to collect sales taxes only if the company had outlets or warehouses within the state. The justices said then that requiring companies to do more would amount to discrimination against interstate commerce.

But the explosion of internet sales has put pressure on Congress and the court to reconsider the issue. Traditional retailers joined the fray, arguing it is unfair to require them, but not their online competitors, to charge sales tax with each purchase.

States and counties told the court they lose between $13 billion and $34 billion each year because they cannot collect sales taxes on all online purchases.

Although Congress has the authority to regulate interstate commerce, the House and Senate have not agreed on a law to regulate tax collections for online sales.

State lawyers were cheered two years ago when Justice Anthony Kennedy said the court should “re-examine” the 1992 decision in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota. That decision was “questionable even when decided,” and is “now inflicting extreme harm and unfairness on the states,” Kennedy wrote in a concurring opinion.

Justice Neil Gorsuch also voiced skepticism about the 1992 decision when he was an appeals court judge, describing it as having created “a sort of judicially sponsored tax shelter.”

Kennedy’s comments prompted South Dakota to launch a new attack on the physical presence rule. On Friday, the court said it will hear the case of South Dakota v. Wayfair in April, with a ruling likely by late June. The justices also said they will review several legislative districts in Texas to decide whether they were drawn to dilute the voting power of Latinos. The case is Abbott v. Perez.

LONDON: NBA star LeBron James, rapper Diddy and other artists have responded with outrage to an advertising image by retailer H&M showing a black child in a sweatshirt with the words “Coolest monkey in the jungle.”

The retailer has apologized and removed the image, but not before the ad was widely challenged Tuesday on social media as being racist and inappropriate.

James posted a refreshed image showing the model wearing a crown. Diddy posted an image with a sweatshirt revised to read “Coolest king in the world.”

@hm u got us all wrong! And we ain’t going for it! Straight up! Enough about y’all and more of what I see when I look at this photo. I see a Young King!! The ruler of the world, an untouchable Force that can never be denied! We as African Americans will always have to break barriers, prove people wrong and work even harder to prove we belong but guess what, that’s what we love because the benefits at the end of the road are so beautiful!! #LiveLaughLove❤️ #LoveMyPeople🤴🏾👸🏾👨🏾‍⚖️👩🏾‍⚖️

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

Singer The Weeknd, who has a clothing line at the retailer, says he was “shocked and embarrassed” by the photo and that he would end his ties with the company.

The Swedish-based company says it is sorry the image was taken.

The Better Business Bureau of Akron says it has received numerous complaints from customers of Medina-based Thrifty Propane Inc.

The complaints, primarily since Dec. 1, say consumers ordered propane from the business and did not receive it in a timely manner, the BBB said in a news release. The consumers also said they received poor customer service when they tried to contact Thrifty Propane, the release said.

“During the arctic blast, many consumers have unfortunately been left in the cold by Thrifty Propane Inc. once again,” the BBB said in the news release.

The Beacon Journal attempted to reach Thrifty Propane on Friday for comment.

“With the exceptionally low temperatures this week, this has caused consumers to purchase propane elsewhere that incurs payment of emergency fees and some consumers have not been able to stay in their own homes due to lack of heat,” the BBB said.

The BBB said it has had a surge of complaints about Thrifty Propane at this time of year going back to 2014.

“In January 2016 the Ohio Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Thrifty Propane, Inc. for misrepresenting its service and failing to deliver propane to consumers across the state,” the BBB said.

Thrifty Propane and the Ohio AG settled the complaint in August 2016, the BBB said.

Under the settlement agreement, Thrifty Propane said it would to take steps to minimize customer service-related concerns, including failure to provide propane deliveries and repeated missed propane delivery dates, the BBB said. Thrifty Propane also agreed to address a failure to communicate with consumers regarding installation dates or delays and the inability by consumers to reach customer service representatives, the BBB said.

The BBB offered these consumer tips regarding propane providers:

• Always check a company’s BBB business profile.

• Ask about delivery options — are deliveries automatic or on an as needed basis? Determine which option fits your needs best. Is there a separate delivery fee?

• Are personnel, including drivers, nationally certified? Is the propane supply company registered and insured in Ohio?

• Ask the provider about their safety record and programs.

• Check for pricing programs that are reasonable and work with your budget.

• Does the provider offer 24/7 customer support staffed by a live representative?

• Does the company provide after-hours emergency services for events such as gas leaks?

• Are there early termination fees in the contract? If so, what triggers these fees?