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By DEE-ANN DURBIN and TOM KRISHER
The Associated Press
DETROIT – General Motors will keep open about 900 dealerships across the country that it had planned to close, a shift in corporate strategy that could preserve thousands of jobs.
The automaker will wind up with about 5,000 U.S. dealers in July, up from original plans for 4,100, Mark Reuss, GM’s North America president, told The Associated Press. It had about 6,000 when it filed for bankruptcy last year.
The change represents a desire by GM’s new leadership team to avoid the expense of closing dealerships, a step they say is not critical to bring the company back to profits.
GM’s large dealer network “used to be one of our main, massive strengths,” Reuss told the AP during a recent test drive of the new Chevrolet Cruze. “I still think that’s true. It can be true with the right dealers.”
July is the end of a federally mandated arbitration process under which dealerships that GM and Chrysler Group had targeted could appeal. Partly because of GM’s strategy change, only about a quarter of the 1,576 cases brought by GM and Chrysler dealers remain before arbitrators.
GM on Tuesday would not estimate how many total jobs might be saved. The National Automobile Dealers Association, a trade group, says about 50 people work at an average new-car dealership.
Change of plans
Both GM and Chrysler announced plans to shed 2,800 dealerships as part of their reorganizations. The companies said their U.S. sales didn’t justify so many dealers – nearly 10,000 between them. By comparison, Toyota has only about 1,200 even though it’s the second-largest automaker by U.S. sales.
GM and Chrysler also argued that closing some dealers would make the remaining ones more profitable and allow them to invest in nicer facilities, advertising and training.
GM’s last CEO, Fritz Henderson, convinced an Obama administration task force that GM needed to close struggling dealers. But he was ousted in November, just before Congress passed a law requiring arbitration before either automaker could cut a dealership loose.
Since the arbitration hearings began in February, most cases have been settled – either because GM and Chrysler reinstated dealers or the dealers withdrew their cases, some of them to sign with other automakers, others to close for good. About 300 GM dealers and fewer than 100 Chrysler dealers targeted for closure are still awaiting a decision from arbitrators.
Reuss wouldn’t elaborate on the change in GM’s strategy.
“I’m concentrating on what it needs to be for the new GM,” he said. “I think we’ve removed a lot of the anxiety and all the things that go with that.”
Chrysler, too, will have more dealers than it planned when it emerged from bankruptcy, although it won’t say exactly how many. It closed about 800 last summer but has since agreed to reinstate about 10 percent of those.
Chrysler has been more aggressive than GM in closing dealerships. It sued North Carolina and four other states to stop state laws that would have protected dealers.

Data Stream

By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON – Job openings jumped in April to the highest level in 16 months, a sign that private employers may boost hiring in coming months.
The number of jobs advertised at the end of April rose to 3.1 million from 2.8 million in March, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That’s the most openings since December 2008.
Private employers accounted for the entire net gain. The government’s advertising for jobs decreased, despite the hiring of hundreds of thousands of census workers in May.
The department’s report, known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, or JOLTS, follows a disappointing employment report Friday that found private employers added only 41,000 jobs in May. Temporary census hiring accounted for 411,000 jobs. The unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent from 9.9 percent in April.
The rise in job openings “makes you a little more upbeat about the labor market,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase.
Job openings have risen by about 740,000 since bottoming out at 2.3 million in July. But they remain far below pre-recession levels of about 4.5 million openings per month.
Tough market
The competition for jobs remains tough. There were five unemployed people, on average, for each job opening in April. That’s down from 5.4 in the previous month, but well above pre-recession levels of 1.8 jobless workers per opening.
The biggest increases in available jobs were in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and education and health services. Government job openings fell by 36,000.
The report also found that the number of people quitting jobs topped total layoffs for the third straight month. Nearly 2 million people quit their jobs in April, an increase of about 130,000 in the past two months. An increasing number of people voluntarily leaving jobs is a sign of confidence in the employment market, economists say. Workers are less likely to cling to their jobs if they believe others are available.
Other surveys also show that companies are likely to increase hiring, though at a slow pace. Staffing company Manpower Inc. said Tuesday that its quarterly employment outlook found more employers are planning to hire in the July-to-September quarter than the preceding three months.
Manpower said its employment index rose to a seasonally adjusted 6 percent, a point higher than in the March-to-June period. The index was at -2 a year ago, meaning more employers planned to cut jobs than hire. The survey covers 18,000 private and government entities.
Separately, the National Federation of Independent Business said Tuesday that its small business optimism index rose to 92.2. That’s the highest level since September 2008, when Lehman Brothers collapsed and the financial crisis intensified. But that’s still below the index’s long-run average of 99, according to Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics.
The NFIB’s employment index rose to 1, the first positive reading in 19 months. It suggests more small businesses plan to add workers than cut them.
The reports come after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said late Monday that the recovery will continue “but it won’t feel terrific.” That’s because economic growth won’t be robust enough to quickly drive down the unemployment rate, now at 9.7 percent, he said in remarks to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a nonpartisan research group.

Data Stream

There goes the neighborhood. We do not know if that was Sarah Palin’s initial response to the news that a journalist writing a book about her had rented the house next to hers in Wasilla, Alaska. But who could blame her if it was?
As it is, the response Palin did share on Facebook seems tellingly uneven, as if Joe McGinniss’ decision to move in next door had knocked her off her game. One moment, she’s chirping with trademark insouciance about how she might bake him a blueberry pie to welcome him to the neighborhood. The next, she is talking about raising the fence between her house and his.
In the same Facebook posting, Palin also suggested, with smarmy innuendo, that from his new home, the author could see into her daughter’s bedroom. Palin did not explain why he would wish to do so.
McGinniss’ move has stirred controversy beyond Wasilla. A posting on Slate.com strongly defended his “immersion” journalism. At the other end of the opinion spectrum, the author has received death threats from angry Palin fans. Among McGinniss’ more hinged critics, the word “creepy” gets used a lot. Even in defending him, the piece on Slate.com likened him to a stalker.
For his part, McGinniss told NBC’s “Today” show that “creepy is as creepy does” – whatever that means – and portrayed his decision to rent the house next door as coincidental. He needed to live in Wasilla for the summer while doing his research, it was a great house at a great price, and it just happened to be next door to the woman he is writing about.
If ever there is a Museum of Disingenuous Explanations, that one will deserve its own wing. And here, let us stipulate three things:
One, McGinniss is pulling an obvious stunt that ultimately benefits both parties: it helps him sell books, it helps her sell herself as a victim of the “lamestream” media.
Two, McGinniss is perfectly within his rights to rent this house – or any other he desires.
Three, Palin is, of her own doing, a public figure and as such, must accept intense, even intrusive, media scrutiny.
But even stipulating all that, it’s hard to be sanguine about the uncomfortable nearness McGinniss has foisted upon his subject. Not that you can’t understand why he’d want to write about her. Palin is, second only to the president himself, the most compelling figure in American politics – and the most polarizing. For some, she is the folksy, straight-talkin’ avatar of conservative principles, while for others, she is the leader of an intellectually incoherent movement that has no idea where it’s going but seems in a hurry to get there.
Under neither interpretation, however, does she forfeit her humanity or her right to expect that she will be treated with basic human decency. And stalking another person – sorry, but when even your friends call you a stalker, you’re a stalker – violates that expectation. This is not immersion or even intrusion. This is invasion.
Unfortunately, invasion has become the media’s default means of covering the rich and famous. Ask Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, Tom Cruise. They all enjoy the mixed blessing of being celebrities in an era where lines of propriety have been all but erased and too close is never close enough – an era where you are never out of camera range and folks seem to think themselves entitled to your deepest feelings, failings, secrets and fears, as if public people had no right to private lives. Indeed, if I were Pitt, Bullock or Cruise, I’d make offers on the houses next to mine just in case McGinniss has given somebody ideas.
We have, many of us, chosen to forget this, but the mere fact of being well known does not make an individual abstract or theoretical, nor does it absolve us of the obligation to treat them as we’d wish to be treated. People have the right to live peaceably and privately within their own walls.
Even Sarah Palin.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at lpittsmiamiherald.com.

Data Feature

People who have never wished the Obama administration well are smacking their lips in glee because they believe the BP oil spill will be as politically damaging to the president as it is environmentally harmful to the Gulf Coast.
“I don’t see how the president’s position and popularity can survive the oil spill,” said former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, who suggested in her Wall Street Journal column Tuesday that Republicans shouldn’t be too quick to dance on Obama’s grave.
The Republican political hierarchy, though, sees only opportunity in Obama’s mishandling of this crisis. Don’t hold your breath waiting for them to express regret that BP’s oil rig exploded after Obama, seeking bipartisan support of his energy bill, pledged allegiance to the Republican position that more U.S. waters should be open to offshore drilling.
Maybe finding himself on the wrong side of the drilling issue is why Obama’s response to the spill that began April 20 has been so inadequate. He took too long before visiting the ecologically damaged area on May 2. For too long, he left the impression that BP was unilaterally calling the shots on plugging the gushing pipeline.
It is especially hard to see how Obama could have miscalculated public reaction to his perceived aloofness, given the damage to President George W. Bush’s political standing after he similarly was tardy in paying attention to the same Gulf states after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.
Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to the coast Tuesday to meet with federal and state prosecutors to discuss possible criminal, civil or environmental charges in connection with the explosion that also left 11 people dead. That’s fine, but the focus now should be on stopping the oil.
In that same vein, it provided little comfort to the people who depend on the coastal waters for their incomes to see Obama announce Tuesday that he was appointing a commission, similar to the panel that probed the 1986 space shuttle Challenger explosion, to look into the BP oil spill.
Finger-pointing is what you do after an event is over. That’s not yet the case. Oil is still flowing from the damaged pipe, and none of BP’s efforts to stop it have worked. If the latest idea fails, it could be August before the leak is finally plugged. By then, Alabama and Mississippi will have joined Louisiana with spoiled beaches.
“What’s being threatened – what’s being lost – isn’t just the source of income, but a way of life; not just fishable waters, but a national treasure,” Obama said Tuesday. Yes, the stakes are high for the environment and the economy. But they’re also high for him.
-The Philadelphia Inquirer

Data Feature

Dennis Seid 6/3/10
Economic reports raise job hopes
By MARTIN CRUTSINGER
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON – Fewer people are filing claims for unemployment aid, new jobs are showing up in service industries and companies are squeezing all they can from lean staffs and may need to hire soon.
Hopes for the job market brightened Thursday ahead of a closely watched report on the nation’s employment picture – although experts cautioned that the economy probably isn’t creating jobs as quickly as usual after a recession.
“While we will see a period of job growth, it is going to take a long time to get back the jobs we lost,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, who predicts the nation will not recover the 8 million jobs lost in the downturn until 2013. Zandi says it will take until 2015 to get back to full employment, which he defined as a jobless rate of around 5.5 percent.
Economists predict the May jobs report, due out this morning, will show the nation added 513,000 jobs in May. But most of them, as many as 400,000 by some estimates, will be temporary government jobs to help with the census.
The unemployment rate is expected to fall slightly, to 9.8 percent from 9.9 percent.
While analysts say layoffs will keep tapering off and companies will gradually hire more, a lack of strength throughout the economy complicates the recovery.
Americans’ appetite for spending has eased. Manufacturing output has been strong, but that’s mostly because businesses are replenishing their stockpiles after slashing them during the recession.
Unless Americans pick up the pace on spending, manufacturing could fizzle. And consumer habits are closely tied to employment and wage growth.
Hiring may pick up if businesses find they can’t wring more work out of thinner ranks. Productivity grew in the first quarter at the slowest annual pace in a year – 2.8 percent, the Labor Department said Thursday.
A separate report Thursday showed first-time claims for unemployment aid fell for a second straight week. Still, the decline came after a sharp increase three weeks ago.
The service sector, a broad category ranging from construction to retail to health care, accounts for about four of every five U.S. jobs outside of farms. It expanded in May for the fifth month in a row. And the Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing executives that monitors the industry, said its jobs measure rose for the first time in more than two years.
Economists still worry that the service sector, like most sectors outside of manufacturing, isn’t expanding fast enough. Adding to the picture of a slow recovery were reports Thursday showing modest increases in factory orders and retail sales.
More orders came in to U.S. factories in April, particularly for commercial aircraft, the government said. But the increase was smaller than in March, and orders outside of transportation actually fell, the worst showing in about a year.
Americans spent with caution in May after a tepid April, according to the International Council of Shopping Center index released Thursday. Cool weather dampened May spending. So did a late Memorial Day weekend that pushed some recorded sales into June.
But analysts also cited high unemployment, stock market jitters and the dwindling of government-funded rebates on energy-efficient appliances.

Data Stream

n The inherited
neurological disorder
affects 200,000 Americans.
By Fernando Quintero
The Orlando Sentinel
ORLANDO, Fla. – During his first public presentation as Youth Ambassador for the National Tourette Syndrome Association, 14-year-old Nathaniel Ray was bombarded with questions from fifth-graders at Stone Lakes Elementary in Orlando, Fla., last week.
“Is it when someone gets sick by bugs?” asked 11-year-old Isabella Ruiz.
“Those are ticks. What people with Tourette Syndrome have is tics,” said Nathaniel, holding up a laminate card explaining Tourette’s trademark involuntary movements and vocal sounds. The card came from a stack given to him by the national Tourette’s syndrome group to help spread the word about the disorder.
Nathaniel and 13-year-old Jordan Bernstein of Boca Raton, Fla., were chosen as youth ambassadors from dozens of applicants submitted to the Florida Chapter of the National Tourette Syndrome Association. Among the teens’ responsibilities are to go to schools and community organizations to teach understanding and tolerance of Tourette’s syndrome and its symptoms, and to dispel myths and stereotypes about the condition.
“It’s extremely important to create better awareness of Tourette’s, even with all the different TV programs and documentaries about Tourette’s, it’s still a highly misunderstood and mischaracterized,” said Christopher Brown, chair of the National Tourette Syndrome Association’s Florida chapter. “Even our doctors aren’t up to date on it.”
Tourette’s syndrome has been spoofed on TV shows such as “South Park” and in films like “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.” A few shows, such as the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, “Front of the Class,” have sought to bring a more accurate portrayal of the condition.
Tourette’s syndrome is an inherited neurological disorder affecting an estimated 200,000 Americans, and is usually diagnosed in children between the ages of 3 and 10. The most familiar and caricatured form of Tourette’s is called coprolalia, in which the sufferer uses sometimes inappropriate language in bursts. While it is the characteristic of Tourette’s most often portrayed, it affects an estimated 10 percent of people with the disorder.
“Sometimes, kids make fun of people with Tourette’s,” Nathaniel said to the class. “You wouldn’t make fun of someone with asthma because they have to use an inhaler would you?”
“No,” the fifth graders responded.
“How can you help someone with Tourette’s?” asked Nathaniel.
“Be a friend to someone who has Tourette’s,” said Indiya Williams, 11.
Andrea Slaughter, the students’ teacher, said having Nathaniel address his peers about what makes him different was a great way to combat teasing and bullying in schools, “especially among middle-schoolers.”
Brown, a NASA engineer with Tourette’s syndrome whose 14-year-old daughter also has the condition, said his group works to improve understanding for teachers and school administrators, as well, since the condition can manifest itself as learning disorders or mistakenly be seen as a behavioral problem. Children with Tourette’s have a higher risk of learning, behavioral and social difficulties. In addition to tics, many studies have linked Tourette’s to higher rates of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, as well a learning disabilities.
Now in its third year, the ambassador program has trained more than 38 teams of teens from across the country and reached an estimated 3.5 million people. Nathaniel heard about the program last fall in a Tourette Syndrome Association newsletter.
Growing as a person
Nathaniel, who was diagnosed with Tourette’s at age 7, first exhibited signs of the disorder when he began blinking his eyes repeatedly.
“We thought it was allergies,” said his mother, Betty Ray.
Within a couple of weeks, her son began jerking his head back. The tics lasted 30 minutes to an hour. Soon afterward, a neurologist prescribed medication to treating him for tics, OCD and ADD. But medication for Tourette’s is a system of trial and error. Nathaniel rattles off the different pills he’s taken: clonidine, risperdal, Tenex.
When the Rays moved to Orlando in 2005, Betty found a research study on Tourette’s and OCD that included more recent classes of drugs, such as Lexapro, an anti-anxiety drug.
Nathaniel’s tics are now facial – he grimaces uncontrollably – and his body jerks at night for about 30 minutes. His mother said it is a response to controlling his movements all day, which eventually must be released. Anxiety, excitement, fatigue and illness can exacerbate the condition.
“It’s not easy for him. But it’s given him a stronger work ethic. He works two, three times harder than other kids,” said Betty Ray. “He’s much more compassionate toward others who are different. It’s helped mold his character.”
Added his father, Raymond Ray: “I feel very proud of him. I tell him this has been an opportunity to grow as a person. And he has.”
As an ambassador and spokesman for Tourette’s syndrome, Nathaniel is a natural. He’s making straight As. He holds a purple belt in karate. And he hopes to one day be an astronaut and missionary – his family attends a non-denominational church in Avalon Park, Fla.
Nathaniel’s dreams, and more importantly, his faith, have inspired him to succeed.
“God gave me this. It made me a stronger person than who I am,” he said. “God’s going to use me to do something good one day.”

Data Feature

By Carlie Kollath
Daily Journal
Hancock Fabrics is remodeling its stores and the Tupelo location is the first in the state to be revamped.
It has thousands of new items, new displays, new signage and a new layout. The store has plenty of its traditional fabric offerings, but now about 25 percent of the selling space is dedicated to craft items.
“We’re not eliminating fabric to fit this in,” said Dena Livingston, Hancock’s vice president of marketing. “We’re mainly fabric. This is to enhance what our fabric customers are doing. We don’t want them to have to leave to finish a project.”
The inventory additions still are being tested, Livingston said, but so far, so good.
“We did a lot of homework before we did this,” she said. “We knew it was viable. We didn’t go into it blind.”
Three extremely popular categories, said store manager Janiece Martin, have been cake decorating, scrapbooking and kids’ crafts. Other new categories include woodworking, paint, baskets, jewelry making and a self-framing area.
Said Livingston, “People who sew also do that stuff and now they can get it here. … We’re not trying to be our competitors. We’re just trying to be better for our customers.”
She attributed much of the popularity of do-it-yourself projects to hit reality shows such as “Project Runway,” “Cake Boss” and “Ace of Cakes.”
“People have to have an outlet,” Livingston said. “They can’t afford to travel.”
Martin added that she’s seeing more of her customers enter a “nesting” phase and turning to crafts and at-home projects.
At the Tupelo store, the measuring area and the cash registers have been moved to the center of the store near the front doors. Home decor items are grouped to the right of the register area. Fabric and sewing-related items fill the front section of the store on the left and on the right.
The newly added craft sections run the length of the back of the store.
It’s a work in progress, said Martin, noting that the self-framing area is still being set up. When it is done, customers will be able to select a frame and a pre-cut mat to frame a print from the store or a print or photo from home.
The education area also is in the beginning stages. Hancock has set up a table and chairs that it plans to use to give in-store demonstrations from vendors. Topics may include cake and cookie decorating.
“A lot of people want to sew but they don’t know how,” she said. “We’ll look at YouTube, our website and classes in-store.”
Livingston said demonstration topics and the schedule will be ironed out in the future.
Along with the table for adults, Hancock has added a children’s seating area in the craft department. The table and chairs are brightly colored and pint-sized.
The Tupelo location is one of Hancock’s larger store formats, coming in at 26,000 square feet. Livingston said that while the other stores eventually will be remodeled, they won’t necessarily look like the Tupelo store because they are smaller.
On a recent quarterly earnings call, Hancock Fabrics CEO Jane Aggers said 14 stores across the country were remodeled in April and May. She said the data is too new to see if it has improved sales in stores, but she plans to have an update at the second-quarter conference call.
In the most recent quarter, same-store sales were down 2 percent, with the company posting a $1.3 million loss for the quarter. However, Hancock in the past year has reduced its debt by $17.8 million.
Hancock’s immediate goal, according to CFO Rob Driskell, is to get to $100 of sales per square foot. Right now, Driskell said, the company is in the mid-70s.
At the store level, Martin said she’s already seeing the new items help drive sales. She said with the start of summer, kids’ crafts have been extremely popular, especially for vacation Bible school events.
Customers also are working on fall projects, with one woman last week on a mission to find the store’s fake fur selections.
“Our customers are so passionate,” Livingston said. “I don’t have to convince people to shop here.”
Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@djournal.com.

Carlie Kollath

Carlie Kollath 6/2/10 have logo and pictures
CUTLINES:
C. Todd Sherman
Store manager Janiece Martin, left, and Dena Livingston, vice president of marketing, stand among the new cake-decorating items in the newly expanded crafts department of Hancock Fabrics’ store in Tupelo on Wednesday. The company plans to roll out the expanded assortment to its other stores eventually.
C. Todd Sherman
Hancock Fabrics has added a seating area for children in its crafts department. It’s next to the kids’ crafting section, which includes kits and individual items.
C. Todd Sherman
The retailers is preparing its remodeled stores for an education element. The topics for the classes and demonstrations have not been worked out yet, but they might include cake decorating or sewing.
C. Todd Sherman
Along with the addition of thousands of new items, Hancock also revamped its in-store signage, including the new banner for the “craft workshop.”
PULLQUOTE:
“We’re not trying to be our competitors. We’re just trying to be better for our customers.”
- Dena Livingston, vice president of marketing for Hancock Fabrics
FACTBOX
Hancock Fabrics retail store
* 942 Commonwealth Boulevard, Tupelo
* (662) 840-0961
* Hours: Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
HancockFabrics.com
Hancock Fabrics crafts new strategy
* The company’s Tupelo store has added thousands of new craft items to complement its fabric offerings.
By Carlie Kollath
Daily Journal
TUPELO – Hancock Fabrics is remodeling its stores and the Tupelo location is the first in the state to be revamped.
It has thousands of new items, new displays, new signage and a new layout. The store has plenty of its traditional fabric offerings, but now about 25 percent of the selling space is dedicated to craft items.
“We’re not eliminating fabric to fit this in,” said Dena Livingston, Hancock’s vice president of marketing. “We’re mainly fabric. This is to enhance what our fabric customers are doing. We don’t want them to have to leave to finish a project.”
The inventory additions still are being tested, Livingston said, but so far, so good.
“We did a lot of homework before we did this,” she said. “We knew it was viable. We didn’t go into it blind.”
Three extremely popular categories, said store manager Janiece Martin, have been cake decorating, scrapbooking and kids’ crafts. Other new categories include woodworking, paint, baskets, jewelry making and a self-framing area.
Said Livingston, “People who sew also do that stuff and now they can get it here. … We’re not trying to be our competitors. We’re just trying to be better for our customers.”
She attributed much of the popularity of do-it-yourself projects to hit reality shows such as “Project Runway,” “Cake Boss” and “Ace of Cakes.”
“People have to have an outlet,” Livingston said. “They can’t afford to travel.”
Martin added that she’s seeing more of her customers enter a “nesting” phase and turning to crafts and at-home projects.
At the Tupelo store, the measuring area and the cash registers have been moved to the center of the store near the front doors. Home decor items are grouped to the right of the register area. Fabric and sewing-related items fill the front section of the store on the left and on the right.
The newly added craft sections run the length of the back of the store.
It’s a work in progress, said Martin, noting that the self-framing area is still being set up. When it is done, customers will be able to select a frame and a pre-cut mat to frame a print from the store or a print or photo from home.
The education area also is in the beginning stages. Hancock has set up a table and chairs that it plans to use to give in-store demonstrations from vendors. Topics may include cake and cookie decorating.
“A lot of people want to sew but they don’t know how,” she said. “We’ll look at YouTube, our website and classes in-store.”
Livingston said demonstration topics and the schedule will be ironed out in the future.
Along with the table for adults, Hancock has added a children’s seating area in the craft department. The table and chairs are brightly colored and pint-sized.
The Tupelo location is one of Hancock’s larger store formats, coming in at 26,000 square feet. Livingston said that while the other stores eventually will be remodeled, they won’t necessarily look like the Tupelo store because they are smaller.
On a recent quarterly earnings call, Hancock Fabrics CEO Jane Aggers said 14 stores across the country were remodeled in April and May. She said the data is too new to see if it has improved sales in stores, but she plans to have an update at the second-quarter conference call.
In the most recent quarter, same-store sales were down 2 percent, with the company posting a $1.3 million loss for the quarter. However, Hancock in the past year has reduced its debt by $17.8 million.
Hancock’s immediate goal, according to CFO Rob Driskell, is to get to $100 of sales per square foot. Right now, Driskell said, the company is in the mid-70s.
At the store level, Martin said she’s already seeing the new items help drive sales. She said with the start of summer, kids’ crafts have been extremely popular, especially for vacation Bible school events.
Customers also are working on fall projects, with one woman last week on a mission to find the store’s fake fur selections.
“Our customers are so passionate,” Livingston said. “I don’t have to convince people to shop here.”
Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@djournal.com.

Carlie Kollath

n Wal-Mart makes splashy price cuts to get its mojo back.
By ANNE D’INNOCENZIO
The Associated Press
NEW YORK – Wal-Mart is counting on $1 ketchup bottles and sub-$4 cases of Coke to get its low-price mojo back.
The sharp cuts at its U.S. Walmart stores, which came ahead of Memorial Day weekend, have already pushed rivals such as Target into price wars. And the markdowns are expected to keep coming throughout the summer.
They’re one of the boldest moves the world’s largest retailer is making to turn around sluggish business at its U.S. namesake chain and win back shoppers from rivals. The cuts aren’t across the store but target 22 foods and other essentials at an average savings of 30 percent – splashy enough to get attention and perhaps change perceptions.
The world’s largest retailer is also restoring items like certain soups and laundry detergent it stopped carrying when it tried to declutter its stores. It’s also pushing more basic clothing such as socks and underwear after putting too much focus on trendy items that didn’t sell.
Wal-Mart was one of the few beneficiaries when the Great Recession began, as shoppers traded down to save money. Now it’s having trouble keeping customers in a slowly recovering economy. Cash-strapped shoppers are looking elsewhere for better deals such as dollar stores and local grocery chains. And some wealthier customers, feeling more flush, are starting to head back to the mall.
Wal-Mart, which generated more than $400 billion in revenue in 2009, has blamed stubbornly high unemployment and tight credit for adding even more financial strain on its blue-collar customers, some of whom have limited access to financial services and are running out of unemployment benefits.
But it also takes part of the blame for four straight quarters of declines in revenue at Walmart stores open at least a year. That’s a key indicator of a retailer’s health.
“Wal-Mart is all about price, and they’re all about one-stop shopping. Those are the key ingredients,” said Bob Buchanan, a former retail analyst who now teaches finance at Saint Louis University. “Now, you kind of scratch your head and wonder if either of them are true.”
“Wal-Mart has made a lot of noise, but customers want to see it in the stores,” he continued. “This action is long overdue. They need to drive that message hard.”
Wal-Mart acknowledged during its latest conference call with investors that its moves to carry fewer items went too far. It’s now replenishing 300 it had dropped. Analysts estimated that Wal-Mart pared up to 15 percent of its inventory, sending shoppers elsewhere in search of their favorite brands.

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