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Tax Day freebies and discounts

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: April 15, 2014 - 9:10 AM

Restaurants and retailers are asking us to celebrate the completion of the 2013 tax year (or at least that's the way I'm interpreting it) with a few bargains. Many sources are putting out the list, including Dealnews, Pocket Your Dollars and the Christian Science Monitor.

Deals can be found at Arby's, Boston Market, Bruegger's, Cinnabon, Famous Dave's, Hard Rock Cafe, IHOP, Office Depot, Papa Murphy's, Perkins, Sonic, White Castle and others.

Add your own if you know of others.

Planet Fitness offers $10 monthly fee, no commitment

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: March 28, 2014 - 4:32 PM

Planet Fitness has opened two new locations in Coon Rapids and Burnsville. Through March 31, anyone can join for $1 down and $10 a month with no commitment. If Brooklyn Park or Bloomington is more convenient, it will only cost $10 down and $10 a month join through April 9. (Roseville is $10 a month plus a $29 enrollment fee through March 31.)

 Although those may be among the least expensive fees for fitness clubs in the Twin Cities, even $10 a month (which is deducted automatically from a checking account) is too much if you don't use the account.

Spring, moving at a glacial pace this year, will arrive and you members may lose interest in a club after warm weather arrives. That's why clubs save their best deals for summer when interest is low.

Location, location, location. Make sure the health club is close to home or work, ideally less than 10 minutes away. Consider parking, too. Driving around a crowded lot or street a couple times may send you off to DQ in frustration.

Visit the club on days and times when you expect to work out. Ask about its busiest hours ( Most are busiest from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.).

Questions to ask a salesperson:
What is the ratio of staff to members?
Is the membership transferable?
What kind of certification do your fitness instructors have?
Can I get a free week before I join? (Try to duplicate your weekly estimated regimen at a club
before you join. All clubs will give you one free pass, but you may have to pay for more.)

According to Planet Fitness, it is a gym for all that targets first time or occasional gym users, not fitness fanatics or bodybuilders. The company uses a “Judgement Free Zone” in all clubs and a campaign to eliminate “gymtimidation.” “Lunk” alarms (a purple and yellow siren on the walls of every club) go off if members exhibit poor gym etiquette that make others feel intimidated.


Spirit Airlines' CEO says customers say one thing but do another

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: March 25, 2014 - 3:30 PM

Ben Baldanza is short. I learned that in the "CBS Sunday Morning" interview of the Spirit Airlines' CEO last Sunday. That explains why Baldanza thinks the seats on a Spirit plane are comfortable. "I've got room," he said in the interview. "Admittedly, I'm short."

The interviews covers the usual ground (Spirit's excessive fees) but surprised me in a couple of ways. Schlesinger asked if people dislike Spirit so much, why are their planes nearly always full?

"What people say and what people do are different things," said Baldanza. In other words, people will complain a lot about checking $100 to check a bag at the airport or $3 for a glass of water, but apparently they check that bag online or pack lighter the next time. Or they bring an empty water bottle and fill it near the gate--a Spirit gate. In other words, they often still fly Spirit because it's significantly cheaper, even after the fees are added in, said travel guru Peter Greenberg.

What also surprised me is that only a passing reference was made to Spirit's poor on-time performance. Spirit has the lowest on-time flight numbers of any airline in the Twin Cities, according to For example, if a consumer purchased a $76 roundtrip airfare from MSP to Chicago O'Hare on Spirit, the passenger has only a 51 percent chance of getting to Chicago on time with the 6 a.m. flight #612. On the return trip that leaves Chicago at 9 a.m. it's only a 45 percent on-time percentage. Nationwide, the on-time average is 80 percent, according to the Dept. of Transportation.

Passengers can learn to pack lighter and bring their own water containers, but they should also pack some patience (or a good long book).

Total Wine opening in Roseville brings low prices, nervous competition

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: March 13, 2014 - 4:27 PM

With one false start, the price war on Twin Cities liquor prices has begun. Total Wine

opened its 102nd store in Roseville today with prices and selection not found at any other local beverage retailer, said co-founder Robert Trone.

Back in December, Total Wine was supposed to open its 100th store in Bloomington next to Trader Joe’s, but the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association convinced the Bloomington City Council that more study was needed before a license should be granted. Total Wine decided to re-trench and return to the Bloomington City Council in April with all its ducks in a row. When it will eventually open is still unclear, Co-owner Robert Trone described the MLBA's objections as unprecedented in the last 15 years at Total Wine.

Trone's brother and fellow owner David described the actions as driven by competitors trying to protect profits. He described margins as high as 50 percent in Minnesota whereas in other states it's closer to 25 to 35 percent. Total Wine's margins range from 6 to 25 percent, according to Robert Trone.

Various customers shopping on Thursday's grand opening day agreed that prices were lower than they're used to seeing elsewhere. One of the Twin Cities' low priced leaders, Liquor Boy in St. Louis Park, was several cents to several dollars higher on most items listed in both newspaper ads. For example, Dewars Scotch (1.75 liter) is $26.49 at TW and $27.99 at LB. On Mark West Pinot Noir, however, Liquor Boy's price of $5.99 beats Total Wine's $6.47.

Liquor Boy owner John Wolf said he won't react to Total Wine's prices. "They get you in the door with low prices on the national brands and then steer you toward higher-margin private labels," he said.  

 Both stores will match competitors' prices with the original ad, although they don't advertise it.

Total Wine doesn't expect to convert neighborhood liquor store shoppers, according to Total Wine spokesman Ed Cooper. "We're a destination for shoppers who come here six to 12 times per year," he said. But Total Wine's advantage, Robert Trone said, is a higher spending amount. Consumers spend about $15 to $20 on average in a visit to a tradtional liquor store while TW's haul per visit is about $70.

While the Bloomington store opening is still in limbo, Burnsville will be the next location to open in a long-vacant space in Burnhaven Mall. No liquor license has been granted yet, so don't plan on drinking wine before it's time, but Robert Trone expects an early fall opening.   

Total Wine opening March 13 but not in Bloomington

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: March 12, 2014 - 1:45 PM

The hand written

sign on the door at Total WIne in Bloomington says "March 14" is the opening date.

But it's not the Bloomington store that's opening at 9 a.m. Thursday, March 13 (the sign was wrong). It's the Roseville Marketplace location at 2401 Fairview Ave. N. (former JC Penney furniture location).

The Bloomington location next to Trader Joe's is indefinitely delayed pending license approval. Bloomington city attorney Sandra Johnson said that Total Wine requested a delay until April 21 to provide materials to the council. At that point the council is likely to refer the hearing to a judge where public testimony can be heard, said Johnson.

Total Wine plans to open five to eight superstores in the Twin Cities.The discount wine superstore has 100 stores in 14 states, but this is the company's first foray into the Upper Midwest.

Winter's wrath takes a toll on retailers. Bargains up to 90% off Sat.

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: February 21, 2014 - 1:31 PM

Once you get your home and your vehicle shoveled out from Thursday's storm, consider how often this winter we've taken a pass on retail because it's too cold, snowy or expensive. High heating bills have some dialing back their thermostat and their discretionary spending. "The jump in home heating bills will act as a temporary tax and slow spending into spring," wrote John Lonski, managing director and chief economist at Moody's Capital Markets.

In the short-term, until temps warm and snow melts, consumers should be on the lookout for bargains that are even better than most post-holiday periods, whether big ticket or small. For example, U.S. light vehicle sales fell 3 percent in January after strong fall sales. That puts buyers in a stronger bargaining position.

Locally, there are three sales happening this weekend with much better than average discounts.

Grethen House, the upscale women's boutique in Edina, will have a 90 percent off sale from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22. This is the first 90 percent off sale at Grethen House since 2011, but it's twice the size of the previous sale. (Its sister store GH2 has more regular 90 percent off sales.) Sale prices on more than 300 pieces range from $7 to $190 after the discount, but most will be $15 to $55, said employee Annie Rhoades. It will be a mixture of seasons in sizes 0 to 14. Rhoades said it's been a terrible winter but that's not the primary reason for the sale.

Gabberts furniture had a warehouse moving sale two weekends ago but is doing one last blast Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The warehouse in Bloomington is being combined with Hom Furniture's warehouse in Coon Rapids (Hom purchased Gabberts in 2008). Discounts are 50 to 70 percent or more in a few cases. General merchandise manager Steve Platt said that 80 percent of the merchandise will be different from the last sale and the remaining 20 percent gets an additional markdown. This sale will include 40 mattresses and a blend of dining room, bedroom, upholstered and outdoor furniture. The sale is at 10759 Hampshire Ave. S. in Bloomington off Old Shakopee Road.

If you're looking for mid-line clothing for men and women, try the liquidation sale in progress in Hopkins where men's and women's suits are only $29 to $35 and shirts, pants, blazers, vests and other clothing for men and women is between $5 and $25. Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tues-Fri., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays at 1401 Mainstreet, Hopkins, 763-210-5833.



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