Minnesotans who purchased a snow removal contract got their money's worth this year, but the more frugal types hate the idea of paying for something that could be a waste of money if it doesn't snow. Take the winter of 2011-2012, for example.
Try the free Plowz app for Apple or Android instead. Plowz introduced service in the Minneapolis St. Paul metro area at the end of December. They plow your driveway with no seasonal contract. To get your driveway plowed, just tap the "schedule a plow" button, choosing the day and morning or afternoon timeframe. The company saves your personal info (including a credit card) so you aren't starting from scratch each time. After it's done, the company emails a photo of the freshly plowed driveway.
What's great about scheduling a day or so out is that it allows the customer to cancel it if a kindly neighbor blows out part of your driveway and sidewalk. You may also want to wait until after the city plows have cleared the street or alley. Those chunks defy most snow blowers and flimsy, plastic shovels, but not a snowplow.
A smartphone is not required. if a person wants to call to schedule a plow with a credit card over the phone, call 1-800-489-8128 extension 2.
Pricing is based on driveway length and width. One to two car lengths to the street is $25 and nine to 10 car lengths is $45. The price may fluctuate during high demand, according to the website.
The site also recommends that a customer stake the driveway so the plow operator doesn't damage the grass, but it is not required.
Plowz is a national company servicing more than a dozen cities. Its drivers are independent contractors.
Plowz is not the only company in the Twin Cities to offer on demand snow plowing. Others do as well, including KG Landscape (612-669-9607) and Plow Pic and Pay in the White Bear Lake area (651-248-4034). They shovel walks too, usually for $55 to $75, all inclusive. Know of others? Add your comment.
Note: none of these companies were vetted by us. Ask for references if you want proof of quality of work.
Len Druskin, the upscale retail store with multiple concepts, is simplifying its brand. According to a long letter posted by Michael Druskin, the son of founder Len Druskin, the retailer will move "toward one brand, one identity, and one vision--the new premium 'Len.' "
Two of the three stores in Gaviidae closed earlier this month and the Len Druskin Man store will close in February. One of two stores in City Center closed late last year. President Michael Druskin wrote in his letter that the restructuring means the company will be "more consistent... and less confusing."
Amen. The retailer had at least five separate concept stores, maybe more-- LD Len Druskin for women's professional and dress apparel, LD Blues, the the women's upscale casual store (both in Gaviidae and now closed), LD Men (closing in Feb. in Gaviidae), LEN fast fashion lower-priced stores in Southdale, City Center, Rosedale, Ridgedale and MOA), the higher-end flagship in the Galleria and the outlet store in a few doors down from the LEN store in City Center (now closed). And that's not counting the Illinois store that opened late 2013.
Retail analyst Mary Van Note of Ginger in Minneapolis said the number of types of stores was confusing. "They got overextended and the naming strategy didn't make it clear where to go for what," she said.
I had trouble figuring out how the now closed outlet store was different from the other City Center store and the Dale stores, but store reps tell me that the closed outlet was higher-end merchandise from the Galleria. Apparently, the Dale stores and remaining City Center stores are selling lower-priced fast fashion at 50 percent off every day. But it's not an outlet.
Although closing four stores may look like an abandonment of downtown Minneapolis, Druskin's letter indicates that it will bring the higher-end premium brand back downtown in 2015. I am unclear if that means opening a new store and keeping the City Center Len store. (Michael Druskin is out of town and did not respond to an email.)
An employee at the City Center Len location said that it will continue to stock fast fashion at a lower price but will introduce the higher-end stuff too. I'm guessing the existing store will get a makeover too. It's difficult to sell non-discounted, high-end designers under lights so harsh they could induce criminal confessions.
Van Note sees the higher-end trend as a good one for LD. "Value and super premium concepts both do well and the middle is losing out," she said.
Meanwhile, store reps are saying that the new name will be LEN for all stores, including the Galleria. By the end of February a new store at MOA will replace the temporary location by Macys 3rd floor. Two additional stores will be completed by fall of this year and two more in 2015, wrote Druskin on the store site.
All stores are currently in 50 percent off mode. Not everything is half off in the Galleria or the LD men stores. Selected items are not discounted at all, but the majority of the store is half off for men's and women's stuff.
Best of luck in the transition, Len Druskin.
Update to earlier post: Pappagallo women's boutique joins Three Rooms and Whymsy in leaving the Galleria in January. It will close at the end of the month and re-open Feb. 1 in a new location at 6133 Kellogg Ave. S. in Edina. Pappagallo was one of the Galleria's original stores, opening in 1973.
Britton Goetze, a member of the ownership team at Pappagallo said that in a meeting with mall officials in September, Hines was more than doubling the store's monthly rent. "The rent was raised so much that it was intolerable. It was impossible for us to stay there," Goetze said in a voicemail.
Whymsy apparel boutique closed earlier in January. Three Rooms, a tenant for 33 years, will close at the end of the month in the Galleria, which was sold to Hines Global REIT in 2012 for $127 million.
Some are wondering if the Galleria is reducing its commitment to local retailers now that the mall is no longer locally-owned.
Patty Burrets, co-owner of Three Rooms, tried unsuccessfully to re-locate to a smaller footprint within the Galleria, but nothing was available. She feels that the Galleria is leaning toward national retailers rather than local ones. Still, she admits that her store was partly a victim of Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel, which sell home decor at price points often below Three Rooms' prices.
"[Former owner] Warren Beck was instrumental in keeping the local focus," she said.
Another local store that left the Galleria last year is StyledLife, but more than 25 locals are staying put, including Len Druskin, Oh Baby, Trail Mark, Twill, Hammer Made, Ampersand, Scandia Down, Pumpz and Fawbush's. Nearly 40 percent of the mall's tenants are local.
Tom Lauer, co-owner of the Que Sera and Oh Baby retail stores, had a Que Sera location in the Galleria until owners and the previous management agreed not to renew leases with Que Sera, A Pea in the Pod and Schmitt Music. He moved Que Sera to downtown Excelsior. "When Warren [Beck, former Galleria owner] was running it, he was conscious of keeping the local mix but I can't get into the head of Hines," he said. "I don't know if we can reach any conclusions, but I am not concerned," he said.
The mall has to weave a delicate balance as it tries to nab retailers that are exclusive to Minnesota before the Mall of America does. National or locally-based, it's survival of the fittest for any retailer, said Dick Grones, principal of Cambridge Commercial Realty in Edina. "The local tenants have plenty of pressure from national retailers that want to be there," he said. "It's survival of the fittest."
Grones isn't convinced that the new owners are cold to the local retailers. Even former owners were ruthless with all their tenants, local or otherwise. "If you're not at the top of your game, you're going," he said. But Grones did say that as bigger national tenants push for larger spaces, it will put pressure on smaller local ones.
While the local emphasis has always made the Galleria unique, the new ownership and the closing of some local stores bears a watchful eye. Stay tuned.
Score one for the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association. Instead of Total Wine superstore opening of Dec. 5 in Bloomington, it will now be delayed until at least April.
After the MLBA brought a stack of Total Wine-related court cases to the Bloomington City Council, the council has decided to delay voting on approval of Total Wine's liquor license while its attorney Sandra Johnson evaluates them.
That's quite a lengthy delay for a store that already has its neon signage lighted and a nearly completed interior. Still, no alcoholic beverages can be delivered to the site until the license is approved.
The long delay will give Total Wine's attorneys time to gather evidence and mount a rebuttal, said Johnson.
A second location in Roseville is under construction in the former J.C. Penney home store, but the build-out isn't expected to be completed until spring. "It typically takes four to six months to construct, fixture and open a store," said Total Wine spokesman Ed Cooper. The Roseville city council approved TW's liquor license earlier this month.
Total Wine sees the delay in Bloomington as an attempt by competitors to slow it down, said Ed Cooper, vice president of public affairs and community relations for Maryland-based Total Wine. “They hate our low prices and fanatic adherence to providing incredible service to our customers,” he said.
Total Wine has 100 stores in 14 states but this is the company's first foray into the Upper Midwest.
Free shipping day is new and improved this year. While it's true that the number of retailers participating (938) is down from nearly 1,200 in previous years, that's a good thing. Why? Because the site is asking retailers to sign up only if there is no minimum purchase. Don't you hate it when a retailer offers free shipping with a $250 minimum?
This year, the site hopes to avoid listing those retailers.Wednesday, Dec. 18 is also a good day to be shopping deals on clothing sites such as Abercrombie & Fitch and J. Crew, which both are offering 40 or 50 percent storewide and online along with no-minimum-free shipping.
For more information about great deals on clothing this season, when many stores are offering 30 to 50 percent off storewide, check out my article. Bargains "analysts" suggest that if you really want to give clothing and have the recipient get the most bang for the buck, give a gift card that they can use after Christmas when the deals are even better.
In today's article about retailers expanding their price matching policies during the holidays, I mentioned that consumers can get a price adjustment from the retailer at the point of sale or if they find a lower price on the identical item within a week or two (or 7 weeks during the holiday period).
But my partner reminded me of another way to get a price match--your credit card. I had forgotten about that, even though I tried unsuccessfully to use it on an American Express card a few weeks ago.
Besides the purchase protection, car rental insurance and extended warranty benefits offered free on most credit cards, some also offer complimentary price protection. According to the blog Credit Card Forum, a few credit cards still offer this service. American Express does not, even though they used to several years ago. Apparently, Amex dropped it because too many savvy shoppers were milking the credit card company when airfares would decline, according to the blog. "It's been gone since 2006. I think it's unlikely they will bring it back," wrote blogger Michael Dolan. Frequent fliers should keep this tip in mind on the cards that still offer price protection.
Credit card companies still offering the service include Discover, Chase and some Citicards. Discover will refund up to $500 for purchases made within 90 days. The Chase Freedom card with Visa and MasterCard versions offers coverage for up to $500 per claim and up to $3,500 per year maximum for purchases within 90 days. Citi's Thank You Preferred and Platinum Select/ AAdvantage Visa Signature cards also offer the benefit, according to Dolan. Citicards also have a free service called Price Rewind that will search online prices.
Check with your credit card now to see if it offers price protection and what you need to do to get a refund. That may motivate you to use the service.