With Toys 'R' Us out of action, the nation's top retailers are making a big play on toys as the holiday season approaches.
Target Corp. said this week it will nearly double its merchandise from last year. Walmart Inc. is pumping up its toy section by 30 percent in stores and 40 percent online. Amazon released its top-100 toy list nearly two weeks early, a sign it too is going aggressively for market share.
Toys 'R' Us made up about 15 percent of U.S. toy revenue before shuttering about 800 stores under its namesake and Babies 'R' Us brands.
The $27 billion industry — which includes games, dolls, outdoor sports and crafts — grew by 7 percent in the first six months of the year compared to last year, according to NPD Group.
Mass merchants such as Kohl's and J.C. Penney say they are also hoping to catch some former Toys 'R' Us shoppers, and Party City intends to open about 50 pop-up stores devoted to toys.
Target said it would roll out 2,500 new and exclusive toys in the coming months and will glam up its online offerings with such things as a "curated" list of top toy trends.
The Minneapolis-based retailer said enhancing the toy aisles was a strong consideration in its new store design.
Now's the time for furnace maintenance, oversight
A furnace tuneup ranks right up there on the list of "Things Minnesotans don't want to think about in September."
But there's a good reason for scheduling it this month rather than waiting until November. A handful of Twin Cities heating contractors are known to "red tag" or disable a furnace because they claim carbon monoxide is being released through a cracked heat exchanger. If your furnace is shut down on a cold day, you have to scramble to get a second or third opinion and use space heaters to keep pipes from freezing. Unscrupulous heating and air conditioning contractors know that many consumers will just give in to what seems like an emergency and have the heat exchanger or furnace replaced at a cost of $1,500 to $7,000.
Rick Welter of Ray N. Welter Heating in Minneapolis said if a heat exchanger crack is discovered, it does not necessarily mean that carbon monoxide is leaking into the house. "If no carbon monoxide is leaking into the home, you have more time to find a contractor for a second opinion," he said.
When calling around, tell the HVAC receptionist at the outset that a second opinion is needed on a red-tagged furnace. That usually prioritizes the call. Most companies charge for the second opinion, but companies such as Ray Welter and Schwantes Heating & Air Conditioning in Stillwater do not.
Furnace tuneups should generally be done annually or every other year. Older furnaces usually require more attention to run as efficiently and safely as possible.
Consumers looking for a reputable heating and air conditioning company can find advice and local ratings at the website for Twin Cities Consumers' Checkbook, a nonprofit consumer organization. The articles and ratings are available free until Oct. 8 at Checkbook.org.
Contractors that advertise a price below $69 for a furnace tuneup may be lowballing the customer so they can come into the home and claim the furnace needs expensive repairs or replacement. "Anything under $79, and they're losing money," Welter said.
If a consumer believes that a furnace has been red-tagged needlessly, contact the Better Business Bureau to register a complaint at 651-699-1111 or thefirstbbb.org.