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Mafia case enters home improvement channel

BY HBSDEALER Staff

A sweeping indictment unsealed last week by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, N.J., alleges a far-reaching criminal enterprise engaged in illegal gambling, extortion, loan sharking, labor racketeering and a fraud scheme involving a Lowe’s store in Paterson, N.J. Members of both the Gambino and the Lucchese crime families were named in the indictment, which charged 23 individuals and capped a two-year investigation by the FBI.

One of the defendants, India Fugate, worked as a 28-year-old customer service associate at Lowe’s in Paterson, N.J. According to the indictment, Fugate fraudulently obtained personal identification information from Lowe’s customers and, with the help of Gambino family member Andrew Merola, used the information to open store credit cards and purchase merchandise.

The indictment describes a second scheme where Fugate and other organized crime figures created fake bar codes that enabled them to fraudulently purchase goods from Lowe’s, Home Depot, Best Buy, Circuit City and other New Jersey stores. The items, which included power tools, were allegedly purchased at greatly reduced prices.

Other parts of the indictment allege betting on sporting events using a Web site and tool-free phone number, collecting payments from construction projects that wanted to use non-union labor and forcing coffee cart vendors to pay kickbacks.

Chris Ahearn, a spokeswoman for Lowe’s, said the company “was pleased that we were able to support the FBI in its investigation.”

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ICSC: Chain stores saw gains in April

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Bargain-hunting shoppers ruled the market in April, according to sales figures released this week. The International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) said U.S. chain store sales rose by 3.6 percent on a year-over-year, same-store basis, and discount retailers beat earlier estimates.

“Although the economic headwinds remain brisk, April year-over-year retail chain store sales got a lift of 200 to 250 basis points due to the shifting Easter date, which resulted in an extra Sunday of sales in April 2008 versus April 2007,” said Michael P. Niemira, ICSC’s chief economist and director of research.

“In addition, there was some modest pent-up demand with more seasonable weather early in the month, along with some increased promotional activity, which helped to explain the strongest monthly performance in more than a year.”

Wal-Mart reported that same-store sales rose 3.2 percent, beating an earlier forecast. Same-store sales rose 3.1 percent at Target and a healthy 8 percent at warehouse club retailer Costco.

“We are of course benefiting from some inflation on the food side,” Costco said in a statement, “as a result of the recent run-up in the cost of commodities and the continued run-up in the price of oil and gasoline.”

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NHS Wrap-up: eight trends for 2008

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Las Vegas Green was the dominant theme at the 2008 National Hardware Show, threading its way through virtually every product category in the Las Vegas Convention Center. But other trends also emerged in electrical, tools, lawn and garden and housewares this year, and Home Channel News editors picked out eight of them:

LED lighting. These bright, long-lasting bulbs have moved beyond flashlights and desk lamps to clip-on barbeque lights, dog collars and the rims of baseball caps. Jasco, in partnership with GE, showed an extensive line of LED nightlights, lanterns, votives and other decorative lights.

Jr. DIYers. You no longer have to take your kid to a Home Depot workshop on Saturday morning to build a wooden birdhouse or toolbox. Now there’s ready-to-assemble kits gauged to different skill levels and an assortment of kid-sized tools — including a drill — that really work. There’s even a snowman-making kit that guarantees “the perfect snow creature every time.”

Fashion-forward safety wear. Forget those dowdy orange and yellow florescent vests. Safety equipment manufacturers are showing “high visibility” T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, coveralls and gloves that fulfill ANSI requirements and change with the seasons.

Say no to solvents. Vendors in both the cleaning products and the paint categories came up with numerous “eco-friendly” alternatives to traditional paint removers, drain clearers, toilet, tub and tile cleaners and other harsh chemicals.

Solar power rules. The sun will be firing up all kinds of devices this year, from tiki torches and lanterns to citronella diffusers and Christmas lights.

Be kind to animals. Glue traps and rat poisons are being replaced with more humane “catch and release” pest control devices. One trap used a plastic soda bottle — recycled, of course. Another wand-like instrument caught spiders so they could be “relocated” outdoors.

Gardening made easy. Time-pressed consumers found plenty of shortcuts to a beautiful backyard, including light meters, battery-powered sprayers, release-on-demand fertilizers and water-holding soils. Two companies offered ready-made vegetable gardens, and one vendor sold a “grow your own tree” kit (elm, apple, gingko, pine) that came in a biodegradable coconut coir pot.

No more worries. Homeowners are willing to pay for peace of mind when it comes to any number of issues. Several vendors exhibited home generators for stand-by power, as well as devices that shut off the main water supply when you leave home or alert you by phone when there’s a water leak anywhere in the house. General Tools is marketing an auto safety tool that can break car windows and cut through seat belts for a quick escape.

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