Biz Buzz
By Jim Martin, Doug Oathout Erie Times-News staff bloggers
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Posts tagged ‘Erie’
Posted: March 13th, 2014

It’s a balmy 8 degrees outside. Roads are slick with ice and snow is piled up in frosty mountains at the edges of parking lots.

Doesn’t that put you in the mood for a chilly Italian ice or a cool frozen custard?

The folks at Rita’s — where their slogan is “ice, custard, happiness,” — are hoping so. The chain’s Erie location, at 1406 West Gore Road, opens for the season at noon today.

The locally owned business acknowledged the irony of its timing Wednesday on social media.

The Rita’s post said: “Mother Nature has her plans and here at Rita’s, we have our plans — we are opening tomorrow, March 13 — despite today’s blizzard.

The post goes on to say that “rewards are in order for the brave Rita’s fans who come to buy the treats they have waited all winter to enjoy.”

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Posted: March 7th, 2014

Did you know today was Employee Appreciation Day?

Employees at Erie-based Erie Insurance Found out this morning when Terry Cavanaugh, the company’s chief executive, surprised them with a reception, free lunch and a bonus in honor of the day of recognition, established in 1995.

Cavanaugh offered his remarks in person to the company’s 2,500 Erie-based employees and by video conference with another 2,000 employees who work in offices around the country.

“He said thank you for the work you do, and that we are buying everyone lunch today and then everybody got some kind of small bonus,” said Leah Knapp, a spokeswoman for the company.

She said Erie-based employees will receive free lunches in the company cafeteria while employees in other locations will receive catered food or gift cards to buy lunch.

“It was a nice little surprise,” Knapp said.

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Posted: March 3rd, 2014

The Sheraton Erie Bayfront, owned by the Erie County Convention Center Authority, has been ranked the No. 1 Sheraton in North America for overall satisfaction.

Properties are ranked by Sheraton guests through a performance measurement survey, including a loyalty index. The Erie hotel, which is managed by White Lodging Services Corp., topped all 210 Sheraton properties in North America.

“I am very proud of the hard work and efforts that the staff of the Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel provide to our guests each and every day,” said Dan Pora, general manager of the hotel.

The hotel’s restaurant, the Bayfront Grille, also finished first out of 205 Sheraton restaurants in North America, and won top honors out of 423 Sheraton restaurants around the world.

“It’s great to see all of the planning, long hours and sacrifice from our families pay off,” Executive Chef Michael Cerrie said. “I am proud, my team is proud and Erie should be proud of their accomplishments.”

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Posted: December 17th, 2013

   The eighteen-wheeler said Luckey on the side, but apparently it wasn’t.

A tractor-trailer box truck, operated by Luckey Transfer, of Streator, IL., was apparently trying to drive down a snowed-in alley next to the 26th Street branch of Widget Financial this afternoon when it became stuck in the snow.

Juliana O’Rork, marketing manager for the credit union, said the truck couldn’t be immediately towed and the fire department wasn’t able to help.

That left the truck located precariously close to the credit union building and possibly in some danger of toppling over into the building if anyone tried to move the truck, which was perched unevenly on the snow, she said.

O’Rork said employees were evacuated temporarily before going back to work.

As of 4 p.m., the truck remained stuck in the snow and very close to the building.

“We think it will end well,” said Trent Mason, Widget’s chief marketing officer. “We’re a full-service credit union. Maybe we should get our shovels and dig it out. “

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Posted: December 16th, 2013

The owner of the Fox & Hound chain of sports bars has filed for bankruptcy protection, blaming a slump in sales associated with a downturn in the U.S. economy.

Meanwhile, the doors are open and it’s business as usual at the Erie-area location of Fox & Hound, located at 250 Millcreek Plaza.

Manager Mike Porter, who has been at the mall location since it opened in 1998, said business is good locally.

“Everything is going really well,” he said. “We actually have a remodel coming up in the first quarter of the year. It’s going to be a complete remodel.”

The owner of the chain of 101 sports bars and restaurants, F & H Acquisition Corp, based in Witchita, Kansas, has filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in Wilmington, Dela.

The company, which listed debts of $119 million, is seeking a debtor-in-possession arrangement, which would provide $3.5 million worth of revolving credit on an interim basis, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.

The company, which operates in 27 states, reports that revenue through the end of September was $218.8 million, down about 5 percent from the first nine months of 2012.

“The recession has been a primary factor in the decline in the debtors’ sales, as consumers prioritized the savings of dining at home over eating out,” James Zielke, chief financial officer of F & H, said in a court filing, according to Bloomberg News.

He said F & H plans to sell the company.

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Posted: December 10th, 2013

George Bailey, the Jimmy Stewart character in the 1946 classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” would have felt right at home at Erie’s Marquette Savings Bank.

That’s the conclusion of The Economist, one of the world’s oldest and most respected magazines with a publication of about 1.5 million.

An editor for the London-based publication held Marquette up as standard of small-town banking values in a recently published story.

The article compares Marquette favorably to the Jimmy Stewart character, a banker who devotes his life to the fictional town of Bedford Falls.

According to the article, “Most banks pay lip service to such goals, but fall laughably short.”

The Erie region, the magazine said, is “littered with grand but derelict banks that used to cater to them.”

Until recent intervention by regulators and policymakers, the magazine said, Marquette held on to the mortgages it originated “instead of selling them to government-sponsored entities as most banks did.”

According to The Economist, “Marquette’s survival … depended on the quality of its appraisals of borrowers and homes.”

Much of that information was gleaned firsthand from bank trustees who paid a personal visit to each loan applicant.

It was a formula for success and for modest foreclosure figures.

Since the beginning of the banking crisis, Marquette’s assets have doubled to $800 million and its profits have tripled to about $8 million.

Changing times have forced Marquette to sell its mortgages, but Chief Executive Michael Edwards said Marquette has worked hard to maintain what it calls the hometown touch.

“We are very pleased and flattered The Economist chose to visit and write about us,” he said. “We know our growth and success are due to the trust our customers have in us.”

— Jim Martin

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Posted: November 26th, 2013

It’s not lost on local merchants that national retailers plan to get a head start on the holiday shopping season by opening as early as 6 a.m. Thanksgiving Day.

It’s fair to say most of them aren’t impressed.

“I think it’s terrible,” said Vivian Pietrzak, owner of Serendipity Emporium in Waterford. “Never, never will I do that. It would be over my dead body. It’s greed.”

Others were only slightly less emphatic.

Sandy Blazek, owner of Trellis on Peninsula Drive, said she wants her employees to have time for their families.

“We would never have employees work on Thanksgiving,” she said. “It’s nuts. It’s gotten out of hand.”

Debbie Shearer, owner of Finney’s Chocolate Shoppe, shares that view.

“We are closed so that we can spend time with our families,” she said. I don’t see why people have to be open on Thanksgiving. It takes away from the real meaning of the holidays.”

National retailers take a different view as the look for an opportunity to extend the holiday shopping season — if only by a few hours.

— Jim Martin

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Posted: November 21st, 2013

Lorenzo Simonelli, who led GE Transportation for more than five years, has broken one of his last ties with Erie. He’s sold his waterfront home on Niagara Pier.

Simonelli, who led GE Transportation longer than any other executive in the past 20 years, left GE Transportation, which now has its headquarters in Chicago, when he was promoted in September to lead General Electric’s oil and gas division.

Simonelli, who continued to visit the GE Transportation’s Erie plant frequently after moving its headquarters in 2012, listed his home for sale in June of this year.

Simonelli’s home, a condominium at 37 Niagara Pier, has been sold to Erie Lighthouse LLC for $496,000, according to public records. The asking price was $525,000.

The 2,600-square-foot property, which has 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms, last sold in 2008 for $475,000, according to a real estate website.

A real estate listing for the property described it as a “gorgeous updated condo with panoramic views of the bay.”

Some business journalists have speculated that Simonelli, who now heads the company’s fastest growing business, is being groomed to one day run General Electric.

GE Transportation, which has its largest plant in Lawrence Park, is now led by Chief Executive Russell Stokes.

– Jim Martin

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Posted: November 15th, 2013

Wagner’s Bar & Grille, which closed a week ago after a 13-year run, will reopen Wednesday under a new name and new ownership.

Erie native and longtime businessman Bruce Hoffman said he expects to close today on the purchase of the property and the liquor license from previous owner Bill Wagner.

Hoffman, who said he’s already cleaned and updated the tavern at 1002 W. Eighth St., said it will reopen Wednesday as Bruce’s Pub & Grub.

A former management consultant, manufacturing manager and sales director, Hoffman said, “I have always liked cooking and I have always wanted to have a restaurant. I like people and making people happy.”

Hoffman, who concedes the tavern has gone downhill in recent years, said he plans to reverse that trend with a clean atmosphere, friendly employees and daily lunch and dinner specials.

But he doesn’t plan to change everything.

“I think we are still a tavern,” he said. “We are a place where you can come and know you can come and get some good food and good service.”

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Posted: November 7th, 2013

The Erie Leading Index, a forecasting tool devised by the Economic Research Institute of Erie at Penn State Behrend, sees no sign of a recession on the horizon.

In fact, ELI hit a record high in May at 101.45 and matched that same number in June. That represents an increase of 2.1 percent since the previous June and 6.1 percent since ELI’s low point in July 2010.

The index, formulated by Jim Kurre, professor of economics at Behrend and director of the Economic Research Institute of Erie, is made up of eight components, including Erie manufacturing employment, U.S. building permits and interest rates.

Six of those eight components were up in the three-month period that ended in June.

Text accompanying the most recent installment of ELI concludes: “ELI’s upward trajectory means there’s no sign of a recession looming on the horizon for Erie County in the next six months or so, if the past is any guide.”

Despite several temporary downturns, the Erie Leading Index has shown improvements in 26 of the last 35 months.

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