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"Fort Lauderdale airport to get upscale shops"

Thursday, December 21, 2006

New arrivals: Fort Lauderdale airport to get upscale shops
By Bill Hirschman 
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel 

Brooks Brothers shions. Health food. Gifts from the Discovery Channel.
Harley-Davidson leathers.

The merchandise can be found at shopping malls throughout the country, and
by next year, such items could adorn refurbished storefronts at the Fort
Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. No more chewing gum or T-shirts
dominating concession offerings, though they'll certainly have their place.
Broward County is behind the curve cashing in on the annual $2 billion that
retailers reap in airports nationwide as captive audiences open their
wallets while waiting for flights.

For 10 years, the number and variety of stores in dozens of airports have
mushroomed to the level of mini-malls, said Pauline Armbrust, publisher of
Airport Revenue News based in Palm Beach Gardens.

"The industry has become very profitable and very beneficial to the
airports, millions and millions of dollars," she said.

Several factors contribute to the boom, notably increased security, said
Henry Leace, president of the Harvard Retail Group that operates the Havana
Shirt Store at Miami International Airport.

"With today's security measures, you have to get to the airport earlier and
earlier," Leace said.

Travelers prowling the concourses for something to do often have extra cash
on hand, and people on vacation may be in a spending mood. Leace noted, for
instance, that his firm is especially successful selling guayaberas and
guayabera-inspired shirts as apparel and impulse buys.

Business travelers in particular provide a lucrative market because their
schedules make it difficult for them to find time to shop for upscale gifts
or even to buy a suit for a meeting the next day, said JoAnne Jenny,
spokeswoman at Pittsburgh International Airport, one of the first to expand
its retail operation.

Broward business and tourism officials have strived for years to lure
conventions and wealthier visitors by promoting the region as a desirable
place for adults to visit -- the image of elegant shopping on Las Olas
Boulevard rather than teens running amok on Spring Break. The new shops and
merchandise will reinforce that upscale image, said Nicki Grossman,
president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Tourism Bureau.

But the airport faces issues that might discourage some retailers, Leace
said. Splitting passengers through four terminals decreases the traffic a
single store can reach. Fort Lauderdale also has fewer upscale and
international passengers with ready cash than hubs like Miami.

County commissioners on Dec. 4 ended Paradies-Broward's 22-year monopoly on
"news and sundries." A final vote is due next month, but the commission
agreed to split the business, giving two terminals to Paradies and two
terminals to AMS South Florida Joint Ventures, better known as Hudson News.

Each said it will sell brand-name merchandise in the sundries stores or set
up self-contained storefronts dedicated to a single well-known product line.
They were among four consortiums competing for a share of a predicted
quarter-billion dollars in sales over seven years.

The competition should mean at least $1.5 million more in rental fees will
be paid to the county each year by the winning companies -- on top of the
$4.5 million being paid now. Exact figures will be negotiated next year
before the contracts receive final approval, but the minimum the two
companies pledged to pay total $41 million through December 2013. But
virtually everyone involved expects the fees, which rise as the sales
increase, to increase each year.

Broward will find the extra revenue cushions against economic shocks to the
cost of airport operations, said officials at other airports.

When US Airways stopped using Pittsburgh International Airport as a hub, it
was the airport's share of the expanded revenues that buttressed the airport
budget, said Jenny.

"Those shops will definitely be an asset to you," she said.

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