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BRAND NAMES SALES TO CLOSE CATALOG SHOWROOM IN DUNKIRK

Brand Names Sales, the Tonawanda-based local catalog showroom chain, will close its Dunkirk store next month.

Richard Tamulski, president of the 49-year-old company, said economic conditions and increased competition in the Dunkirk area led to decision shutter the store in Plaza 59, at 10520 Bennett Road.

"The Dunkirk store's lease ran out over a year ago, and I agreed to go for one more year," Tamulski said. "But after looking at the year-end numbers and giving it a lot of consideration, it didn't make sense to continue. It's a tough market, with economic difficulties."

Brand Names has had a presence in the Dunkirk area since 1974, when the local chain opened a store in the Dunkirk-Fredonia Plaza. The company moved its store to Plaza 59, near the New York State Thruway exit, in the mid-1990s.

Many of the location's 19 employees will be offered positions at the Brand Names store in Hamburg, which is less than a half hour away. A liquidation sale at the Dunkirk store is slated to start on March 3.

The closing of the Dunkirk store does not reflect the overall health of the Brand Names chain, according to Tamulski. He cited recent changes in merchandise display strategy, and the addition of furniture galleries, as giving a boost to sales and customer traffic.

"We've tried to diversify around the catalog, which is still the lifeblood of our business, and we've had decent results," he said.

But the fine-tuning continues, as the 11-store chain, which operates seven stores in Erie and Niagara counties, as well as stores in Batavia, Olean and Jamestown, battles such giant competitors as Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target.

"Right now we're debating the future of the spring/summer catalog, which would traditionally come out at the end of March," Tamulski explained. "It's a much smaller catalog than the winter mainstay, with many repeats. The costs of producing and mailing it have led us to consider reinvesting those marketing dollars in print and broadcast advertising and circulars."

The catalog showroom business has not been kind to players in recent years as the mega-discounters have eaten into their profits. Service Merchandise, the largest of chain in the retail niche, Tuesday announced another round of layoffs which will trim an additional 1,750 full-time workers.

The Minnesota-based chain, which filed bankruptcy in 1999, has seen its employee roster drop from more than 25,000 two years ago, to around 17,000 at present. Its store count was sliced by 134 units, down to 218.

That company closed its last Buffalo area store, located in Amherst, as part of it financial reorganization. A Hamburg store was shuttered in 1997. Both of those stores had been previously occupied by Dahlkempers, another huge catalog showroom chain, which fell victim to increased competition in the mid-1990s.

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