Welcome to The Closing Bell. This is your last stop for biz scoops and big news before the weekend — a roundup of stories that can’t wait till Monday.
Urban Attic closing after seven years in business
The upscale Bardstown Road consignment store Urban Attic is closing its doors on Nov. 15.
Owner Amy Schuler Cundiff announced on Facebook that the store would close so she could spend time with her family.
“In October of 2009, I opened Urban Attic and began the biggest adventure of my life. The seven years that followed have been filled with joy as the business grew and flourished. I have had the pleasure of being surrounded by amazing customers and employees, many of whom are now close friends,” she stated in the post.
However, after having her first child this summer, Cundiff decided to question whether she wanted to keep the store.
“After a lot of soul-searching and careful consideration, I have decided to close Urban Attic and focus all of my attention on my family,” she said in the post.
Urban Attic is no longer accepting merchandise, Cundiff said, and those who still have store credit or consigned items will be contacted before the store closes. The store also will stop accepting items for cash payouts starting on Oct. 30.
In the comments on the post, Cundiff said she considered selling Urban Attic but “decided it was best for myself and my employees to go ahead and close.”
Renovations of Baxter Avenue Theatres Filmworks starting Monday
Pardon our dust, said Bryan Senteney, general manager of Baxter Avenue Theatres Filmworks.
Workers will be tearing out the more than 20-year-old seats and ripping up the concrete to install electrical wiring for the new power recliners the movie theater is installing in all eight of this theaters.
Half of the theaters will close Monday, Oct. 24, for the renovation. The remaining four will continue to show films, and as each theater reopens, another will go offline.
The hope, Senteney said, is to complete the theater renovations by Nov. 4, but “you never know what you are going to run into.”
Although the roomy chairs will take up more space in the theaters, cutting the number of seats by more than 50 percent, Senteney said research shows the roughly $500,000 investment would pay off.
“You either put these things in, or you go out of business,” he said. “They are really worth the effort.”
The new seating is part of a larger renovation for Baxter Avenue Theatres Filmworks. Its bathrooms were given a facelift; the theater is installing a self-service ticket kiosk in the next week; and during the first quarter of 2017, it will add a bar to its lobby. The bar will sell beers on tap and nice wine.
Slower Escape sales prompting Ford to idle local plant
Ford Motor Co. is idling Louisville Assembly Plant this week and the week of Oct. 31 to lower its inventory, because the company projects sales to decline in the second half of the year.
The automaker also is temporarily shutting down production in two Mexican plants and at Kansas City Assembly Plant, which makes the Ford F-150.
Louisville Assembly Plant employs about 4,700 and manufactures the Ford Escape and Lincoln MKC.
Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker told IL via email that during the idling, hourly employees with at least one year service will receive about 80 percent of their take-home pay through unemployment and supplemental unemployment benefits.
Ford said in its second-quarter earnings report that it expects auto sales to fall in the second half of the year compared with the same period last year.
“We also said to expect to see some production adjustments in the second half — this is one of them,” Felker said. “We continue matching production with demand.
“While Escape and MKC sales are up compared with last year, we are making this minor adjustment to ensure we are at our targeted inventories by year-end,” she said.
The company said this month that sales in September fell 8 percent compared with a year earlier, with demand for the Escape, made exclusively at LAP, dropping 12 percent, to 25,065.
Some of the Escape’s biggest rivals reported sales increases in September: Honda sold 31,884 CR-Vs in September, up 6.5 percent from a year earlier, while sales for Toyota’s RAV4 jumped 8.6 percent, to 27,104. Honda’s overall sales were flat compared with September 2015, while Toyota’s increased 1.5 percent.
Churchill Downs to invest $16M to upgrade VIP area
Churchill Downs Racetrack plans to invest $16 million to modernize 95,000 square feet in the venue’s VIP areas, which also will get a bigger wall of 90-inch flat-screen TVs.
The project is part of an effort to make the venue more user-friendly with upgraded connectivity and more food options as the track competes with other venues and entertainment choices.
The company said it wants to modernize the second floor of the Clubhouse “to improve the venue circulation and service for the 13,000 guests that typically flow through the area during big events.”
The investments will add 25 points of sale for food and beverages, 75 restrooms and more betting windows.
“Through recent post-event surveys, customers have steadily told us that they’d prefer better flow in our facility with less time waiting in line, more restrooms and additional food offerings,” Kevin Flanery, the track’s president, said in a press release.
Construction will begin in late November and conclude in April.
This spring, track officials had unveiled an $18 million project that upgraded areas included the Turf Club and added upscale seats and tech, including an app that allows some customers to order food from their seats.
Officials said at the time that the investments were based on customer input — upscale seating areas were equipped with charging stations for mobile devices — and served to keep the track competitive compared with other race tracks — and other local entertainment options.
In the last seven years, Churchill Downs have committed $87.4 million for capital improvements.
After Churchill Downs released second-quarter earnings in August, shares spiked from about $130 to about $150, but have fallen about 5 percent in the last month. They hovered near $142 this week. —Boris Ladwig
DOJ lawsuit results in spat between Humana and KentuckyOne’s parent
Humana’s court battle with the U.S. Department of Justice has put the Louisville-based insurer in a clinch with Catholic Health Initiatives, the parent company of KentuckyOne Health.
Humana has asked the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to compel CHI to immediately produce documents it requested with a Sept. 16 subpoena. The insurer said the documents are critical to its ability to defend itself against the DOJ lawsuit.
The DOJ has sued Humana and Aetna to block the insurance companies’ proposed merger. The companies say that combined they can offer better care to more people at lower prices, but the feds say the merger would reduce competition, especially for Medicare/Medicare Advantage, the insurance programs for seniors. A trial in the case has been set for Dec. 5.
Part of Humana’s motion to compel the production of the documents has been redacted.
“The documents bear directly on (Humana’s) contentions that the Medicare Advantage market is highly competitive, and that many entities possess the resources and desire to enter it.”
CHI has produced only part of the documents that Humana requested, according to the motion, and despite the insurer’s diligent efforts, which included narrowing the scope of its request, CHI has refused to produce more documents “unless Humana agreed to pay the cost of production, which Humana declined to do.”
Humana could not be reached to say how much production of the documents would cost and why it has declined to pay, given the documents’ importance to its case.
CHI has filed a response to oppose Humana’s request. However, that document, No. 148 on the court docket, is sealed. Clicking on the link in the court’s electronic filing system reveals only a page that reads, “This document is not available.”
GEA workers overwhelmingly authorize strike
GE Appliances workers have overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike, but a company spokeswoman said the vote is a standard procedure that does not mean the employees will go on strike.
Dana Crittenden, president of the IUW-CWA Local 83761, told IL that 99.1 percent of participating union members on Wednesday voted to authorize a strike. The vote gives the union’s negotiating committee to initiate a strike if the parties cannot reach an agreement.
The union represents about 4,000 of Appliance Park’s 6,000 employees.
GEA spokeswoman Kim Freeman said that the vote is part of the union’s contingency planning in case the parties cannot reach an agreement.
“It does not mean that they’ll … go on strike,” she said.
For more than two months, GEA and the union have been working on a new contract. Company leaders have identified work practices, health care costs and wages as potential cost-cutting areas, but the union believes wage and benefit cuts would hurt the operation’s performance in the long run.
Workers are covered by a union contract that was reached when GEA was still part of General Electric Co., but GE sold the appliances unit in June to China-based appliance maker Qingdao Haier for $5.4 billion.
GEA has said that Appliance Park is losing money and that workers are earning much more than typical in the appliance industry — but Crittenden has said that the company is just trying to intimidate workers during contract talks and that the company has to provide compensation that is competitive with packages offered by other Louisville area manufacturers.
Crittenden told IL this week that he could not provide an update on the contract talks because union leaders are required to keep the negotiations confidential. He said he won’t be able to share any information until the parties reach a tentative agreement. Negotiations will go into their 11th week on Monday.
In a letter he wrote union members on Oct. 13, he told members that negotiations are “nearing the end” and that the current talks were “the hardest” the local has been through.
Freeman said that there is no deadline to reach an agreement. The goal, she said, is to come up with a contract that is good for employees and helps the company compete in the appliance industry.
Speaking of GEA: Auction company The Branford Group will host a multiday online auction beginning Nov. 28 to sell assets of the Bloomington, Ind., facility that GEA recently closed. The auctioneer said the auction would include the 1-million-square-foot facility and more than 3,000 items, including injection molding machines, metal stamping presses and forklifts. —Boris Ladwig
Holiday Manor Kroger reopens after seven-month renovation
Kroger has been investing in upgrading its stores around the Louisville metro area, and one of the largest remodels is the Kroger in Holiday Manor shopping center. The Holiday Manor Kroger added another 18,000 square feet and 140 new jobs.
New offerings include a liquor, wine and beer store; garden center; drive-thru pharmacy; fresh sushi station; Murray’s Cheese Shoppe; and made-to-order meal stations with gourmet pizzas, smoked barbecue and hot Asian food bar. Louisville Cuban restaurant Havana Rumba and Cincinnati eatery Eli’s BBQ also will have food carts at the new 87,000-square-foot Kroger.
That Kroger will also add online grocery ordering starting Nov. 10, which allows customers to order groceries, set a pick up time and have their orders delivered to their cars.
Louisville home sales continue to grow despite tight market
The Greater Louisville Association of Realtors recently released its monthly home sales update, and its good news for home sellers and their real estate agents.
Homes sales are up 6.6 percent and median home prices rose 4.8 percent Jan. 1 through Sept. 30 this year, compared with the same period in 2015. In September alone, home sales increased 7.7 percent.
“The tight inventory of starter homes continued during September, translating into quick sales. At the same time, activity at the higher end was at a more moderate pace,”Allison Bartholomew, president of GLAR, said in the report. “Our members are looking forward to a healthy fall market with reasonable gains in sales and prices.”
In September, 1,600 homes and condominiums in Jefferson, Bullitt and Oldham counties were sold. The median sale price was $165,000, up almost 9 percent compared with September 2015. Meanwhile, active home listings as of Sept. 15 were down 22.5 percent.
It isn’t just existing homes that are selling. According to the National Association of Home Builders chairman Ed Brady, the desire for new homes has grown as well.
“As household incomes rise, builders in many markets across the nation are reporting that they are seeing more serious buyers, a positive sign that the housing market continues to move forward,” he said in the report. “The single-family market continues to make gradual gains and we expect this upward momentum will build throughout the remainder of the year and into 2017.” —Caitlin Bowling