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Rallying with retail

Slumping retail sales have hammered television stations nationwide since Sept. 11, but the Columbus market this holiday season will test whether consumers will flock to two new giant shopping centers, even if the economy is shaky.

TV executives in Ohio's capital city are hoping for an influx of regional advertisers for the malls: the Polaris Fashion Place, which is now considered the state's largest indoor mall, and the Easton, created by Limited Inc. founder Les Wexner, which aims to be as big as a city.

All this "absolutely represents opportunities" to beef up the local ad market, says Michael Jack, general manager of NBC O&O WCMH-TV. "We're certainly hurting. But we're on the good side of bad news, which is the best way to put it."

The retail boom includes such fresh department-store entries as Nordstrom's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Kaufmanns and Lord & Taylor. That has helped keep Columbus's unemployment rate at 2.8%, Jack says, well below the 4% current national average.

Tom Griesdorn, general manager of CBS affiliate WBNS-TV, agrees that "we too are a victim of the 2001 economy, but I think to a lesser degree. It's unbelievable, the retail growth."

Another plus for Columbus is that local auto dealerships are re-entering the broadcast market to hype their offers of O% financing on new-car sales, now one of the top ways to lure car buyers in this chilly economic climate.

Columbus Ford and GM dealerships, for instance, "have come back with a vengeance" to sell their cars via TV, Griesdorn reports. "So, quite honestly, there is a quiet rumbling. This will cause a rebound in 2002 that might outpace the nation."