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Departing First Niagara official's new job

First Niagara Financial Group this week announced James K. Ciroli was leaving the bank effective Friday as its principal accounting officer for a job with an undisclosed employer.

Now we know where the 49-year-old Ciroli is headed: Michigan-based Flagstar Bancorp, where he was named executive vice president, chief financial officer and principal accounting officer. He starts those roles Aug. 4.

In a document filed with regulators, Flagstar said Ciroli will receive a base annual salary of $450,000, a signing bonus of $100,000, and a guaranteed minimum cash bonus for 2014 of $225,000, payable in the first quarter of 2015. The combined total: $775,000. He is also entitled to an allowance for relocation expenses.

Ciroli had joined First Niagara in 2009.

-- Matt Glynn

Children's Play Place won't close at Boulevard Mall


It may not seem like a big deal: just a few toy cars for children to climb on and dart past on a colorful carpet emblazoned with winding roadways. It's a place for tired parents and grandparents to grab a break, relaxing nearby with a snack or cup of coffee and watching their children play from a safe distance.

But ask anyone who frequents the Children's Play Place in the food court at Boulevard Mall and they will tell you: it's a very big deal.

Always full and bustling, it's a welcome refuge for families, especially during the thick of winter when little ones are climbing the walls at home. It's safe, it's fun, it's convenient and--maybe most important of all--it's free.

Free for the families that depend on it, anyway.


But parents started to worry when the sign for the Play Place came down and it closed temporarily last month.

It turns out the popular playground area's sponsor, Northtown Automotive, had decided not to continue its sponsorship.

Northtown Automotive, which sponsored the attraction for years, decided not to renew its contract, which covers the repairs and maintenance of the toys in exchange for advertising opportunities at the mall.

But that doesn’t mean parents have to worry, the mall said.

“The Play Place is not going away,” said Betsey Bonvissuto, the mall’s marketing manager. "It's still open. It will never go away because of the lack of a sponsor."

The mall has taken over the cost of supporting the play area until  a new sponsor can be secured. Those costs include covering repairs and maintenance, replacing toys, as well as cleaning and disinfecting the area and shampooing the carpet.

"It is extremely popular and a big draw for families," Bonvissuto said.

---Samantha Christmann

Got retail tips or questions? Send them to me. E-mail, Tweet me @DiscountDivaSam or "like" me on Facebook,

Some changes at Boulevard Mall


Victoria's Secret is about to double its presence at Boulevard Mall in Amherst.

The lingerie retailer will open spin-off store PINK this fall in the former Abercrombie Kids space near the Guest Services Kiosk. PINK, which sells loungewear and accessories to teen- and college-aged women, hopes to open its 4,000-square-foot store in October.

Meanwhile, Victoria's Secret is busy gussying up its original spot (kitty-corner from Macy's), remodeling and expanding to fill the extra space vacated by the PINK products getting their own location. That store is expected to reopen in November. Until then, Victoria's Secret will work out of a temporary location across from H&M.

In other changes:

Elmwood Avenue staple Poster Art opened a store in the mall last week, taking the place of the former Tutu Boutik, a popular, locally-owned little girls' boutique and day spa that hosted birthday parties. It sits next to Teavana.

Bankrupt luxury gadget retailer Brookstone closed its store in the mall May 29 as part of a string of national store closures. Its former space is now occupied by 4 Seasons Gifts, a store that runs on a temporary lease at the mall.

Shoe Dept. Encore moved into 4 Seasons Gifts' former spot late last year, more than tripling the footprint it filled in what is now trendy children and tween retail combination Justice and Brothers.

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Got tips or questions about Western New York's retail scene? Send them my way. E-mail, Tweet me @DiscountDivaSam or "Like" me on Facebook,

Halloween already?

HalloweenOk, so we've somehow gotten used to Christmas commercials popping up well before Thanksgiving. And we barely bat an eyelash anymore when the Back-to-School promotions roll out just weeks after graduation.

But Halloween in July? Really?

I could barely believe it when I saw this picture, taken at a North Tonawanda grocery store, pop into my Facebook newsfeed.

There, among the sunblock and water toys, was a display for Halloween candy. Not a Hershey's display, not a "summer snack" display. A giant, orange sign with a ghost and bat, emblazoned with the words "Hershey's is Halloween."

Other consumers were surprised, too, judging by their comments.

"It's JULY. What's next? Christmas?"

One commenter called it "ridiculous," another asked if the picture was a prank.

But it's not. The Halloween-themed displays are up at Tops Friendly Markets and will be going up at Wegmans stores over the next week and a half.

Wegmans said the candy is a popular back-to-school item, which also appeals to returning college students, so it is put out in August to meet that demand. Since Halloween shoppers begin shopping for candy in September to prepare for October Halloween parties and "building displays twice would not make sense," stores go with Halloween-themed displays from the start, according to Wegmans spokeswoman Jo Natale.

Tops said the timing of the summer rollout is no different than years past.

"Tops has a small amount of Halloween candy in stores now, and the majority of products ship in late August or early September," said Kate McKenna, Tops spokeswoman. "Some manufacturers like to get consumers excited about the holiday by shipping out extremely popular items, like Cadbury Screme Eggs early and make them available for a limited time."

So what do you think of promoting Halloween in the middle of summer? Exciting or annoying?

 ---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Got tips or questions about Western New York's retail scene? Send them my way. E-mail, Tweet me @DiscountDivaSam or "Like" me on Facebook,

New (pricey) Frozen merchandise unveiled

We did a story last month about the continued popularity of merchandise surrounding Disney's smash hit movie "Frozen." Eight months after the movie hit theaters, manufacturers are still struggling to keep up, leaving retailer shelves empty and parents desperately searching for anything emblazoned with Anna, Elsa or Olaf.

But "for the first time in forever," Kohl's sent out an e-mail blast this morning trumpeting a new line of Frozen merchandise hitting shelves.

But hang onto your carrots, Kristoff, because you haven't had sticker shock this bad since you tried to buy a rope at Wandering Oaken's Trading Post.




There's a beautiful, reversible Anna and Elsa charm that can be worn on a necklace or bracelet. Too bad it's $100.



  Olaf charm

Too pricey? You can get Olaf for $85.


Or a non-descript snowflake for $55.




How about something more practical, like a cup?

Olafcup Frozencup






They'll set you back $18.99 apiece. But don't worry, it's a steal compared to the original price of $27.

How about something really practical, like underwear?

That'll be $18, please. That's only about $2.50 per pair. Maybe you and seven of your friends can pitch in and split them up!

There was no sign of the elusive Frozen backpack kids are dreaming about for back to school. But there was a link to the sought-after 12-inch Anna doll--out of stock, of course.


---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Orchard Fresh executive chef wins Supermarket Chef Showdown

HortoncookingErin Horton, executive chef at Orchard Fresh supermarket in Orchard Park, won the "best side dish or mini meal" category at this year's Supermarket Chef Showdown in Chicago.

The Supermarket Chef Showdown is an annual recipe competition presented by the Food Marketing Institute.

Horton and 24 other finalists had 20 minutes to prepare a dish incorporating three mandatory ingredients in a live showdown before a panel of judges. Her Mediterranean Chicken Meatballs recipe beat out a total of 130 other submissions from 30 different retailers.

Horton's recipe was inspired by the Mediterranean Chicken Sliders dish sold in the prepared foods section at Orchard Fresh.

“What I love about the Supermarket Chef Showdown is that these talented chefs are finally getting some credit for preparing the wide variety of delicious food that feeds millions of Americans every day, said Janet McCracken, Supermarket Chef Showdown judge and test kitchen director for Everyday with Rachael Ray, in a release. “It’s giving a face to the men and women behind everything from that delicious rotisserie chicken that I personally rely on heavily for weeknight meals, to the wonderful salads, vegetable side dishes and desserts.”

Horton is from Springville.

GM Lockport's UB connection

The General Motors Components Holdings plant in Lockport and the University at Buffalo are keeping up a tradition this summer.

Four undergraduates from UB's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences are working as interns for 11 weeks at the thermal products manufacturing plant on Upper Mountain Road. This is the fourth year of the partnership, with the UB TCIE (formerly known as the Center for Industrial Effectiveness) serving as the project manager.

During its short history, the GM Lockport-UB program has averaged seven interns a year. The automaker says the interns help solve problems, making suggestions for reducing scrap and improving processes. Each student works under the guidance of a supervisor and makes a presentation at the end of the program, UB said.

There could be a big payoff in the future: some past interns have attracted full-time job offers at the GM plants in Lockport and Rochester.

-- Matt Glynn

Courting Cameron

Cameron International Corp.'s search for a buyer for its centrifugal compression division, which includes a plant in Cheektowaga, continues.

Houston-based Cameron has said it intends to sell the division by the end of the year. Its Cheektowaga plant is on Broadway.

Cameron has not publicly identified any potential buyers. But a source familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified said multiple parties are interested, including Samsung. General Electric is also believed to still be in the mix, even after GE prevailed -- with a $16.9 billion bid -- over Mitsubishi and Siemens for the power and grid businesses of France-based Alstom.

-- Matt Glynn

Top Workplaces: A salute to the Top 40 workplaces in Western New York

Top workplaces

The Buffalo News teamed up with a company called Workplace Dynamics to survey area employees about where they work to determine the best places to work. It is a process The News plans to continue in future years, building participation and gaining a better picture of  Western New York’s workplaces.

Below is an index of the stories that appeared in this year's Top Workplaces.

Introduction: "Top Workplaces aims to assess the best places to work in Western New York"

The way the survey worked: How Workplace Dynamics measured employees' satisfaction

In the Large Company category:

In the Midsize Company category:

In the Small Company category:

The Top 40 workplaces, in chart form (click to view larger image):

Workplaces chart

Unmaking of a building

Want to see a building come down really fast? Here's your chance.

Uniland Development Co., which is building a new 12-story office and hotel tower in downtown Buffalo, has posted a new video online that documents the demolition of the former Delaware Court Building on the site at 250 Delaware Ave.

The video, which also shows the work to prepare the site for construction, uses time-lapse photography from February to May 2014, taken from the top of a building across the street at 70 West Chippewa St.

The video can be found here.

The Amherst-based developer plans to release additional videos in the future to capture the construction of the new mixed-use building, which will become the corporate headquarters for Delaware North Companies when it is completed in the fall of 2015. The building will include Class A office space, a 120-room hotel, ground-level retail, and a five-level parking ramp.


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