The Week that Was for 12/01/13

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Building in new hands

Aaron Stauber's Rugby Realty has "added to his collection of Grant Street masterpieces," having closed on the purchase of the 34-story art deco Koppers Tower last week for $17.2 million, reports the PG's Mark Belko. Mr. Stauber has done well by his previous Pittsburgh office tower acquisitions, boosting occupancy rates at every building he has purchased. While he rehabs Koppers' office floors, Mr. Stauber also hopes to put a food retailer at the street-level storefront space at Grant and Seventh, a space that has been vacant for decades.

Health insurance reprieve

Last week, health carrier Highmark Inc. announced that about 19,400 "Special Care" policyholders -- who received cancelation notices this summer -- will be able to keep their health plan through June 30, instead of the Dec. 31 expiration date previously announced. Special Care is a lower-cost plan for low-income populations, and it's a "guaranteed issue" plan, meaning an applicant's health history isn't considered when the policy is priced. Highmark said it was canceling these policies and others because many did not comport with the new regulations of the Affordable Care Act.

Black Friday-ish

Black Friday continues to bleed into late Thursday. Toys R Us opened at 5 p.m. Thursday, Best Buy at 6 p.m., and many regional malls and department stores unlocked the doors at 8 p.m. While the spread-out sales also appeared to help spread out the crowds, making the shopping experience somewhat less frenetic, the early openings are meant to cater to shoppers -- often younger ones and families -- more likely to shop in the evening than at 4 a.m. Friday. Did it work? Walmart alone recorded more than 10 million register transactions between 6 p.m. -- which is when its sale prices started -- and 10 p.m. Thanksgiving day.

Black Friday, Part II

It's Black Friday for traders, too, you know. On the final day of trading in November, the Dow Jones industrial average, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were all up for the month, pushing the stock markets higher into record territories. By 1 p.m., when the markets closed (earlier than usual), the Dow was at 16,086.41 (down 10.92 for the day), the S&P was at 1,805.81 (down 1.42), while Nasdaq ended the day at 4,059.89, up 15.14.

All three indexes finished higher for the week after Friday's light trading.

Black Friday, Part III

And it's also a profitable day for those willing to wait in line to buy game consoles and TVs -- only to resell them at a profit closer to Christmas. In case you missed it, visit to read about the hardy souls who stood in line for hours to buy PlayStation 4 video game consoles, with hopes of reselling on Craigslist "when desperate parents scramble to pay hundreds of dollars more than the retail value once the inventory is sold out."

Green Friday

Er, make that evergreen Friday. Black Friday is also the unofficial start of the shopping season for live Christmas trees. Pennsylvania's Christmas Tree Growers Association reports that the state is second in the nation in the number of Christmas tree farms (1,200 tree farms, covering 35,000 acres) and fourth in the number of Christmas trees cut each year (1.2 million year).

A Harris Interactive poll commissioned by the National Christmas Tree Association says Americans bought 10.9 million artificial trees last year (up from 9.5 million in 2011) and spent $72.50 per tree. More than twice as many live trees were sold, according to the survey -- 24.5 million. But that was down from the 30.8 million live trees sold in 2011. In fact, the 24.5 million figure represents the lowest number of live trees sold in the U.S. dating back to at least 2005.

Live trees cost $40.30 each last year, according to survey respondents. Most live-tree buyers (85 percent) buy those pre-cut at a garden store, big box hardware store or a temporary lot. The remainder, 15 percent, hoof it out to a tree farm and cut it down themselves.

Quote of the Week

"Overall, it has been a very good year for Christmas tree production. ... The moist spring helped with getting new plantings established and with early growth and, although it got dry by the end of summer, we did get enough rain to keep the established trees in good shape. This fall, the frosts and freezes came in plenty of time to ensure good needle retention."

-- Ricky Bates, a Penn State University associate professor of horticulture, in a Patriot-News gardening column about this year's Christmas tree crop in Pennsylvania.

Bill Toland: or 412-263-2625.

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