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Jennifer Marks

And the winner is ...

All I can say is thank God for JCPenney and Federated Department Stores. I don't know what the industry's scholarship fund-raising events would do without them.

During the upcoming New York Home Textiles Market, the Fashion Institute of Technology will hold its annual scholarship awards breakfast to raise money for its Home Products Development program. This year's retailer winners consist of two Federated executives — Eric Salus, president of Macy's Home Store, and Gilbert Cavaliero, vice president and merchandise manager of Bloomingdale's — as well as JCPenney's Charlie Chinni, executive vice president and general merchandising manager of home, fine jewelry and family footwear.

Federated executives have been fairly consistent award winners at the event. JCPenney has generously agreed to accept awards at both the March FIT event and the Market's Home Fashions Products Association retailer awards event, which also raises money for scholarships. JCPenney also accepted honors at the 2002 HFPA HomeTex awards, the 2002 HFPA Retailer of the Year awards, and the 2001 HFPA Retailer of the Year awards. In addition, it provided an executive for the dais at HFPA's 2003 HomeTex awards.

All these executives have been deserving, certainly. They also happen to be among the few willing to do the old grip-and-grin to help the supplier community raise money for its own charities.

Obviously, retailers are bait for these gatherings, and nobody knows that better than the retailers themselves. They are surely bombarded with requests to participate in such gatherings, and it's understandable that they consider such activities a non-productive use of their time.

The problem is, many of the retailers that are often the most deserving of awards hail from companies that make it a policy to refuse them: Bed Bath & Beyond, Linens 'n Things, Target, TJX and it subsidiaries, Fortunoff's and (nine times out of 10) Wal-Mart.

You might have noticed that most of them are among the companies that dominate the industry.

What happens when awards events get "creative" was best illustrated during a 2003 ceremony. The Retailer of the Year winner, who represented a warehouse club, stood in front of more than 100 home executives and noted that her company actually did very little in the way of home business. But thanks so much anyway.

Once upon a time — and not that long ago — there were more than 50 independent department stores and at least 40 other decently sized retailers with home departments, whether specialty concepts such as HomePlace or discounters such as Venture Stores.

They are, of course, no more. So congratulations Bed Bath & Beyond, Linens 'n Things, Target, TJX (and subsidiaries), Fortunoff's and Wal-Mart. You're the big winners in the retail tug of war.

Now step up to the podium, let the industry hand you a $40 plaque and smile for the cameras.

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