How to tune in on bat channelsIf...


How to tune in on bat channels

If you have a bad case of insomnia and an ambition to become known as the neighborhood strange person, here are some products for you.

Imagine how you'll impress your neighbors when you come out each night brandishing your Starlight night vision detector and Batbox III ultrasonic bat detector (cape and Bela Lugosi accent optional).

Both devices are among the new product lines offered by The American Wild Bird Co., a retail showroom and mail-order house in Rockville. Part of the store operates under the name Absolutely Bats.

Heidi "Batwoman" Hughes, president of the business and co-founder of the American Bat Conservation Society, said the bat detector is a popular item among bat enthusiasts -- who are more numerous than you may think, she said.

The bat detector, made by STAG Electronics in Britain, lets bat lovers "eavesdrop on bat conversations" by picking up their sonar and transforming it into a series of clicks, Ms. Hughes said. Using the device, Marylanders can identify which of the state's 10 bat species is visiting, Ms. Hughes said.

If bat-watching is your hobby, the Russian-made night vision scopes and binoculars can give you a rare glimpse of them. Ms. Hughes said the devices, based on Russian military technology, are much cheaper than the American military's night-vision devices, many of which are classified or sold only to security agencies for about $5,000 each.

Ms. Hughes, a nationally known bat advocate who says she is "bat-mother" to an orphaned baby brown bat named Sweetie-Pie, said there's nothing unusual about having an affinity for flying mammals. "I love bats. I'm normal," she said.

"You know the word dinosaur? When I get through with the word bat, it'll be more popular than the word dinosaur," she said. "Dinosaurs are dead . . . Bats are out there killing bugs like crazy."

The bat detector costs $299, while the night vision devices range in price from $300 to $999. The American Wild Bird showroom is at 591 Hungerford Road in Rockville, or phone 301-279-8999.

Mamma ilardo's: Taking it to the streets

Growth can take a toll on a company, but mamma ilardo's corp. is taking growth from tolls.

The 53-unit Owings Mills-based pizza chain, continuing a relentless expansion drive, announced last week that it will open at least three locations in travel plazas along the New York State Thruway this summer and fall.

The Maryland company was picked as pizza provider by McDonald's Corp., the thruway authority and the Marcorp division of Morrison's Foods Inc., a fast-growing restaurant chain that operates L & N Seafood and Ruby Tuesday's.

The deal is especially significant for mamma's because of the link it forges with McDonald's, which is becoming increasingly active as an operator of food courts in toll-road rest stops and airport terminals around the country. A successful showing in New York could give mamma's a leg up in securing other locations where McDonald's is the prime tenant.

Previously, mamma's had existing or planned units at malls, racetracks, theme parks and grocery stores, but the New York locations will be the company's first venture into the lucrative, high-traffic toll-road market.

Retailers expected to see slight increase

The nation's retailers can expect a 3 percent increase in unit sales between June and Christmas, according to a survey commissioned by the National Retail Federation.

What that would mean in dollars will be determined by the rate of inflation, since unit sales measure the number of items sold.

According to the NRF study, conducted by the Management Horizons division of Price Waterhouse, consumers spent 1.6 percent more on nonauto retail merchandise than last year in the Christmas-Easter period after inflation is taken into account. That fell slightly short of the NRF's forecast of a 2 percent real gain for that period.

The study reported that employment growth is picking up but that tight credit, uncertainty over which Clinton administration policies will become law and increased government regulation are holding back economic growth. Overall, however, the association concluded the economic recovery is on firmer ground.

The NRF reported that traffic at regional malls picked up during the last six months while wholesale clubs and off-price retailers showed a slowdown.

Merchandiser targets forgetful photographers

You're taking a cruise on the Chesapeake Bay and you see the most gorgeous sunset you've ever seen. Every little finger muscle wants to snap a picture, but you left your camera at home.

What do you do?

If Electronic Merchandising Systems has its way, what you'll do is step over to a vending machine on the cruise boat, pop in a few bills and purchase a Kodak Single-Use Camera and some film.

The Cincinnati-based marketer of upscale specialty vending machines recently signed a contract with Kodak to provide a system to dispense the photographic company's products. Kodak's Electronic Merchandiser machines will come in wall-mounted units or can be placed on a pedestal. They will accept $1, $5, $10 and $20 bills. Coming next, credit card purchases.

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