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Buying to Flying, No Discouraging Words

The nation’s big retailers spent the last several hours before the big day doing everything from setting up communications war rooms to yawning dismissively at the notion that their companies could face a Y2K problem. Adding to computer bug pressures, many retailers have a compressed time frame in which to remedy any problems, since the companies have already advertised a host of Jan. 1 shopping specials.

Federated Department Stores Inc. has been preparing for the date changeover since 1996--but the company is still operating on a better-safe-than-sorry basis. At the Macy’s West division, executives Thursday were surveying their San Francisco command center’s banks of phones, computers and adjacent media room, which sports rows of televisions tuned to stations throughout the country.

They also reviewed two giant, wipe-off memo boards, the first with the names of all 90 Macy’s West’s stores down one column and a list of critical systems across the other. As the stores report that lights, water flow, security alarms, elevators and the like are still working after midnight, someone in San Francisco will check off corresponding boxes on the big board. “It’s a good visual for us to have if we’re having any issues,” explained Michael Wirkkala, the division’s chief financial officer and Y2K leader. “We want to make sure before our customers hit the doors that we’re able to do business as usual.”

Simon Property Group, the nation’s largest shopping mall operator, said all of its 258 malls--which include Orange County’s Brea and Laguna Hills malls will have staff in place by 11 p.m. PST, checking fire alarms and other critical systems, with instructions to check in via e-mail every 30 minutes.

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Target stores, a division of Dayton-Hudson Corp., will use computers to check in with executives in Minneapolis by 5 a.m. EST, a spokeswoman said. Still, she said, she is not anticipating anything other than good news. “We’ve already done all our testing,” said spokeswoman Patty Morris. “At this point in time, 100% of our systems are Y2K compliant, 100% of our systems have been tested.”

The same goes for Sears, Roebuck & Co., which began preparations in 1994 and then redoubled them with broader efforts in 1997. As of July 1, the retailer also has had a technology freeze--all Sears systems had been tested and no new computer hardware or programs were permitted in any store.

But Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, which will operate 682 Supercenters right through the date change, was nonplused about the millennial issue. “Really, there’s just a group that’s available if there is any assistance needed,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Tom Williams.


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