Katherine Field Boccaccio Chicago -- Claire's Stores Inc. said Tuesday that it has opened its first stores in Venezuela and Panama; the Venezuelan store opened on Oct. 12 in Sambil Paraguna Mall in Punto Fijo and the Panama store opened Oct. 27 at Metro...

Specialty retailer Express expects to have its first stores in Latin America open by year end. The operator of 600 U.S. stores catering to customers in their 20s and 30s has identified international expansion as a key growth driver. The company, through one of its subsidiaries, entered into a franchise agreement with Fastco Commercial S.A. to open more than 30 stores during the next five years in markets that include Panama, Peru, Costa Rica, Colombia, The Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Gap plans to expand in Latin America after its first namesake store in the region topped sales expectations. The Gap store in Santiago, Chile, which opened in October, was among the leading franchise performers out of 200 stores worldwide, said Stefan Laban, managing director of strategic alliances for Gap.

GazetteXtraJANESVILLE In an effort to prop up an underperforming Lab Safety Supply, company officials said Wednesday they will combine the business with another that operates warehouses across the country. What that means for employment levels at one of Janesville's largest employers is unclear. Officials of Chicago-based W.W. Grainger, which bought Lab Safety Supply in 1992, told industry and financial analysts Wednesday that the company will combine its Lab Safety Supply and Grainger Industrial Supply businesses. While it doesn't manufacture anything, Lab Safety markets and distributes safety and other products to more than 800,000 customers in North America through

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