Business World

Article excerpt

OKC on AOL

DULLES, Va. (Bloomberg) -- America Online has added Oklahoma City and 11 other areas to its Digital City guides, bringing the number of its online guidebooks to 50, as the No. 1 online service more seeks regional advertisers to boost its revenue.

Digital City is a free guide on the World Wide Web that provides movie times, local news and other services for cities from New York to Salt Lake City. America Online is competing for consumer attention and advertising dollars with Microsoft's Sidewalk city guides and CitySearch, which has filed with U.S. securities regulators for an initial public offering. Dulles, Va.-based AOL has expanded into more cities than its competitors and now is branching into smaller urban areas such as Albany, N.Y., and Grand Rapids, Mich.

"The local advertising market is a huge market, and AOL's advertising is now pretty much national," said CIBC Oppenheimer analyst Henry Blodget, who has a "strong buy" rating on AOL.

Besides Oklahoma City, the new Digital City guides include Harrisburg/York, Pa.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Jacksonville, Fla.; San Antonio; Albuquerque/Santa Fe, N.M.; Richmond, Va.; Columbus, Ohio; Milwaukee; and Nashville, Tenn.

A dilapidated rock landmark

ASBURY PARK, N.J. (AP) -- Bruce Springsteen immortalized the 103- year-old Palace Amusements in his 1975 song Born to Run. Now city officials say it's time for the endearing and dilapidated Asbury Park icon to come down. City code enforcers condemned the building after its floor partially collapsed.

The Palace, with its peeling green facade and painted clown faces, has been vacant since 1988. For many years, the block-long building was home to a Ferris wheel, carousel and shooting gallery. From 1986-88, it housed a rock `n' roll museum, which celebrated local musicians such as Springsteen, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.

Funeral consultants

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Lance Yost spent years as a Baptist minister, working with bereaved families shellshocked at the steep cost of funerals. Their anger gave him an idea: Start a consulting company to cut the high cost of dying. So Yost founded Eulogy International last year to help befuddled and grieving people navigate their way through the often confusing pricing systems and steep markups charged by the funeral industry. "It's sort of like a travel agent who helps them put the different pieces of the puzzle together and how much each part will cost them," said Yost, who has also worked as a sales manager for a cemetery company.

For an up-front $300 fee, Eulogy sends out a consultant to meet with clients and provides price lists and other information about arranging a funeral. "We feel you can get a traditional service that is meaningful and dignified without having to pay an exorbitant price for it," he said.

Eulogy began advertising in January and Yost said his company, which employs 22 people around the state, has consulted on nine funerals. He hopes to break even by next year. So far Eulogy is active only in Virginia, but Yost hopes to eventually take his company nationwide.

The National Funeral Directors Association says the average funeral runs $4,700, not counting the monument and cemetery expenses, so there is plenty of room for savings. Yost said his company has saved grieving clients from $700 to $5,000 each. But his idea has raised hackles in both the funeral industry and among funeral consumer groups. Their biggest complaint is that the information Yost's company sells can easily be found for free or for a small fee. "They're basically charging $300 for information that our societies give out for free," said Lisa Carlson, executive director of the non- profit group Funeral and Memorial Societies of America, based in Hinesburg, Vt. "Finding a local low-cost provider is a very real problem. It's the kind of thing our society will tell you for a $25 lifetime membership. …