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'Special' on Internet Stocks Attracts Buyers


The Internet stock craze may be waning, but a tongue-in-cheek advertisement offering "9 Internet Stocks for 99 Cents" at a local retail chain Tuesday drove dozens of investment-minded customers into store locations around Southern California.

"Your choice! While supplies last. No limit," the 99 Cents Only Stores newspaper ad screamed. The ad teaser poked fun at the falling stock market by slashing an imaginary price originally set at 99 cents.

It was all in fun, but throughout the day 99 Cents Only Stores employees fielded dozens of inquiries, the chain said. A customer at the Norwalk store wanted more information. "I knew my stocks had fallen," he said to a district manager. "But I didn't know they'd sank so low."

One potential customer wanted to know whether shares of semiconductor giant Intel Corp. would be included. Another recommended that the offer not be Internet exclusive. "What about other types of stocks?" he asked.

The full-page advertisement, in magenta and black ink, cleverly tucked the Internet offer among legitimate deals for shaving cream, light bulbs and pancake syrup. When did the rock-bottom discounter start selling stocks?

"People didn't know what to think," said Martha Lopez, company district manager. "Some just came in because it looked like a great deal. They didn't even know what it meant. 9 for 99 cents. It looks like a bargain too good to pass up."

Still, company President Eric Schiffer was surprised by the frenzy of responses.

"It was just a joke," he said with a chuckle. "If it was real, it would probably be the best value in the store."

Without a full-time advertising department, company employees routinely dream up advertising ideas that typically play on the numbers 9 or 99.

Last year, the Commerce-based chain ran a bridal-registry ad poking fun at the slowing economy. Brides were encouraged to register for Ajax cleanser, for example. Other tongue-in-cheek advertisements have included mock layaway offers--customers had to put down only 69 cents on 99-cent items--and April Fools' specials when everything was marked $99.

"It's funny," Schiffer said. "People notice the ads, and maybe they'll stop by the store."

It wasn't funny for those store employees who were unaware of the ad, which ran on A15 of Tuesday's Los Angeles Times. Customers came to stores hoping to pad their portfolios, but store clerks had nothing but blank stares to offer.

"Some employees were confused too," Lopez said. "They wanted to know if we'd ordered extra stocks."

The Internet stock bargain idea was borrowed from a "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" sketch last week during which he declared the 99 Cents Only Stores as Nasdaq headquarters, Schiffer said.

"The stock market is in such shambles," he said. "We're just trying to add some humor."

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