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After closing all 58 of its Houston-area branches last Wednesday in anticipation of Hurricane Rita, Washington Mutual reopened 44 of them yesterday morning. That number fluctuated during the day because of power outages and safety issues, such as downed power lines.

The Seattle thrift has about 3,700 employees in Texas, including 1,233 in the Houston area, all of whom came through the storm safely, said spokeswoman Darcy Donahoe-Wilmot.

Providian Financial, the credit-card company WaMu plans to acquire on Saturday, has about 26,000 customers affected by the hurricane.


Mobile media president named

Bellevue-based InfoSpace plans to announce today the appointment of Stephen Davis as president of mobile media.

Davis will manage InfoSpace’s mobile-entertainment business worldwide, including content licensing and production, marketing, public relations, promotions, sales and product development. Davis will join InfoSpace’s Los Angeles office in November. Previously, Davis was president of Granada America, the U.S.-based development and production division of European media company ITV.

“The issue for us is that more and more of our business is not a technical business, it’s a programming business and content business,” said Jim Voelker, InfoSpace’s chairman and chief executive.

Davis will replace InfoSpace President and Chief Operating Officer Kathleen Rae, who has also been serving as interim executive vice president of mobile. Rae, who was recruited out of retirement, will again retire.

Shurgard Storage

Public Storage says bid could rise

Public Storage yesterday expressed willingness to raise its takeover offer for Seattle-based Shurgard Storage Centers and said the owners of more than 50 percent of Shurgard’s outstanding stock are in favor of a deal.

Public Storage, a Glendale, Calif.-based real-estate-investment trust that owns self-storage facilities, made an unsolicited $2.4 billion bid for its smaller rival on Aug. 1. Shurgard said it was not for sale and has refused to discuss a transaction.

Public Storage yesterday urged Shurgard to reconsider, saying it might be willing to raise its bid if Shurgard disclosed nonpublic information to justify an increase.


Ex-Xbox exec hired as technology officer

Marchex said yesterday that it has hired former Xbox executive Cameron Ferroni as its chief technology officer. Ferroni left Microsoft in April, where he had been general manager of the company’s Xbox software and services platform team. Before that, he was a product unit manager for the Xbox. Earlier in his 13-year tenure at Microsoft, he worked on the Web server and Windows NT businesses. Marchex focuses on online marketing using search-engine and direct-navigation technologies.

Associated Grocers

President quits; replacement sought

Northwest food wholesaler Associated Grocers said it began conducting an executive search to replace President and Chief Executive Bob Hermanns, who stepped down Friday.

The company would not give a reason for Hermann’s departure. Board Chairman Ron Brake will act as interim president and CEO.

Associated Grocers, which supplies independent grocers such as Larry’s Market and Red Apple, said in April that it would explore options for the company, including a possible sale. The company said yesterday it would briefly delay any action until a new CEO has time to assess the company’s strategy.

Visa / MasterCard

Merchant groups file class-action suit

Four of the nation’s largest merchant associations have joined a legal battle to force credit-card issuers to lower the fees they charge for processing transactions.

The class-action suit accuses Visa USA, MasterCard and a number of major banks, including Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, of engaging in collusive practices in setting their interchange fees. The suit seeks an injunction to stop the alleged collusion as well as damages, which weren’t specified.

The plaintiffs — the National Association of Convenience Stores, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the National Community Pharmacists Association and the National Cooperative Grocers Association — represent thousands of merchants nationwide.

The suit is the latest of more than 30 legal actions filed over the past several months aimed at forcing the card associations and their member banks to cut interchange fees.

Independence Air

Struggling start-up cuts daily departures

Struggling low-fare start-up Independence Air is cutting daily departures by more than half in a bid to avoid bankruptcy court.

Battered by high fuel prices and fare wars, Virginia-based Independence Air said yesterday it will cut daily departures in October to between 225 and 250 from a peak of 600 last October.

Based at Washington Dulles airport, Independence will halt cross-country flights. Now, the carrier flies between Dulles and Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle and San Francisco.

It will stop serving Cleveland, Indianapolis and Louisville. Flights to Las Vegas will continue.

Compiled from Seattle Times staff, The Associated Press and Reuters