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Entering the crucial back-to-school season, national retailers are circumventing Detroit's striking newspapers, delivering circulars direct-to-home and boosting ads in suburban Detroit papers.

The AFL-CIO last week said it sent letters to six retailers, warning against advertising in the Detroit News or Detroit Free Press, whose workers began striking July 13. But many retailers didn't need the warning, having pulled pre-printed circulars and run-of-press ads earlier this month, citing depressed circulation levels.

The AFL-CIO said J.C. Penney Co. was on the mailing list, but a spokesman for the retailer said the company hadn't received any such letter.

"And we are mystified by their action, because J.C. Penney has not advertised in the Detroit newspapers since the strike," aside from a circular already inserted in the July 16 edition, the spokesman said.

Sears Merchandise Group said it began distributing circulars direct-to-home using Advo Inc. on Aug. 3.

"We are redistributing pre-prints because we have a lack of confidence in the papers' ability to deliver papers at pre-labor action levels," a Sears spokeswoman said. Sears also continues to run ads in suburban newspapers published by Spring Newspapers, Mt. Clemens, Mich.

Dale Duncan, publisher of the suburban paper The Oakland Press in Pontiac, said circulation has grown and ad revenues are up 40% over this time last year. Many pre-existing retail clients have run extra circulars in the paper, he said. And new customers buying R.O.P. ads include Lord & Taylor, Bombay Co. and Pier 1 Imports.

The Detroit Newspapers-the business arm under which the two city papers operate-contends many advertisers have come back in the past several weeks, having "received assurance we are distributing the number of copies we say we are," said VP-Market Development Susie Ellwood.

Combined circulation on an average workday now totals 720,000, Ms. Ellwood said, compared with pre-strike levels of 886,200. Sunday circulation is now "just over a million," compared with 1.1 million before the strike.

Roughly 50,000 readers have canceled their subscriptions since the strike began, Ms. Ellwood said. A representative of the AFL-CIO estimated that number exceeds 250,000.

The association of unions is leveling special criticism against hometown retailer Hudson's, which continues to advertise in the city papers. The AFL-CIO says it is distributing 50,000 pre-printed postcards to Hudson's customers, asking them to mail the cards to parent company Dayton Hudson Corp. in Minneapolis.

Like Penney, Dayton Hudson was one of the six retailers reportedly sent a warning letter from AFL-CIO President Tom Donahue. A Dayton Hudson spokeswoman said the company hadn't received the letter.

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