Hot Holiday Item

The first Christmas sighting is in.

In the midst of a sweltering summer, Hecht's began advertising Holly Jolly Santa, a $50 doll that does a jerky hula-hoop dance to "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas." An advertisement for the collectible doll appeared last week in The Washington Post.

Jumping the gun on the holidays is nothing new for Hecht's or any other retailer. The marketing blitz has been slowly creeping up earlier on the calendar. And last year, stores were decked with boughs of holly before Halloween, creating a ghastly scene of cackling skulls next to angel tree ornaments.

Hecht's offered the collectible dancing Santas last August and immediately sold out. They were so "very, very" popular that the department store chain decided to market them earlier this summer, a spokeswoman said.

"He's very cute," she said. "I think it's a real feel-good kind of item."

-- Stephanie Stoughton

DID YOU HEAR? . . .

"The offline brokerage houses now are just living off rapidly putrifying cream. These firms are like giant dinosaurs."

-- TheStreet.com's Jim Cramer at a Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group tech conference in Reston.

BizNet2000

Zanzibar on the Waterfront, at 700 Water St. SW, is hosting BizNet2000, a series of business seminars designed to promote networking with the community. Speakers at the series of Monday night events have included Bell Atlantic President Marie Johns and marketing expert Brett Murray.

Next on tap is Jonathan Butler of the District's Office of Contracting & Procurement, who will offer much-needed tips on how to actually do business in the District. Butler's presentation will begin at 6 p.m. next Monday.

Sessions are $15 per person, or $10 if in groups of five or more; hors d'oeuvres are included. For more information, call 202-554-9100.

-- Tracy Grant

A Change of Identity

NationsBank Corp. plans to spend $9 million this month to change the name on everything from its Maryland branches and automated telling machines to stationery and business cards.

The company is shedding the NationsBank name for Bank of America, with which it merged nearly a year ago. By Aug. 30, 205 branches and 516 ATMs in Maryland will change names.

"What we are hoping to communicate effectively is this is merely a name change," said William Couper, president of NationsBank in greater Baltimore. "It doesn't change customers' account numbers, their checks or their plastic cards."

NationsBank of Charlotte merged with San Francisco-based BankAmerica Co. in October to create the first coast-to-coast banking company in a $38 billion deal.

-- Associated Press