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Phila. retailer gets pushback - a lot - on N.Y. billboards

Derek Koss feels as if he's been blitzed and blindsided - worse than even Michael Vick. And it could mean a loss of business.

Derek Koss feels as if he's been blitzed and blindsided - worse than even Michael Vick.

And it could mean a loss of business.

Koss, president and chief executive officer of Time After Time Inc., the local retailer behind the billboards along I-95 of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, has been feeling the heat since Wednesday's Inquirer article about the advertisements.

Koss, 39, said his company's nine stores, all located in malls throughout the region, had been flooded with hundreds of phone calls, e-mail messages, and visits by local sports fans expressing their angst over the billboards featuring the two New York sports icons on sacred Eagles' and Phillies' ground.

By far, the most frequently asked question to his managers and employees, Koss said, has been, 'What were you thinking?' "

And the second-most asked?

"Is this a New York-based company?"

Even Koss' wife has been hassled.

"One of her girlfriends called and asked if I was from New York," Koss said Thursday at his main office in Richboro, Bucks County, decorated with - what else? - two Eagles jerseys, a sparkly 76ers jersey, and Steve Carlton's No. 32 Phillies jersey.

Koss wants to set the record straight that Time After Time is the largest local retailer for Citizen and Movado - the two companies that paid Manning and Jeter a lot of money to promote their watches.

"We endorse the product, not so much the spokesperson the brand chooses," he said. "The only way I make money is by selling the product that we carry, and we spend money to advertise that product."

Koss, a Philly native, said the questions over the firm's local roots had been particularly stinging. His local managers so far have fielded about 50 of them.

"They'll say, 'I always thought you were local,' or, 'Are you the same company? Did you sell to a New York firm?'

"We are locally owned and operated since 1990. We lease billboard space from a local billboard company, and we try to do everything we can to support the local economy. Our stores employ about 100 people."

All nine Time After Time stores are located in regional malls. They sell designer watches that retail from $50 to $2,000, such as Fossil, Michael Kors, and Bulova - in addition to Citizen and Movado. The stores do battery and crystal replacements, watchband sizing, and overhauls.

Koss said that out of 26 billboards on I-95 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike that Time After Time leases, only two are of Manning and only one is of Jeter. All three billboards, at $5,000 per month each, just happen to be on an 11-mile stretch from Woodhaven to Center City on I-95.

The Manning billboards are northbound and southbound, while the grinning, oversize Jeter is visible on I-95 southbound. All three carry the tagline with the toll-free number: Time After Time 1-888-700-TIME.

"Most of the questions have been along the lines 'Why do you have Eli Manning and Derek Jeter promoting your product?' "Koss said. "But again, they're promoting the brand on a national level, and we do not have the authority to change that."

Something that a Citizen senior executive reaffirmed in an e-mail to Koss on Wednesday.

"We use our three Citizen ambassadors [Eli Manning, NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth, and golfer Paula Creamer] throughout the country," the e-mail read. "We only have three Citizen ambassadors we can use, and the retailer does NOT have the ability to select someone else."

"My main thing is that I want my customers to know that we support all Philly teams," Koss said.

As a company, Time After Time has an Eagles club box and two Diamond club seats for the Phillies. Personally, Koss has four on-the-floor season tickets to the Sixers.