retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Today, we remember 9-11.

Eight years ago, after that terrible tragedy punctuated a clear late summer day and forever draped the numbers “9-11” in melancholia, it seemed as if the one positive to emerge from the rubble was sense of connection – with each other, and to much of the rest of the world.

Today, it seems to me that this has been squandered. The hyperbole, hysteria, and the lack of civil discourse capture much of the attention, but also signal deep divisions in our society. We can't even get along with each other.

It’s like we remember the date, but not the meaning, not the underlying importance.

There was an interesting story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about how clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch has been forced by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to write a check for $115, 264 to settle a discrimination suit.

According to the story, the fine relates to a 2005 case in which the store prevented an older sister from helping her 14-year-old autistic sister try on clothes in the dressing room of the company’s Mall of America unit. The paper writes that the case took four years to resolve because “the retailing giant refused to apologize for the incident and even questioned whether the girl was disabled.”

"She was singled out and required to hear her sister and mother repeatedly ask for accommodations based on her disability, in front of a long line of customers, at a store that markets itself to young people as a purveyor of a particularly desirable 'look,'" administrative law judge Kathleen D. Sheehy wrote in her ruling.

Ugly stuff. And dumb. All at the same time.

First of all, the case reflects a larger issue of which retailers need to be aware. They need to be vigilant about all acts of discrimination in the stores not just because they are wrong, but also because when they happen, they can be amplified in the 24/7 news media and over the Internet. And when your people make a mistake, you apologize and make amends quickly … as opposed to what Abercrombie did.

It isn’t just people with physical and mental challenges. It also is people who are Muslim. Or African American. Or Hispanic. Or whatever.

The customer base in almost all places is more diverse than ever…and getting more so, every day. Retailers need to be aware of the trend and its implications.

I have to say that I was a little offended when I read in Time the other day about a new website called, which is designed to catalog what they call the “absurd attire” typical of some Walmart shoppers. There is, for example, a woman in pink velour sweatpants and black cowboy boots, another guy carrying a parrot, one wearing a Captain America outfit.

Now, having checked out the site, I have to admit that some of it is funny, and some is pretty horrifying. I’m also a little shamed of myself for having looked, because there is a cruel subtext to the site. They say that they won’t post pictures of disabled people, or Walmart employees doing their jobs. But that seems small comfort.

I’m no saint when it comes to mockery. I’m perfectly capable of it. But this is cruelty for cruelty’s sake that says more about the people who put it together than the people it ridicules.

Interesting marketing move by Netflix, which announced this week that it will host a 70th anniversary celebration of the release of The Wizard of Oz with a special free showing in New York’s Central Park, preceded by a concert of songs from the movie given by, among other people, Jennifer Hudson.

Not only can people see the movie for free in Central Park on September 29, but on October 3, they can watch it for free online … which is a good way of promoting its downloading service.

One note. The Wizard of Oz is hardly the only movie celebrating a 70th anniversary this year – 1939 was a banner year for movies, during which some of the best movies ever made were released. Among them, Gone With The Wind, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Gunga Din, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Ninotchka, Stagecoach, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Wuthering Heights, and Young Mr. Lincoln.

Just FYI.

New on my iPod: the new John Fogerty album, “The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again,” which consists of charming covers of old songs, including “Garden Party” and “When Will I Be Loved.” Fogerty’s voice remains one of my favorite things to listen to, and both Bruce Springsteen and Don Henley add their vocals to the proceedings. Great stuff.

I had a lot of time while on vacation last week, so I decided to check out an episode or two of “Firefly,” the old Joss Whedon science fiction series that lasted about 14 episodes on Fox back in 2002. My sons are both enormous fans of the series, and have been trying to get me to watch it…so I figured I’d give it a quick look.

And got utterly hooked. “Firefly,” if you like this sort of thing, is a terrific series set 500 years in the future, and is an endearing mix of western and sci-fi…it has a unique voice, an irreverent attitude, quirky performances from the likes of Nathan Fillion, and a story arc that is fascinating. Enough people got hooked on the show that even though it was cancelled, they actually made a feature film, “Serenity,” which carries the plot forward and kept me on the edge of my seat for much of the time.

I’m an enormous Trekker, but I have to say that after 14 episodes of “Firefly” and a viewing of “Serenity,” I can also say, in the jargon of the series, that I’m also a Browncoat.

Great way to spend a vacation. (Especially because the Mets are impossible to watch.)

Last time out, I recommended Hey Mambo, a 2006 “Bistro Style” wine that is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Muscat Canelli, and Chenin Blanc.

Well, I’m back to tell you that the Hey Mambo 2007 “Bistro Style” Sultry Red wine - made from a blend of Syrah, Barbera, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Malbec, and Alicante Bouchet – is equally terrific…smooth, and wonderful with spicy food or even just a thick, juicy cheeseburger. Wonderful.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

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