retail news in context, analysis with attitude

I’ve been in Seattle all week, and nothing has damped my enthusiasm for this wonderful city, where the residents and lucky visitors have been enjoying fabulous weather.

• Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to speak to the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), a fun group with a unique niche in the nation’s food industry. I don't think they’d mind if I described many of them as aging hippies, especially because it is that outlook on life that informs the way they approach their businesses. They are highly focused on health and wellness (one guy brought his bike with him from halfway across the country, so dedicated is he to riding and exercise), and to the empowerment of the shoppers who in many cases are members/owners of the co-ops. I appreciate their hospitality, and enjoyed them immensely. (In part, I suppose, because they laughed in all the right places...)

• I also had the chance to spend some time with the folks from PCC Natural Markets, which is a terrific chain of nine co-ops. The store I visited is as nice a store as you can imagine – highly individual and neighborhood-centric – and it served one of the best vegetable no-cheese pizzas I’ve ever had. I also had a drink that they call Kombucha – which is a naturally fermented tea drink that I don't completely understand, but liked a lot.

• Yesterday, because I knew I would be drinking coffee and writing MNB between 3 am and 6 am, I decided to do it at a Starbucks down by Pike Place Market, where Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski were doing “Morning Joe” during a week-long west coast swing. (Better there than in my hotel room, where I’d be watching “Morning Joe” anyway.) I am here to tell you that Scarborough is an engaging guy, making sure he worked the room to shake pretty much everybody’s hands and thanking them for showing up so early. Brzezinski is every bit as gorgeous as she looks on TV…maybe more so. And the show itself remains one of the best things on TV – a steady diet of intelligent conversation where people can disagree without being disagreeable, and where both liberals and conservatives can air their views without fear of being labeled. And I walked away not just with a nice memory, but a “Morning Joe” t-shirt and baseball cap.

• On Wednesday night, I joined a friend and his sons at the Seattle Mariners game at Safeco Field, and it was my favorite kind of ballgame – 2:20 of generally crisp play, with the Mariners decisively beating the Chicago White Sox. I’ve been to a large percentage of the nation’s major league baseball stadiums, and of all that I’ve visited, I have to say that Safeco may smell the best – with the aromas of various ethnic foods wafting through the seats and making me hungry for nine innings. The power of smell is not to be underrated – and I have to tell you that Safeco smelled better than a lot of the supermarkets I’ve been to in my life.

• Two of my favorite restaurants are in Seattle – Etta’s Seafood, where the bartender Morgan remains a font of information and a provider of great wine and beer…and Serious Pie, where the pizza is fabulous (especially the one I had with heirloom tomatoes and pesto, which was out-of-this-world good).

• And the Pyramid Brewery is a great place to go –especially before the baseball game – where a Pyramid Rollick Amber Ale is just the thing to wash down a salmon BLT sandwich.

As for other things…

• Did you see that piece in the Wall Street Journal the other day about a restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village called Commerce where they’ve stopped taking cash? The rationale is simple.

"If you don't have a credit card, you can use a debit card," restaurant co-owner, Tony Zazula tells the paper. "If you don't have a debit card, you probably don't have a checking account. And if you don't have a checking account, you probably shouldn't be eating at Commerce to begin with."

The only exception: tips.

• The Los Angeles Times had a piece about the newest cause being adopted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA): they want the horse-drawn carriages that take people through New York’s Central Park to be replaced by “a fleet of electric cars made to resemble vintage automobiles.”

The theory is that being hooked up to the carriages and forced to pull them around the park is cruel to the horses.

Beyond the fact that horse-drawn carriages are a time-tested and lovely tradition that connects New York to its past and that electric cars simply aren’t the same, I keep thanking the fates that PETA didn’t exist hundreds of years ago when the nation started moving westward via horses and covered wagons.

Because we would have been walking, and it would have taken a lot longer to get to California.

• There’s a new movie out called “Adam” that I cannot recommend highly enough. I didn’t know much about it until my mother-in-law saw it and told us about it…and boy, am I glad she did. The movie concerns the unlikely romance between Adam, a man with Asperger’s Syndrome, and Beth, a writer who lives upstairs from him in a New York apartment building. “Adam” is a delightful and thoughtful romance that never takes the easy way out, never tries to fudge the emotional realities of the people involved. Hugh Dancy is excellent in the title role, Rose Byrne is lovely as Beth, and the film is written and directed by Max Mayer, who I’ve never heard of but who would seem to have a bright future. Go see it.




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

Sláinte!!
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