retail news in context, analysis with attitude

There was an interesting piece in Fortune the other day about how a wealthy Detroit money manager named John Hantz has come up with a unique idea about how to revitalize the Motor City. He wants to start a farm within the city limits.

“Yes, a farm.” Fortune writes that what Hantz has in mind is “a large-scale, for-profit agricultural enterprise, wholly contained within the city limits of Detroit. Hantz thinks farming could do his city a lot of good: restore big chunks of tax-delinquent, resource-draining urban blight to pastoral productivity; provide decent jobs with benefits; supply local markets and restaurants with fresh produce; attract tourists from all over the world; and -- most important of all -- stimulate development around the edges as the local land market tilts from stultifying abundance to something more like scarcity and investors move in. Hantz is willing to commit $30 million to the project. He'll start with a pilot program this spring involving up to 50 acres on Detroit's east side. ‘Out of the gates,’ he says, ‘it'll be the largest urban farm in the world’.”

The story continues: “This is possibly not as crazy as it sounds. Granted, the notion of devoting valuable city land to agriculture would be unfathomable in New York, London, or Tokyo. But Detroit is a special case. The city that was once the fourth largest in the country and served as a symbol of America's industrial might has lately assumed a new role: North American poster child for the global phenomenon of shrinking postindustrial cities.

“Nearly 2 million people used to live in Detroit. Fewer than 900,000 remain. Even if, unlikely as it seems, the auto industry were to rebound dramatically and the U.S. economy were to come roaring back tomorrow, no one -- not even the proudest civic boosters -- imagines that the worst is over.”

And there is another stark reality - Detroit is roughly 139 square miles, and 40 square miles of it has been abandoned. Which means that at the very least, there is available property.

Now I have to be honest here. I know less about farming than I do about urban planning. And I know almost nothing about urban planning.

But I read this story, and I think to myself, we may be going through a recession, and there may be a lot of questions about the shape of the future, but we haven’t lost our capacity for audacious innovation.

And if there’s anything that I find appealing, it is audacious innovation.

It’s kind of cool.



So last week I was in the US Air terminal at LaGuardia, and noted that there were still some Accenture ads up featuring Tiger Woods. They were good for a chuckle after getting through security.

This morning, in the United terminal, they seem to have the new campaign up - and the ad I saw features an elephant riding on a surfboard.

And you know the first thing I thought of when I saw it?

Tiger Woods.

Eliminating that connection may not be as simple as replacing billboards.




I was reading in the Star Tribune the other day that the folks in charge of concessions at the new Target Field - the new home of the Minnesota Twins - are finalizing the foods that will be served there. It’s going to include pork chops on a stick, walleye on a stick, and wild rice soup - though a decision has not yet been made about whether to serve the famous Dome Dog that used to be available at the Metrodome. (I vote yes. Baseball, of all sports, is steeped in tradition. You don’t mess with certain legacies.)

But I also think that they’re missing a good bet...since it was in Minnesota last year that I had one of the best sandwiches of my life - smoked turkey, Jarlsberg cheese, a slice or two of bacon, topped with cranberry mayonnaise and served warm on toasted thick cinnamon bread. I had it at Lund’s, and even now, months later, I dream about it.
That said, the new ballpark looks amazing. I think I’m going to need to find an excuse to travel to Minnesota this summer...



When considering Avatar, you really have to think about the movie in three different ways.

First, there is the phenomenon. is well on its way to becoming the biggest box office hit ever produced by Hollywood, though certainly not the most profitable since it also cost a couple of hundred million dollars to make. So clearly it is touching something out there.

Second, there is the technology that makes it possible. Shot using digitally generated backgrounds and performers, Avatar is remarkable to look at ... especially if you seen it in 3D, as I did. There are moments in the film when you’re sure you could reach out and touch the plants and animals up on the screen. At the same time, director James Cameron has created a futuristic world that seems utterly plausible - it may be the most fully realized vision of the future that I’ve ever seen.

Then, there is the script. This is where James Cameron the writer let down James Cameron the director. The story itself is fascinating - Avatar posits that soldiers and scientists from Earth have traveled for years to reach Pandora, a moon of the planet Polyphemus, where their intent is to strip mine the place in search of a mineral called unobtanium. To do so, they are using avatars - genetically modified versions of the blue-skinned natives of Pandora - that are linked telepathically to Earthlings looking to infiltrate their ranks.

There’s no question that the film has political and environmental overtones...but the problem with it is that Avatar doesn’t know the meaning of subtext or subtlety. And do it is sometimes a little ham-handed.

But that doesn’t mean that Avatar isn’t enormously entertaining. It is. And it certainly stretches the boundaries of what movies can do.



We talk a lot here about the power of a great private brand. Well, my wine of the week is precisely that - the D&S 2006 Proprietary Red Wine made for Chicago’s Bin 36 by Hahn Vineyards. It’s delicious...and there’s only one place you can get it. And it just reminded me of how great an advantage it can be to have something that nobody else has.

Which is what a private brand is all about.



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

Slainte!
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