retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Interesting to see this week news that two familiar companies - Toys R Us and Zipcar - are in various stages of going public.

Let’s be clear. I’m not a stock analyst. Only a fool would take stock recommendations from me. And I have no dog in this hunt.

But if were going to invest in one of these two companies, I’d choose Zipcar. Not on the basis of financials (which might prove me to be completely wrong about this), but because one company seems to be part of the past, while the other is focused on a vision of the future...not just its own future, but a broader future connected to how people will live and work in cities, how personal transportation will evolve, and the importance of sustainability in a 21st century world.

I’d bet on the future. I couldn’t help myself. I might end up being wrong, but I’d feel good about the bet.

Now here’s an iPhone application I can’t wait to try.

The New York Times describes the app, Snapfinger, this way: it is “a Web and mobile app for ordering takeout from chain restaurants like California Pizza Kitchen, Outback Steakhouse and Subway. Diners craving a pizza or burger can pull out their phones on their way home from work and arrive at the restaurant to find their meal waiting for them ... Snapfinger presents menus from 28,000 restaurants in 1,600 cities nationwide and in Canada. The service is most popular, the company says, in Orlando, Fla.; Chicago; San Francisco; Portland, Ore.; Houston; and Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“People can search for restaurants nearby, order and pay from their phones. There are tools for group ordering for an office lunch, ordering favorite items with one click and getting location-based, limited-time coupons.”

I read each new Robert B. Parker novel - now being published posthumously after his untimely death last January - with a certain degree of sadness, because it means the pretty soon, there will be no more. (It may be a while, however. We all thought that “Split Image,” published last February, would be the last Jesse Stone novel...but on there is something called “Jesse Stone #10” listed as an audio book due in January 2011, so hope endures. Parker always said he was several years ahead on his publication dates, so hopefully we will be reading Parker novels for some time to come.)

The newest in bookstores is “Blue-Eyed Devil,” a western that is the fourth in a series that started with “Appaloosa,” about gunslingers Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. “Blue-Eyed Devil” brings them back to the frontier town of Appaloosa, where they previously served as the law; this time, they find that the town is growing fast and is governed with an iron fist by a lawman who has his hands out for protection money and his eyes on high national office. Naturally, their own moral code conflicts with the lawman’s priorities, and that’s where the action begins.

While I loved the novel, I do have to concede that there are a couple of weaknesses in the book that would have been solved either by slower writing or better proofreading. The biggest problem is that at one point, a character who has been moved out of town for her own safety suddenly returns because her presence is needed for a plot point; a couple of chapters later, she’s gone again, with no explanation. Still, the language is minimalist and evocative, yet another almost musical riff on male bonding and moral behavior from a writer who knows this tune well.

There is a lovely moment in the book when Cole and Hitch, having been briefly deputized by the sheriff in another town, are riding back to Appaloosa. In one place they represent the law, while in the other they are perceived as being outside the law...and yet they haven’t changed who they are or what they represent. They appreciate the irony, but keep riding...because being who they are is not only the best thing they can do, but the only thing they can do.

Good news.

HealthDay News reports on a new study from Spain’s University of Valencia suggesting that moderate drinking may help “protect against the onset of Alzheimer's disease among otherwise healthy people.”

And Wine Spectator notes that there is a “new French study, scheduled to be published in an upcoming issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, that finds that people who drink moderate amounts of wine are healthier in several key categories than nondrinkers ... the study authors conclude that moderate drinkers tend to have healthier diets, balance work and leisure more effectively and exercise more. In comparing the groups of drinkers versus nondrinkers, study co-author Dr. Boris Hansel said in a statement, ‘Importantly, the findings showed moderate alcohol consumption is a powerful general indicator of optimal social status, and this could be a key reason for improved health in these subjects’.”

I’ll drink to that.

My wines of the week:

• 2009 Sole Beech Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, which was cold and sprightly, great for a hot summer day.

• 2007 L’Ecole No. 41Columbia Valley Syrah, which was wonderful.

• 2005 Captain’s Reserve Syrah from Francis Ford Coppola’s Rubicon Estate, which was thick and delicious, and a perfect accompaniment for the filet mignon we served for my son’s 21st birthday.

Speaking of my son...thanks to all of you for the good wishes you offered to him after I mentioned his meniscus surgery last week. He’s still in a brace, on crutches and can’t bend his leg at the moment...but his mood is pretty good (except when the Mets lose). So we’re making progress.

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

Fins Up!
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