retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from an MNB reader on Friday, wanting to weigh in on a discussion we were having linked to a Tiffany ad campaign targeted at same-sex couples:

I have to take issue with your comments today around homosexuality.  Tolerance and acceptance is a two way street.  As a libertarian I believe that same sex couples have a right to be married.  I also feel that the government should get out of the marriage business altogether.  The government should recognize only civil unions.  Churches and religious people have a constitutional right to their own beliefs.  Many people have deeply held religious beliefs that other people may not agree with.  That doesn’t make people with deeply held religious beliefs bigots or idiots.  Homosexuals do not have a civil right to force individuals to violate their deeply held religious beliefs, nor does the government according to the US constitution.  Today, nobody is advocating discriminating against the LGBT community in regards to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.  Nor is anyone advocating discrimination based on hiring, serving them as customers or anything like that.  That straw man is completely false.  Case in point, Chick-Fil-A.  The owners have a deeply held religious belief that marriage is between one man and one women.  Although I may personally disagree with that; not only do they have a right to believe that, I will fight to the bitter end to allow them to hold those beliefs. They deserve the same amount of respect as homosexuals that hold a different belief.  They have never advocated any discrimination against either employees or customers based on that belief.  This mentality that we must punish and/or force people to accept things that are against their deeply held religious beliefs is both illiberal and  un-American.  For the CEO of Mozilla to be forced to step down from his position because over 4 years prior he gave $1,000 to a cause that believes that marriage is between one man and one woman should send a chill down all of our spines.  These were the same beliefs shared by President Obama during the same time he gave the donation.  Should anybody be shunned or blacklisted because they are unenlightened or don’t bow down to the alter of political correctness defined by someone else.  To force a baker to make a gay wedding cake should do the same.  Is there such a short supply of bakeries that we have to force an Evangelical Christian to bake a gay wedding cake, or a Nazi or pornography cake for that matter.  Should we fine or force an Evangelical Christian or Muslim photographer to participate in a gay wedding ceremony.  Should we force a Kosher deli to sell bacon because it is inconvenient to go to another store that sells bacon.  Everyone needs to take a deep breath, put things in perspective and respect each other’s beliefs.  Especially deeply held religious beliefs!

To be clear ... I would never suggest that the government force a religious body to perform a wedding ceremony that violated religious beliefs.  To my knowledge, that hasn't happened in any of the states where same sex marriage has been approved.  All of the marriages have been civil ceremonies (though there is a legal difference between civil unions and marriage, as I understand the law).  The only time a cleric of any kind has performed a same-sex wedding has been when that person and/or religion approves of such a marriage.

As for businesses ... well, I think it gets tricky.  In the case of Chick-fil-A, I don't anybody tried to force management to do anything.  There was simply a reaction to a statement made by the CEO that some found offensive.  He had a right to hold beliefs and make the statement, they had a right to object, other people had a right to rally around the CEO in support ... in other words, the system worked.  My position then and now was simply that businesspeople have to be careful about what they say, because everything you say might be seen by anyone and everyone, and words have consequences.  Everyone is a potential customer.

I'm uncomfortable with the idea that anyone loses their job because of a political position.  In the case of the Mozilla CEO, if I remember correctly, the board made the move because it felt that the position put him at odds with many of the company's employees and customers. I'm still uncomfortable with it, but I'm not sure what to do about it ... because if you've alienated customers and employees, it compromises you as a leader.  On the other hand, before the contretemps, I had no idea what his political beliefs were;  I just wanted Mozilla products to work well.  Did his political beliefs matter to that business mission?  Probably not ... though if you were a gay man in a same-sex marriage working for him, you might feel differently.  But I agree with you that having an opinion and discriminating against people are two entirely different things.

This all gets complicated, of course, because it isn't just about acceptance or tolerance ... it often veers into discrimination.  Which is illegal.  I'm not sure that the forcing-a-kosher-deli-to-sell-bacon example is a fair one ... the better question is whether it is illegal for a bakery or deli to not serve an interracial couple.  What if the person owning that establishment had religious beliefs making miscegenation immoral and unacceptable?  How about a real case, where an Arkansas shooting range owner declared it a Muslim-free zone, and then refused service to a couple of South Asian descent that was Hindu, not Muslim ...just because they looked Muslim.  (Though what the hell a Hindu - who is supposed to "believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa, noninjury, in thought, word and deed" - is doing at shooting range is beyond me.  And to be fair, there are differing opinions about reasons and rationales.)

I don't want to violate anybody's religious beliefs, but I also think that it is possible to use religious beliefs as a justification for discrimination.  Where does the line get drawn?  I'm not sure how you determine intent, but I'd personally rather err on the side of non-discrimination.  I also think that where the line gets drawn depends on who is doing the drawing ... especially if you are the one being discriminated against.  And I don't blame them at all.

Here's the good news in all this - 3,587 miles from where I'm sitting right now, terrorists are committing atrocities in the name of what they feel is justified religious intolerance.  At least we live in a country where we can have a reasoned, civil and even nuanced discussion about these issues.  What worries me is that too often, we seem incapable of having reasoned, civil and even nuanced discussions about anything.

I hope I've qualified my opinion sufficiently.

Lots of thoughts about what Kroger should buy. One MNB user wrote:

I would love to see Kroger purchase Family Dollar - take them in a whole different direction.  Fun!

And another:

Kroger has a big void on the west coast, especially in Northern California. Several of my cohorts here on the west coast think that Raley’s might be on Kroger’s radar screen for an acquisition. Good store, good locations, a good name, and Kroger would keep the good Raley’s name and would only improve the overall operation of Raley’s.

And another:

Myself I would think that Kroger would want to look for other high end specialty chains to broaden their portfolio, like Mariano’s in Chicago, Heinen’s in Cleveland, or even Dierberg’s in St. Louis. These are all well run chains that would benefit from the broad portfolio of Kroger P/L and would need little tweaks at best.

And still another:

My picks:

1. Tops
2. Shaw's
3. Giant Eagle

Long shot: Price Chopper. And Chopper would be wise to accept an offer.

I've learned one thing over the years ... which is that one sure way to raise Neil Golub's ire is to suggest that Price Chopper might be for sale. So "long shot" might be an understatement.

From MNB reader Rick Brindle:

So sorry to hear of Natan Tabak's passing. He was a gentleman and the consummate professional. He will be missed. My most sincere condolences to his family.

Finally, I got the following email from MNB reader Troy Patterson, responding to last week's piece about how dictionary companies have had to change their business model:

With the expanse of the internet we can think about companies that are now nonexistent that used to produce products such as the encyclopedia set , the large road atlas, paper maps and also perhaps soon to be the “paper” magazine.  Other than the paper magazine, all of the other products I mentioned are deemed unnecessary with the owner of a smartphone, GPS device.  It will be some time yet before we see the paper newspaper and magazines become extinct.

KC's View: