Content Guy's Note: There will be plenty of time for worrying about the coronavirus and for criticizing how the government seems to be responding to the crisis. But I think we also need to make some time to celebrate when folks do things right, when they demonstrate how much people are capable of, as opposed to how little. I'm going to look for such stories, but if you have stories or pictures or video … or links to any such things … I encourage you to send them along, which is what one MNB reader did yesterday.
We're all in this together.
The closure of public schools around the country because of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has created problems for many low income families who depended on the schools to provide their children with lunches.
In Minneapolis, WCCO-TV News reports that "many restaurants are stepping up to provide families and kids with an option for a free lunch."
Among them, as reported by WCCO:
Maya Cuisine: free lunch of cheese quesadilla, rice and beans.
Granite City: Free bag lunch for kids, no other purchase is necessary. Ask a manager at any location.
Que Viet: Free fried rice for kids in need.
Hope Breakfast Bar: Any family in need can get a takeout bag with food for the family.
Billy’s on Grand: kids 14 and under a free meal off of kid’s menu from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM.
Manger Bayport: Help yourself to free kids bag lunches/dinner sitting on their front patio.
Frankie’s New Hope: Free kids bag lunches.
318 Café in Excelsior: Sandwiches available.
Dunn Brothers Coffee, St. Michael: With Westbridge Community Church to offer free lunches for any child Monday through Friday between 11am and 1pm, no questions asked. These lunches will be available for pick-up in the Westbridge Community Church parking lot.
Café Cravings White Bear Lake: Between 10am-2pm, any child in need will get a cold sandwich and chips.
UMI Sushi in Blaine: Kids in need get a free kids size chicken lo mein and drink, no purchase necessary.
Great Harvest, Maple Grove: Families in need get free bread, no purchase necessary.
Coconut Whisk Baking Co: Free week of pancakes/waffle mixes for families in need.
Whiskey Inferno, Savage & Prior Lake: Free boxed lunches for kids in need starting Tuesday.
Bourbon Butcher, Farmington: Free boxed lunch for kids in need starting Tuesday.
Keys Café: Roseville, Hudson, Forest Lake, White Bear Lake, Woodbury: Free kids meal no questions asked. Call ahead to order or just come in to restaurant.
It isn't just in Minneapolis.
In Oregon, Willamette Week reports:
"When Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced the two-week closure of all public schools across the state, it raised questions as to low-income families who rely on school lunch programs to help feed their children would cope with the loss. Portland Public Schools responded by serving to-go meals for students at 14 schools in the district beginning March 17.
"And at least one restaurant chain is also stepping up to fill the void. Laughing Planet has announced that it will offer free kids meals to families on meal assistance programs at all its Pacific Northwest locations … Students can get a quesadilla or burrito along with a side and a drink, and are not required to show proof that they are part of a meal program."
Good for them … these are terrific examples of people stepping up to fill in gaps created by the current situation. I know there are plenty of other examples, and I look forward to reporting them.
Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…
• The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the city of San Francisco and surrounding Northern California Bay Area counties have announced a "shelter in place" order for all residents,, meaning that everyone should "stay inside their homes and away from others as much as possible for the next three weeks as public health officials desperately try to curb the rapid spread of coronavirus across the region … The order falls just short of a full lockdown, which would forbid people from leaving their homes without explicit permission. The order calls for county and city sheriffs or police chiefs to 'ensure compliance,' and local authorities said they would not 'rush to enforce' the directives as residents adjusted to understand what activities are no longer allowed."
The order is said to be the strictest in the US to this point.
The Chronicle writes that "among those remaining open are grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants for delivery only and hardware stores. Most workers are ordered to stay home, with exceptions including health care workers; police, fire and other emergency responders; and utility providers such as electricians, plumbers and sanitation workers. BART will remain running for essential travel, and airports are not closing … The directive allows for people to go outside — and in fact, health officers encouraged people to run, hike and walk their dogs, as long as they do it alone or with close family, and keep 6 feet away from others. Trails and parks are open, but people cannot gather in groups. Recreation centers and clubhouses are closed."
• From Axios:
"The White House's coronavirus task force announced tougher guidelines on Monday to help slow the spread of the disease, including limiting social gatherings of more than 10 people … The tougher guidelines, which will be in place for at least a 15-day period, come as the number of reported cases in the U.S. has surpassed 4,000. President Trump said the changes to everyday life as a result of the crisis could be the 'new normal' in the U.S. until July or August … During the briefing, Trump said he does not currently plan to announce a national quarantine, but that restrictions could apply to certain coronavirus hotspots."
Among the White House recommendations: "If someone within your household is infected with the virus, everyone else within the home should also self-quarantine … Avoid nonessential travel … Avoid eating or drinking in bars and public food courts."
• The nation of France has been placed on full lockdown for the next two weeks by its government - people are only allowed to go out for food and/or medicine.
All of its borders also are being closed.
• From the Associated Press:
" Amazon said Monday that it needs to hire 100,000 people across the U.S. to keep up with a crush of orders as the coronavirus spreads and keeps more people at home, shopping online.
"The online retailer said it will also temporarily raise pay by $2 an hour through the end of April for hourly employees. That includes workers at its warehouses, delivery centers and Whole Foods grocery stores, all of whom make at least $15 an hour. Employees in the United Kingdom and other European countries will get a similar raise."
The story goes on: "Amazon said this weekend that a surge of orders is putting its operations under pressure. It warned shoppers that it could take longer than the usual two days to get packages. It also said it was sold out of many household cleaning supplies and is working to get more in stock."
• CBS News reports that Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop will begin opening its New England stores only for senior citizens - defined as people 60 and older - from 6 am to 7:30 am, beginning Thursday.
The company said that “Stop & Shop is making the decision to allow community members in this age category to shop in a less crowded environment, which better enables social distancing."
The policy will be conducted on the honor system, with no checking of IDs.
Two things about this.
First, I'm a Stop & Shop customer, and they have my email and other shopper information. And yet, I had to learn of this new policy from the news, as opposed to getting a note from Stop & Shop. That's a shame - they should be sending emails to customers before putting out press releases.
Second … now that I think about it, I didn't first learn about this policy from the news. I learned about it from a couple of friends and family members, who had seen it on the news … and immediately called me to a) remind me that I qualify, and b) inquire - jokingly - if they could give me a list.
• The Sacramento Bee reports that "Northern California supermarket chain Raley’s is mass hiring for personal shoppers at many of its locations, as millions of Californians are limiting exposure to the public due to the rapidly developing coronavirus crisis.
"Safeway also announced a surge of hiring for in-store employees and delivery drivers at its Northern California, Nevada and Hawaii stores. The supermarket chain, a subsidiary of Albertsons, in a news release Monday said it has more than 2,000 immediate openings across more than 280 Safeway, Andronico’s, Vons and Pak ‘N Save locations in those three states."
The Bee writes that "the Raley’s job posting alludes to, but does not specifically mention, the coronavirus pandemic, which has strained supermarkets, grocery markets and warehouse stores across the U.S. with immense demand as shoppers stock up on food and supplies."
• Fox News reports that Dollar General is saying that it plans to "dedicate the first hour of each shopping day to senior shoppers," beginning today.
"Dollar General is strongly encouraging that the first hour of operations each day be dedicated solely for the shopping needs of senior customers, who are one of the groups most vulnerable to the COVID-19 coronavirus," a company statement said. "General wants to provide these at-risk customers with the ability to purchase the items they need and want at the beginning of each day to avoid busier and more crowded shopping periods."
Dollar General stores also have been closing an hour early each day to allow for cleaning and restocking.
• Via email early this morning, Nordstrom announced the closure of all its stores.
Erik & Pete Nordstrom wrote, in part:
"The situation is changing rapidly, and to do our part in slowing the spread of the virus, we have decided to temporarily close all our stores. The two-week closure will go into effect on Tuesday, March 17. This decision includes all our U.S. and Canada stores. We remain open and ready to serve you through our apps and online at Nordstrom.com, Nordstromrack.com, HauteLook.com and TrunkClub.com - including digital styling, online order pickup and curbside services at our full-line stores, as we are allowed by local regulations.
"We realize the impact a closure can have on our store employees, and this is not a decision we made lightly. We want to take care of them as best we can and will be providing them with pay and benefits during this two-week period as well as providing additional resources to help them through this challenging time.
"There is no question this is a time of great uncertainty. While we don't know exactly what the future may hold, we feel confident that by sticking together and supporting each other, we'll emerge from this stronger than before."
• Fox News reports that McDonald's "company-owned restaurants’ dining rooms are closing, and the company, which owns about 5 percent of the approximately 14,000 U.S. restaurants, is requesting its U.S. franchisees close the dining rooms in their locations."
There are implications: "About 82 million people, or three-fifths of the U.S. workforce, are hourly employees. Many of them won’t get paid if they don’t work. For those in a category that includes restaurant, hotel, amusement park, and casino workers, just one-third have access to paid sick leave, according to Wells Fargo."
• The AMC Theatres chain announced yesterday that it would close all of its US locations for six to twelve weeks. At the same time, Regal Cinemas said it would close all its locations indefinitely.
Regional and independent cinemas and theatre chains are making the same decision.
The Los Angeles Times writes that "the movie theater closures come at a fragile time for the theatrical film business, which was under pressure from changes in moviegoer habits even before the spread of COVID-19. Studio distribution executives, who were not authorized to comment, said the situation was fluid and it was not clear yet how many U.S. theaters were shuttered or how much it would affect business.
"The impact, however, is sure to be devastating, at least in the short term. Theaters have already started feeling the pain as many nervous patrons stay home.
"On Monday, Universal Pictures took an extraordinary step, saying it will make its movies available in the home on the same day as their global theatrical releases, a radical departure from past practice of waiting about 90 days before films are released for home viewing.
"Theaters have long resisted collapsing the so-called theatrical window, fearing it would undermine their business by discouraging consumers from going to the multiplex. But the coronavirus pandemic has forced studios to reconsider their strategy for distributing movies."
Media Play News writes that these movies include The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Emma, among others. Universal’s DreamWorks Animation Trolls sequel, Trolls World Tour, will now hit theatrical and home entertainment channels on April 10. Titles will be available on assorted digital channels for a 48-hour rental period at $19.99 each.
This was a change to a traditional business model that the studios have wanted to make, but that the theatre business has resisted. The pandemic may be a major economic problem, but it also appears to be an opportunity for fundamental disruption.
• "Saturday Night Live," traditionally performed in front of a live studio audience, announced that its next three shows have been postponed because of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Variety writes that "the cancellation is the latest disruption in the entertainment world, which has seen dozens of television shows and movies shut production down in the past week."
• ESPN announced that it is putting a number of its talk shows on hiatus, including "Pardon The Interruption" with Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon.
"PTI" producer Bonnie Berko took to Twitter to say, "Gotta protect the old people! (TK and Mike) (OK, me too) Stay tuned! We will be BACK!"
ESPN - and virtually all the nation's sports radio stations - have been dealing with the fact that there are virtually no sports taking place at the moment upon which to report and/or comment.
This never would be good timing, but it must be particularly bad for ESPN, which has been facing a kind of existential threat to its business model because people simply don't need to wait for "Sports Center" for the scores and highlights - there is this thing called the internet that serves those consumer needs and forces ESPN to reconsider its raison d'être. Which is sort of a good metaphor for what almost every business faces these days.
• Here's a pandemic story I didn't see coming.
The New York Daily News reports that "throughout the month of March, adult entertainment website Pornhub is offering its premium service for free to those in Italy, which has been hit hard with a government-ordered nationwide quarantine over coronavirus concerns … the deal will allow Italians — who are not allowed to leave their homes — to have unlimited access to the popular site without having to use credit cards."
• Analysis worth reading from Bloomberg:
"Every economic shock leaves a legacy. The deadly coronavirus will be no different … In just a matter of weeks, people in affected areas have become accustomed to wearing masks, stocking up on essentials, canceling social and business gatherings, scrapping travel plans and working from home. Even countries with relatively few cases are taking many of those precautions.
"Traces of such habits will endure long after the virus lockdowns ease, acting as a brake on demand. On the supply side, international manufacturers are being forced to rethink where to buy and produce their goods -- accelerating a shift after the U.S.-China trade war exposed the risks of relying on one source for components."
• The Consumer Brands Association released the following statement from Bryan Zumwalt, executive vice president, public affairs:
“Consumer Brands Association appreciates the critical nature of containing the coronavirus as quickly as possible. Many states and localities have instituted restrictions on public gatherings of varying sizes. As more states and localities make the choice to limit gatherings, we ask that the federal government exempt manufacturing facilities from these gathering limits, provided they follow worker safety guidelines put forward by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)."
• National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay and Retail Industry Leaders Association President Brian Dodge released the following statement about responsible shopping:
“Declaring coronavirus (COVID-19) a national emergency in the United States was a critical step toward ensuring that our communities, our friends and our families will have the resources necessary to protect their safety and security and provide a level of clarity during an uncertain time.
“Retailers – particularly grocery providers – are working with manufacturers, suppliers and government agencies to make certain essential products and services remain readily available to customers. Retail supply chains remain strong and retail employees are working around the clock to meet consumer demand.
“If you don’t need an item in the next two weeks, leave it for someone who does. Hoarding and stockpiling creates unnecessary gaps between the time that someone who truly needs a product can find it back on retailers’ shelves. This is particularly important for our most vulnerable neighbors – the elderly and those who are struggling with other health issues.
“Hoarding products only contributes to the fear surrounding the virus, and any hoarder acting with malicious intent to drive up prices on a secondary market should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
• Finally … actor/writer Max Brooks posted a public service announcement about how to deal with the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Brooks know something about pandemics - he wrote "World War Z," an apocalyptic zombie novel that was turned into a 2013 Brad Pitt movie, and he specializes in the zombie oeuvre. But in this case, he had something more profound and personal in mind…
My central argument in this column for years has been that there’s a lesson to be gleaned from almost everything. In fact, I think that's pretty much true of everything on MNB.
Even - and especially - movies.
The current situation surrounding the Covid-19 coronavirus and the panic shopping for things like toilet tissue reminds me of a great lesson from the first Men In Black movie. Early in the movie, Will Smith asks Tommy Lee Jones (Agent K) why the presence of aliens on earth is kept so secret. Smith argues, "People are smart. They can handle it."
Jones/K responds, "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it."
Sadly, I think we’ve proven the point yet again given the purchasing patterns of the last 10 days.
I think there are lessons in what’s happening right now. First, I think retailers are largely demonstrating why they matter so much to their communities and maybe, just maybe, the heroic service of stores and especially front-line personnel will actually be rewarded down the line. At least, I have to hope so, because in many ways those folks are demonstrating community commitment at the highest level.
Secondly, the industry can use this moment to learn a lot about how our shoppers really behave—not when they are answering surveys, but when they believe they are stocking up for a long homestay. As my good friend, and brilliant researcher, Anne-Marie Roerink pointed out to me, a classic lesson can be seen in the meat case.
Anne-Marie tracks this stuff and she’s noticed that in times of crisis the meat case gets shopped to the ground except for many new plant-based products. The lesson, she says, is that stores may be overreacting to the “news” about plant-based items and are providing those items more space than they currently deserve. (Although it also is possible that these items now will get substantial trial, though they are not seen by most consumers as a first option.)
Walk around any supermarket these days and you can quickly ascertain which products are not selling because they are fully in stock. (I noticed that lima beans were the only thing left in my local supermarket's freezer case the other day. That says something about lima beans. It is possible, however, that a month from now we'll be willing to kill for some lima beans.)
Lastly, we all have to learn how to spread, in Taylor Swift’s wise words, the need to calm down. I thought the short video Kevin ran here yesterday from Stew Leonard Jr. demonstrated that beautifully. Stew made the key points about safety, store-level personnel and the reality that the food supply chain is pretty strong and will keep supplying stores and shoppers. It’s the kind of message that demonstrates why Stew’s store (and the industry at large) has been incredibly successful for decades.
In the meantime, stay healthy and thanks for all you do. And one other thing - I really don't think that this is “the end of the world as we know it.”
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com.
His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.
And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.
MNB's "Content Guy" Kevin Coupe thinks that the crowds that filled the streets of Disney World last weekend - despite the "social distancing" recommendations of public health officials - was an example of corporate irresponsibility ... the kind that every retailers needs to think about and avoid at all costs.
Motley Fool reports that Walmart has begun the second round of bidding as it looks to sell Asda Group, its UK business, which has a 15 percent market share there but has faced tough competition from discounters Aldi and Lidl that has made profitability increasingly problematic.
According to the story, "Three private equity firms are currently in the running to make bids on the brand. These include TDR Capital, Lone Star Funds, and Apollo Global Management, Inc., all three of which participated in the first round of bidding when Asda first went on the block."
It is estimated that Asda could go for the equivalent of $8.6 billion (US), in part because of real estate holdings that make it an attractive buy. Motley Fool says that Walmart will only made a deal if the bids are high enough. This is not, the story says, a fire sale.
Morning Consult is out with its Index of Consumer Sentiment (ICS), putting it at "105.09, the lowest the ICS has been since Morning Consult began tracking over two years ago. Since Friday, the ICS fell 3.58% over the weekend and is down 8.27% since January 1."
Some details from the report:
• "Personal Finances: Current Conditions – 27% of respondents believe they are worse off financially than 12 months ago, which is the second highest daily value recorded since January 2018. The all-time high is 28%, which occurred in December 2018 and January 2019."
• "Personal Finances: 12 Month Expectations – 15% of respondents expect to be doing worse off financially 12 months from now, the highest daily value recorded since Jan 2018."
• "Business Conditions: 12 Month Expectations – 30% of respondents expect business conditions in the country as a whole to be bad over the next 12 months, the highest daily value recorded since Jan 2018."
• "Business Conditions: 5 Year Expectations – 40% of respondents expect periods of widespread unemployment or depression in the next five years, the highest daily value recorded since Jan 2018. Very similar to January 2019."
• "Current Buying Conditions – 18% of respondents said now is a bad time to make a major household purchase, the highest daily value recorded since Jan 2018."
These numbers actually are a little better than I might've expected. Let's see what they look like in a month…
The New York Post reports that Amazon is buying what used to be the flagship Lord & Taylor store on Fifth Avenue in New York City for $1.5 billion.
According to the story, "The Fifth Avenue landmark, which spans 11 stories and 660,000 square feet, will serve as Amazon’s New York City headquarters, housing several thousand employees in the coming years, a source close to the situation said."
Some context from the Post:
"That’s a switch from the plan two years ago, when the former department-store space had been leased by WeWork to become the office-sharing startup’s own headquarters. WeWork’s plans fell apart last fall, when the company became engulfed in a slew of scandals that derailed its bid to go public.
"Indeed, the lion’s share of the deal consists of Amazon paying off $750 million in construction loans taken out for WeWork’s lavish renovation of the space, sources said. The remainder consists of more than $350 million in equity for the building’s current owners. WeWork has waived any economic interest in the building in exchange for getting out of the lease."
Amazon, of course, had other plans for New York - it wanted to build part of its HQ2 campus in Long Island City, in the borough of Queens, about three miles east of the Fifth Avenue location. But those plans were abandoned in the face of political opposition.
Amazon is going to invest a ton of money into a Fifth Avenue location, in a part of Manhattan that really didn't need it as much as some sections of Queens. I understand why there was resistance to Amazon from neighborhood activists, but I have to wonder if some of them will be looking at the dollars changing hands just three miles away with a little bit of envy.
…with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…
• Fast Company reports that "all Starbucks employees in the U.S. and each of their eligible family members will be able to access up to 20 therapy sessions a year, as part of a sweeping expansion of the Seattle-based company’s mental health benefits … The coffee retailer has contracted with Lyra Health, a provider of mental health benefits, to connect employees - or partners, as Starbucks calls them - with therapists or coaches. The program launches April 6."
“Partners were saying that there’s more we could do as a company to help them around the topic of mental health and well being,” Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson told Fast Company. “As a leadership team, we said, ‘Let’s figure out what we can do.’ ”
This isn't just about the pandemic, but that's certainly going to make a therapy benefit extraordinarily timely.
• The National Grocers Association (NGA) announced that it has hired Jonathan Downey as its new Senior Vice President, Industry Relations. Downey formerly was at the Consumer Brands Association (previously the Grocery Manufacturers Association), most recently as Vice President of Member Value Creation.
I got this lovely email from my friend Beatrice Orlandini, an MNB reader who lives in Italy, which has been hard-hit by the pandemic:
Up to a few days ago, the world was mocking us (not the first time, won't be the last).
And yet, the way in which many Italians are reacting and finding positive ways to fight isolation is simply heartwarming.
Online parties, applauses for doctors and nurses battling from the frontline at noon, at 6 pm a different song.
A few days ago it was Azzurro (Sky blue), one of the most popular songs ever. Always sung anytime Italians decide to sing together.
Saturday it was Il Cielo è sempre più blu (the sky is always bluer / bluer and bluer).
Last night the invitation circling in all WhatsApp groups was to turn off all the lights and light a torch.
Funny messages, that make you laugh or just smile and - once again - messages that say I'm proud to be Italian.
Friday morning at 11 all radios will play our national anthem.
It may sound like no big deal for an American, but for us it's very different.
Only very recently have we rediscovered the pride of singing it all together.
So even if idiots who take no heed of the restrictions and go about as they please (or try to if the police do not intercept them), most of the population is behaving and trying hard to cope with a situation that will cause many victims (directly or indirectly).
Here is a beautiful post I got on Facebook yesterday via a friend:
Posted by a Belgian woman living in Germany…
“Italy is like that girl who has the most talent of all, she is the one who others envy, because she was born beautiful, more beautiful than all the others.
Italy is the most ingenious one, who has the hands of a fairy, who invents a thousand things, because she is full of resources. She can discuss about history, the sea, the mountains, food, good wine, dialects, painters, sculptors, writers, excellence in science, there is nothing she does not know.
And when this beautiful and talented girl stumbles and falls, all of the other girls triumph. But there is anger from the poor jealous women, those in the dark, because she is still beautiful even when she falls to the ground.
But Italy is a girl with a 12-cm heeled boot, obviously made-in-Italy, that no one can wear better than her ... just give her the time to get up again.”
Our mantra now is "andrà tutto bene", everything will be ok.
We pass it on to you.
We are not a nation used to the idea of singing together, or even from the same hymnal. I hope that maybe, in this time of strife, that is something we can learn from Italy … a nation, by the way, that I would never mock.