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    Published on: March 30, 2020

    Recent observations in the supermarket suggest to MNB Content Guy Kevin Coupe a need that food retailers can fill - helping families, often unexpectedly thrown together in close quarters and dealing with different tastes in food, to navigate these conflicts. 

    Published on: March 30, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Boston Globe over the weekend reported that in just the few weeks that Beantown has been dealing with the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic - much of the state is shut down and residents are being encouraged to avoid unnecessary contact and practice physical distancing - the city's air actually has gotten fresher.

    According to the story, "Pollution — in a remarkably short time — has abated. In the past few weeks, satellite measurements have found that emissions from cars, trucks, and airplanes have declined in metropolitan Boston by about 30 percent, while overall carbon emissions have fallen by an estimated 15 percent … In Boston, the amount of such harmful particulate matter has declined over the past two weeks by nearly 20 percent, compared to the prior two-week period. Levels of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide have declined by similar amounts, according to an analysis of three federal air quality monitoring stations in Boston."

    Boston isn't unique, the story says.  "Those decreases are primarily the result of a 50 percent drop in traffic on local highways and a 75 percent plunge in passenger traffic at Logan Airport. These mirror declines recorded in other cities around the world where there has been a similar cessation of normal life, including on the West Coast, in Northern Italy, and in China."

    It seems to me that there is an enormous lesson here.  Granted, the precipitating events are anything but desirable, but the mark of an evolved culture is that you learn from even the bad stuff.  We have a decision to make here.  Are we going to be an evolved culture?   Or are we going to ignore the lessons of the moment and just go back to the same-old, same-old way of doing things?

    (Do I get a vote?)

    At the same time, this story ought to serve as a business lesson.  Retailers and suppliers - and, for that matter, consumers - are learning hard lessons about what works and what does not work, what is essential and what is not, and how to best anticipate and serve customers needs and desires.  Are these lessons going to be factored into future strategic and tactical plans and decisions?  Or are businesses going to go back to business-as-usual?

    (Do I get a vote?)

    It is almost distressing how many retailers to whom I have spoken or corresponded in past weeks have used the phrase, "when things get back to normal."

    I will say here what I've said to them:   It ain't happening.  And if six or 12 or 18 months from now you think things have returned to "normal," then you are deluding yourself or ignoring the lessons of the pandemic.

    That's the Eye-Opener.  If you pay attention.

    Published on: March 30, 2020

    Retailers - the ones that have been allowed to stay open - have been dealing with severe out-of-stock issues in recent weeks, as the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has prompted panic buying and created a plethora of empty shelves.  MNB Content Guy Kevin Coupe reached out via Skype to Park City Group CEO Randy Fields, whose ReposiTrak business focuses on the broader out-of-stock issue, for an assessment.  Fields' observation - an industry focus on just-in-time delivery created an infrastructure that focused too much on efficiency and not enough on effectiveness, which gave retailers and suppliers too little flexibility to adjust to rapidly changing circumstances.

    Not everyone will agree.  Rebuttals encouraged.

    Content Guy's Note:  ReposiTrak has been a longtime MNB sponsor, but this conversation was conducted from an editorial perspective - Randy does not use the moment to sell his company's services.

    Published on: March 30, 2020

    From the New York Post:

    "A possible strike by Instacart workers highlights the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the grocery delivery business, where workers are worried about their safety as they try to meet a surge in demand for online groceries.

    "A group called the Gig Workers Collective is calling for a nationwide walk-out Monday. They’ve been asking Instacart to provide workers with hazard pay and protective gear, among other demands. Instacart said Sunday it would soon provide workers with a new hand sanitizer upon request and outlined changes to its tip system. The group said the measures were too little too late."

    The story notes that Instacart "currently has a workforce of more than 200,000 contracted workers who make multiple trips a day to various grocery stores to fulfill and deliver orders that customers make through the app. It also directly employs about 20,000 part-time workers who are assigned to a single store, collecting groceries that are subsequently delivered to clients by a contracted Instacart worker."  The company also has said it wants to hire "300,000 more workers … to fulfill orders it says have surged by 150 percent year-over-year in the past weeks."

    The Post writes that "Instacart has started offering bonuses of between $25 and $200 for its hourly employees dependent on hours worked until April 15.

    Instacart also announced a month-long extension of a temporary policy giving 14 days of paid leave to workers who are diagnosed with coronavirus, or have been ordered to isolate themselves. The strike organizers that policy extended to workers with a doctor’s note verifying a pre-existing condition that could make them more vulnerable to the virus."

    CNN reports the story this way:  "While Instacart has touted its surge in customer orders in recent weeks and introduced an option for customers to have orders left at their doorsteps, workers have criticized the company for not doing enough for them.

    "Demands include providing workers with safety items including hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and sprays, hazard pay, and an expansion of its coronavirus pay to include those with underlying health conditions. The workers specified in the Medium post that they wanted an extra $5 per order and a default tip of at least 10% of the order total."

    KC's View:

    This is a company upon which way too many retailers are placing their trust to carry not just their products, but their brand equity, to consumers all over the country.  

    No retailer is going to change its e-commerce arrangements at this moment in time, but I do believe that they need to be examining their outsourcing deals to make sure that the retailer brand equity is the highest priority, that their customers' needs are being served in ways that bolster their connection to those shoppers, and that the potential for disintermediation is being minimized.

    You can't wait until the crisis has passed to start making these assessments.  You have to start now, before it is too late.

    Published on: March 30, 2020

    The Washington Post reports that "about 100 Amazon employees at a New York fulfillment center plan to go on strike at noon Monday, saying management has been unresponsive to safety concerns and the spread of the coronavirus at the facility. Employees are demanding that the Staten Island site be closed for at least two weeks and sanitized."

    Amazon is accused of not being "transparent about how many employees at the Staten Island location have tested positive for covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus."

    There is a fascinating and detailed story in Wired that you can read here.

    KC's View:
     

    A company the size and scope of Amazon always is going to make mistakes, and always is going to have gaps between what it is doing and should be doing.

    But a company the size of Amazon, if it wants to keep the trust and business of its shoppers - who, I believe, increasingly will care about such things - also needs to reduce that gap and be as transparent about it as possible.

    I believe that Amazon has forged a unique relationship with many of its shoppers … which is a  good thing as long as we shoppers don't feel betrayed by its behavior.  These relationships are to be nurtured, not taken for granted.

    Published on: March 30, 2020

    Natural and organic retailer Lucky's Markets on Friday completed the auction of 23 of its stores, which became problematic for the company after it lost Kroger as a major investor and ran into tougher-than-anticipated competition.

    According to Scott Moses, Managing Director and Head of Food Retail & Restaurants Investment Banking at PJ Solomon, who was M&A investment banking advisor to Lucky’s, the winning bids for the 23 stores included Publix, Aldi, Southeastern Grocers, Dave's Markets, Seabra's, LM Acquisition Co. (Lucky’s Founders Bo & Trish Sharon), Schnuck’s, Oryana Food Cooperative and Hitchcock's. Dollar General was named the successful bidder for the company’s Florida distribution center.

    "The combined value is approximately $29 million."

    Lucky's will retain six stores as a going concern, in North Boulder, CO; Fort Collins, CO; Cleveland, OH; Columbus, OH; Traverse City, MI; and Columbia, MO.

    In his note, Moses says that "employment offers will be made to the approximately 500 Team Members at these six stores.  While our mandate is to maximize value, we are pleased that these stores and jobs will be preserved, particularly as they serve so many families and communities during this critical time."

    KC's View:

    Couldn't say it any better than that.

    Published on: March 30, 2020

    Bloomberg reports this morning that Amazon has made a deal with Lyft, "recruiting the ride-hailing company’s drivers to deliver packages and groceries as the coronavirus pandemic keeps people indoors."

    Lyft told its drivers in an email that delivering packages for Amazon is "a way to earn additional income right now."  The alliance "came in response to plummeting demand for rides and economic hardships facing drivers."  The email said that "Lyft suggested that in addition to seeking immediate work with Amazon, drivers could sign up to help deliver groceries, COVID-19 tests and other medical supplies as part of future partnership programs. Lyft said more than 100,000 drivers had already signed up."

    Some context from Bloomberg:

    "While Amazon and Lyft have competed for workers in the past, the surge in grocery and package deliveries has reset that dynamic. Amazon said last week it plans to hire 100,000 people and give U.S. workers a temporary $2-an-hour raise in an effort to meet the crushing demand. However, Amazon is under fire for not doing enough to protect its workers, some of whom have tested positive for the coronavirus. The company said it has stepped up cleaning in its warehouses and is giving guidelines to workers about maintaining safe distances."

    KC's View:

    I wrote here last week about how the current situation may accelerate the pace of alliances, coalitions and maybe even mergers and acquisitions that I think will occur as a result of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.  Indeed, it also is possible that short term deals may evolve into longer term alliances, and then morph into something more lasting and even more transformational.  Pay attention.

    Published on: March 30, 2020

    There have been a number of stories in recent days about the retail employees who have been stepping up, defining themselves through their actions as essential in a time of pandemic.

    An example, from the Houston Chronicle:

    "Supermarket employees have long toiled behind the scenes of the most mundane of weekly errands: grocery shopping. But since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the humble grocery worker has taken on a new mantle in society, that of an emergency first responder in the global fight against the spread of the virus.

    "Grocery employees are working long hours — and putting their lives on the line — to provide food and basic household essentials to worried consumers increasingly staying at home during the pandemic. Unlike office staff, these workers cannot do their job from the comfort of their homes. U.S. grocery cashiers made a median wage of $10.78 per hour in 2018, far less than the median salaries for police officers ($30.47 an hour) and firefighters ($23.85 an hour), according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    "At the same time, these workers have taken on additional duties, particularly to help keep stores clean. H-E-B is asking employees to devote shifts to cleaning entire stores, wiping down self-checkout after every two customers and frequently sanitizing high-touch areas, such as scales and shopping carts.

    "'People are starting to realize who they are, that these folks are really unbelievable,' H-E-B President Scott McClelland said.  'They realize we’re on the front lines and we’ve got a role to fill in the community, one that’s as essential as the medical community'."

    Published on: March 30, 2020

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  In the US, the confirmed number of Covid-19 coronavirus cases as of this morning has reached 142,746, with 2,489 resultant deaths and 4,562 recoveries.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said yesterday that the number of deaths in the US could be between 100,000 and 200,000, and that it is conceivable there will be million s of cases in the US.

    President Trump yesterday announced that he is extending federal guidance on social distancing that was scheduled to end today until April 30.  He said in a press conference that he hoped the country would reach “the bottom of the hill” by June 1,  but noted that it “could even be sooner, could be a little bit later.”  He added, "Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won."

    Globally, the number of coronavirus cases is 734,931, with 34,780 deaths and 155,950 recoveries.


    •  The California Grocers Association (CGA) has launched what it calls "a consumer-facing program to educate consumers, media and elected officials regarding the need to not overbuy.  The campaign is entitled 'Shop Smart, Don’t Overfill Your Cart' and includes information packets for CGA members and elected officials.

    "In the packets are sample press releases, and company email and website messaging for customers and constituents, along with social media messaging.  The campaign’s focus is to stress the need to not overbuy and that there is a plentiful food supply."

    You can see more about it here.


    •  CBS News reports that Publix Super Markets has announced that it is "offering rent relief packages" to businesses operating in shopping centers that it owns,  "which includes waiving rent for two months, as well as waiving payments for common area maintenance fees and taxes."

    “As a company that started as a small business 90 years ago, Publix wants to help businesses renting from us survive the economic impact of these unexpected closures,” Publix Director of Communications Maria Brous said.

    Compare Publix's laudable approach (and similar moves announced last week by Walmart) top those of a mall operator taking the opposite approach…


    •  USA Today reports that Taubman Centers - the nation's 16th largest mall owner - is telling its tenants that regardless of whether they are able to open and operate their stores during the pandemic, the rent is due.  No excuses.

    "All Tenants will be expected to meet their Lease obligations," the company said in a letter to its tenants, saying that it needed those rent payments to meet its own financial obligations.

    Asked by USA Today about the letter, the company confirmed its authenticity but said, ""We understand that these challenging times are going to be hard for some tenants.  We are attempting to navigate through this situation in the best way we can, while being as flexible as we can with our tenants in light of our ongoing obligations. The tenant memo does not replace our willingness to talk to each tenant about their respective challenges and help them chart an appropriate course for the future."

    That's nice of them … since in the vast majority of cases, their malls are closed, making it impossible for tenants to do business even if they wanted to.

    Hard to imagine this ends well for anyone, especially since so many malls already are in precarious positions.  Be a lot better for folks to work together instead of being oppositional. 


    •  USA Today reports that "Kroger will hire 20,000 more employees to meet the demand for groceries and other  supplies sparked by the coronavirus crisis. 

    "The supermarket chain, which has shortened the time between an employee applying for a job and starting work to as little as three days, says that this latest hiring surge will take place over the next few weeks."


    •  KIRO-TV News reports that Costco is changing its weekday hours, closing the majority of its warehouse stores at 6:30 pm Mondays through Fridays, as a way of minimizing risk to customers and employees.  Its gas stations will close at 7 pm.

    Special shopping hours for senior citizens and physically impaired customers will remain from 8-9 am on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays.


    •  Fast Company has a story about how, "as the groundswell against single-use plastic has grown, a recent study about the new coronavirus could lend more ammunition: The virus, SARS-CoV-2, can live on plastic for two to three days, versus 24 hours on cardboard."

    That doesn't seem to matter to the plastic industry, which is "using the coronavirus crisis for the opposite reason, to argue that public health requires us to overturn bans on single-use plastic bags at stores."

    The rationale can be traced to claims that reusable bags can sustain Covid-19.  As those claims gained traction in the media, "mayors and state lawmakers started to react. Maine voted to delay its bag ban, as did New York State. New Hampshire issued an emergency order banning reusable bags. Some supermarkets started asking customers not to bring bags from home."

    Fast Company writes that "no one has studied, yet, whether the virus is spreading via reusable bags. But the CDC suggests that the most likely method of transmission is person-to-person contact, not contact through surfaces … Some experts say that porous surfaces, such as cotton, may be less likely to transmit the virus than smooth surfaces such as plastic, so some reusable bags may be better than others; the virus can also be easily destroyed if a bag is washed with soap and water."

    I have found retailer approaches to be inconsistent.  Some retailers haven't changed their approaches to reusable bags.   Some allow them but want shoppers to pack them.  And some have banned them completely.  One thing is consistent, though - lobbyists' willingness to take advantage of any situation to make their case.


    •  CNN reports that Nordstrom, describing itself as "the largest employer of tailors in North America," is "shifting gears and producing medical masks to help healthcare workers battling the coronavirus."  The company, according to the story, "is sewing more than 100,000 masks that will be sanitized before being distributed to healthcare workers across the country … Members of the Nordstrom alterations teams in Washington, Oregon, Texas and California will sew the masks and give them to Providence Health & Services, a nonprofit health care system which operates hospitals in six states."


    •  In Oregon, the Malheur Enterprise reports that the state is instituting new rules that will allow people to pump their own gasoline - leaving New Jersey as the only state in the union with a ban on self-serve gasoline.

    The change will only be in effect until April 11, according to the paper, though it could be extended.  Service stations are required to "have an attendant on duty 'to supervise self-service refueling consistent with the social distancing polices'."


    •  From the Los Angeles Times:

    "If you were wondering how long the coronavirus outbreak will keep the Disneyland and the Walt Disney World resorts closed, you’ll have to keep wondering.

    "After closing the parks in mid-March with the promise to reopen by the end of the month, Walt Disney Co. announced Friday that both parks would remained closed until further notice.

    "Disney said that it has been paying its employees since the parks closed and that 'in light of this ongoing and increasingly complex crisis, we have made the decision to extend paying hourly parks and resort cast members through April 18'."

    The Times notes that "the announcement is not surprising, considering that Gov. Gavin Newsom has recommended that all gatherings over 250 people be canceled. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that residents should be prepared to stay at home until May."


    •  Variety reports that Nate ‘n Al Deli, a Beverly Hills fixture known for "brisket and pastrami sandwiches, lox, eggs and onions and an old-fashioned smoked fish and deli counter," has shuttered, "with no plans to reopen."  

    The story notes that "the iconic deli is among many restaurants in Los Angeles that have decided it’s not worth it to try and run as a takeout and delivery-only operation during the coronavirus shutdown. It is estimated that a large percentage may not be able to immediately re-open when the shutdown is lifted."


    •  From the Department of Unexpected Consequences … Reuters reports that a coronavirus-instigated factory shutdown in Malaysia could lead to a global shortage of condoms.

    The story says that "Malaysia’s Karex Bhd makes one in every five condoms globally. It has not produced a single condom from its three Malaysian factories for more than a week due to a lockdown imposed by the government to halt the spread of the virus.  That’s already a shortfall of 100 million condoms, normally marketed internationally by brands such as Durex…"

    There have been predictions that the restrictions on movement in many communities could lead to a baby boom in about nine months, and I'm not sure that any of those prognostications factored in a lack of protection.


    •  A press release you have to read to believe…

    "eCondolence.com and www.shiva.com today announced the launch of Viewneral, the first interactive and collaborative virtual funeral and  memorial service that allows families and friends to memorialize, eulogize, and celebrate loved ones from the comfort of their own home. Weinstein Memorial Chapels in New York, Sol Levinson & Bros., in Baltimore and Chicago Jewish Funerals are early adopters of Viewneral and are currently offering it to their grieving families.  

    It goes on:  ""On an average day in the United States, there is an estimated 7,700 deaths, excluding Covid-19 victims, and funeral directors and their clients need a personalized, yet safe way to conduct these end of life ceremonies,' says Michael Schimmel, CEO of Sympathy Brands, parent company to eCondolence.com and shiva.com. 'Viewneral will never replace a hug that a mourner needs from family and friends, but during this time of social distancing this will allow loved ones to virtually gather to memorialize the deceased and support the mourning family'."

    I'm not being snarky about this.  I'm just a little chagrined about the point to which we all have gotten.  What's next?  Though I guess when you think about it, this isn't any weirder than 'virtual happy hours.'

    If I'd used this as my April Fools Day piece, I think most people wouldn't have believed it.  (By the way, I won't be doing one this year … it just doesn't seem appropriate.)

    Published on: March 30, 2020

    NACS' latest "Convenience Matters" podcast has been posted … and it is one in which I had the pleasure of chatting with hosts Jeff Lenard, NACS' VP Strategic Industry Initiatives, and Carolyn Schnare, NACS' Director Strategic Initiatives, about what normal may look like after the pandemic.

    You can listen to it here.

    Published on: March 30, 2020

    The Harvard Business Review has an interesting piece suggesting that retailers need to re-evaluate the way they treat their vendors - suggestions prompted not by the current stresses created by the pandemic, but rather by structural changes that have taken place in the marketplace.

    An excerpt:

    "The problem with current company-vendor relations starts at the beginning of the relationship. Companies go through long, expensive vetting processes for vendors, often spending months and significant resources to ensure they select the best bidder. Then, instead of welcoming them with open arms, they negotiate hard on pricing, delay payments, and generally squeeze them in any possible way to get the best possible terms. Despite all the effort that went into the selection process, companies often view vendors as 'easily replaceable' and keep an arm’s length relationship."

    But now, the story suggests, "the world has changed. We are no longer living in the age of Ford or Wal-Mart; enter the 'Uberization' of everything. Now, vendors are highly likely to be individual contributors, or a small team of loosely connected professionals."  And, as the world of vendors has evolved, so must the way in which they are treated by retailers.

    You can read the story here.

    Published on: March 30, 2020

    •  From the Seattle Times:

    "Amazon’s median full-time U.S. employee made $36,640 in 2019, up $1,544 from the year before, the company disclosed in a securities filing Friday.

    "That increase in total compensation, including salary, bonus and stock grant value, but not a host of benefits including health insurance and parental leave, stems from the $15-an-hour wage floor the company implemented in late 2018. More than 500,000 of the company’s nearly 800,000 workers are in the U.S.

    "Global median compensation for Amazon employees was $28,848, up $12 from 2018. Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, one of the world’s wealthiest people, received total compensation from Amazon in 2019 of about $1.7 million, the majority of which was for personal security, according to Amazon’s preliminary proxy statement.

    "His compensation is used to calculate Amazon’s CEO pay ratio — a required disclosure comparing executive compensation to median employee compensation — of 1-to-58, unchanged from 2018."

    Amazon must be defining "total compensation" differently than I would … if they are listing it as $1.7 million.  I guess stock isn't part of the equation … which probably isn't all that reassuring to global median employees who got a $12 raise last year.

    Published on: March 30, 2020

    •  Robert O. Aders, the retired president/CEO of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), has passed away, just a few weeks shy of his 93rd birthday.

    In an appreciation of Aders' career, Leslie Sarasin, the current CEO of FMI-The Food Industry Association, wrote, "Aders was an icon of the food industry and was instrumental in the creation of FMI. As a food industry executive in the 1970’s, Aders served on the boards of both the Supermarket Institute (SMI) in Chicago and the National Association of Food Chains (NAFC) in Washington, D.C. Aders had a compelling vision of the two organizations coming together as one association with the common mission of serving all food retailers -- large, regional and independents. His deft and winsome leadership in helping navigate the merger resulted in his being named as FMI’s first president and CEO in 1977."

    Aders also was a former chairman of Kroger, as well as undersecretary of labor under President Gerald Ford, later serving as acting secretary of labor.

    •  Dr. Thomas Haggai, the former chairman/CEO of the Independent Grocer's Alliance, has passed away.  He was 89.

    In 1972, Haggai was the first person outside of the food industry to join the management board of IGA and went on to be named chairman/CEO in 1986. In 2016, he was named Chairman Emeritus of IGA as he stepped down from daily operations.  A minister, radio commentator and frequent speaker at industry events, Haggai was an effective evangelist for IGA's international expansion, preaching the gospel of independent retailing and community service to businesses across the globe.

    Dr. Haggai's official obituary notes that "Tom began each day since age 12 with the prayer: 'O God, don't let me die until I'm dead.'  All that knew him and his work ethic know he lived his life committed to fulfilling that prayer."

    Published on: March 30, 2020

    Following up on our story last week about how Kroger has converted one Cincinnati-area store to pickup-only, MNB reader Tom Hahn wrote:

    Thought you might like some local info: this store is 2.5 miles from my house. It’s an old Thriftway store they picked up 15 years ago when Winn Dixie gave up and left town. It’s a big footprint but low volume – not an upscale clientele. They have nothing to lose with other Kroger stores relatively close by. And, I’ve heard – but can’t confirm – that this move was in the plans for this store before the COVID-19 hit; the scramble to keep their head above water probably moved up the decision.

    Kroger sent me an email with a $20 store credit listing 5 alternative stores at which I could shop – but failed to list my primary store that’s 2.5 miles the other way from this one. Go figure.

    So much for Kroger’s “brilliant strategy” as is being reported. 


    Responding to the suggestion here that a lot of consumers will find online shopping to be a preferred way to buy center store products, and that habits developed during the pandemic may stick, one MNB reader wrote:

    Totally agree that people will shop the center of the store thru websites – amazon, Instacart, Peapod, et al – and shop fresh mostly in person.  We’ll have a butcher, a baker, a fishmonger and a candlestick maker.  But the general store of old will be gone.   Why lug laundry soap and toilet paper around when you can have it delivered.

    No argument here.  Tom Furphy and I have been making this argument for years, separately and together.


    Last week, MNB took note of a USA Today story about a study done by Unacast, a Norwegian company that is able to use smartphone data to figure out the degree to which Americans are taking seriously instructions to practice social distancing or stay at home during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

    According to the story, "Overall, the study found that since Feb. 28, Americans have reduced their mobility by nearly 40%. Washington, D.C. topped the list, reducing its average mobility by 60% followed by Alaska, Nevada, New Jersey and Rhode Island, which all earned an A.

    "Meanwhile, Wyoming – the only state to receive an F – ranked 51st, with virtually no change in average mobility. Rounding out the bottom five states were Oregon, New Mexico, Idaho and Montana."

    One MNB reader responded:

    I think this measure is very deceiving after living in multiple states, including Rhode Island. Rhody’s don’t cross a bridge without bringing a lunch, is a common phrase there. They usually don’t ever drive outside of their 15 min area normally. Growing up in the country on a cattle farm, you can drive miles and miles checking your cattle without ever seeing a human. Wyoming is doing something right with their low numbers. IMO…

    Published on: March 30, 2020

    Okay, there aren't any sports happening at the moment, especially not any baseball, which means that spring is not offering its usual hopeful soundtrack.

    But Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke had the inspired idea to turn to the fellow whose voice was synonymous with that soundtrack for so many years - former Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, now 92, who retired several years ago.  He's still got the pipes, though, and he tells Plaschke that if baseball returns, it will mean "we’ve got this thing beat and we can go about our lives.  Baseball is not a bad thermometer, when baseball begins, whenever that is, that will be a sure sign that the country is slowly getting back on its feet.”

    Scully goes on:  "We’re not going to have a full season because this thing is burning up days like an express train.  But somewhere along the line, I hope and pray that baseball will start up, that will be so wonderful, that will be a rainbow after the storm, that, yeah, things are going to get better."

    A rainbow after the storm.  Exactly what we could use right now.

    If, like me, you are yearning to hear the voice of Vin Scully in the hope that it will provide just a tiny bit of reassurance, you can listen to him below.

    One more thing…

    Over the weekend, I was walking my bike to the bike shop.  (They’re only open for repairs and tune ups, and only through the back door - nobody is allowed inside.  But I thought it was a good time to patronize a local business … and besides, my knees have been bothering me a bit from all the jogging.)

    Anyway, I passed a field where something normal was taking place.  I had to take a picture, only because it was normal … and therefore, anything but.

    I hope it makes you feel as good - even if momentarily - as it made me feel.


    Published on: March 30, 2020

    Just wanted to thank all the folks - more than three dozen - who signed on last Friday for the first MNB Virtual Happy Hour.

    It was a terrific hour, I thought … lots of conversation about what we all were drinking (for me, it was the 2016 Willamette Valley Vineyards Founders Reserve Pinot Noir, which was excellent), as well as where we were living and working and how we were all dealing with the pandemic.  Fascinating stuff and evidence, I'd like to believe, of how MNB is more than a website.  We're a community.

    I've gotten a bunch of emails from participants encouraging me to do it again … and so I shall.  It isn't locked in stone yet, but I'm thinking Friday, April 17 … and maybe I'll start it a little later next time so the folks on the west coast don't have to start drinking so early.

    Make sense?  Let me know.

    Below are some pics (including one of (from left to right) Parker, Zazu and Spenser … who were excluded from most of the event but were not happy about it.