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    Published on: May 12, 2020

    In a new series of weekly Retail Tomorrow podcasts, Sterling Hawkins, co-CEO and co-founder of CART-The Center for Advancing Retail & Technology, and MNB "Content Guy" Kevin Coupe team up to speculate, prognosticate, and formulate visions of what tomorrow's retail landscape will look like post-coronavirus.

    Hawkins and Coupe this week focus on the mixed feelings that consumers seem to have about the governmental and business response to the Covid-19 coronavirus and the tightrope that retailers have to walk in order to send consistent messages to their shoppers, keep their own people safe, and alienate as few people as possible.

    As the country's economy begins to open up - albeit slowly and in fits and starts - retailers have to figure out the shape and dimensions of the world of Retail Tomorrow.

    Listen here, or in iTunes and Google Play.

    Published on: May 12, 2020

    by Michael Sansolo

    Imitation, we’re told, is the highest form of flattery, a bit of wisdom attributed to Irish poet Oscar Wilde. Imitation also a surefire way to learn from (and copy) the successes and (hopefully avoid the) failures of those who have gone before you.

    It even can be a way to put brand building into high gear, even during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

    If you’ve watched any television in the past six weeks (and we know you have) you’ve seen incredibly sympathetic ads by everything from fast food restaurants to insurance companies. Most pronounced are probably the car ads, with nearly every automotive company offering deep discounts or delayed payments in sensitivity to economically challenged shoppers.

    Here’s where imitation comes in. Just 12 years ago, in the depths of the Great Recession, car sales fell apart completely with one notable exception. While all the usual brands saw double digit sales declines one company actually grew market share substantially. That brand was Hyundai and the reason for the growth was two-fold.

    First the Korean carmaker was hitting the US market with affordable and reliable vehicles just as the economy went south and, more significantly, it offered a program called Assurance. Under that plan, car buyers were promised that if their economic condition changed radically in the six months after buying a Hyundai the company would refund their money completely. In other words, there was no risk in buying a Hyundai even if you feared for your job.

    Just like that, Hyundai’s sales grew while everyone else shrunk. Clearly that lesson resonated with the other companies who today are offering deferred payments and other incentives. Obviously, that would be a pretty hard offer for a food retailer to copy.

    This time around, we all can learn from Lexus, the upscale Toyota-owned brand, and the ads it is running. It’s a lesson in brand building and reinforcement that could translate to any business.

    Lexus, according to many automotive journals, is known for producing superior vehicles loaded with luxury appointments and, no surprise, heavy price tags, hardly what’s likely to resonate with car buyers in the midst of an economic meltdown.

    But here’s the thing.  The current ads from Lexus don’t discuss luxury or purchase guarantees. Rather, the ads (and I hope you can catch one) focus on the qualities the company says are top of mind daily in good or bad times - that is, a focus on the customer experience. 

    As the ad copy says: “When we first opened our doors, it didn’t take us long to realize that we weren’t in the car business. At Lexus, we were in the people business. We needed to be helpful, respectful, and passionate — to treat people like guests. It’s what we all signed up for. And now when people need us most, people do what we’ve always done — take care of people first. The rest will follow.”

    To my mind that’s pretty brilliant. It might not sell a lot of cars in the current climate, but it reinforces exactly what Lexus is and is not. I have to believe that reinforcement of the brand (and it’s a well-respected brand) will pay dividends when the economy comes back to life. It will likely do especially well with higher end consumers who tend to bounce back first.

    Again, I think it’s a strategy that merits examination and maybe imitation. Don’t forget what your brand is, even while you navigate these treacherous times. Rather, reinforce what you do and how you do it such as service, product quality, nutrition, food safety and even competitive pricing.  Empathy matters, but authenticity always works.

    To my thinking, that’s a surefire way to drive forward.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.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.

    Published on: May 12, 2020

    KC often is full of it ... and there is no shortage of people willing to tell him so.  (Wife.  Kids.  Siblings.  MNB readers.)  Which was the point of a commentary he offered last week about Jeff Bezos and Amazon.  In this video, he explains.

    Published on: May 12, 2020

    The Spoon has a story about new research published Coresight Research's US Online Grocery Survey 2020, predicting that "the online grocery sector will grow by roughly 40 percent this year," or to "almost $38 billion of online food and beverage sales in 2020."

    That would be about 3.5 percent of the total market, up from 2.6 percent in 2019.

    The Spoon writes:

    "As you can probably guess, the coronavirus has spurred this surge in e-commerce. Coresight’s survey found that 49 percent of respondents said they started buying or were buying more groceries online because of the outbreak. It should be noted that this survey was conducted in mid-March, relatively early on in the mandated shelter in place orders. Those numbers may have actually gone up in April as the virus continued to spread.

    "In addition to more people buying groceries online, people are buying more types of items (produce, meat, alcohol) online. Coresight found that people are buying across an average of five different grocery categories online, up from 4.4 categories last year. Coresight says this indicates people aren’t just buying one-offs, but doing full-basket shopping online.

    "And finally, it looks as though demand for online commerce could remain strong over the next year. Coresight found that while 52 percent of respondents said that they had bought online groceries in the past 12 months, 62.5 percent expect to do so in the next twelve months."

    KC's View:

    From the conversations I've had with various retailers, these numbers actually seem low … and may not even factor in the degree to which Amazon's grocery business has seen growth during the past few months.  This may in part because the survey did not include late March and April sales, as pandemic-forced shutdowns were taking place;  we don't even know the degree to which sales will continue to shift online in coming months, because we don't really know the degree to which virus can be arrested, or whether there will be a resurgence.

    I agree with what Tom Furphy has said here, based on his analysis - that the pandemic has propelled e-grocery four or five years into the future, at a time when even the best and most prepared retailers were ready for two or three years' worth of growth.  Most of it will be in CPG, and I think we're going to see significant expansion of the auto-replenishment segment.  If anything, the Coresight numbers may understate the growth and its potential.

    Published on: May 12, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    Big news for theater geeks this morning - "Hamilton," the mega-hit Broadway musical that swept the 2016 Tony Awards and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, is coming to streaming video via Disney+ on July 3.

    Variety reports this morning that the home video release is more than one year ahead of the originally planned release to the nation's theaters:  "The rap-infused look at Alexander Hamilton’s life and formative role in American history … had originally been slated for a theatrical release on October 15, 2021."

    Three live performances of "Hamilton," with the original Broadway cast, were filmed for the movie.

    Writer-star Lin-Manuel Miranda said in a statement,  “I’m so grateful to Disney and Disney+ for reimagining and moving up our release to July 4th weekend of this year, in light of the world turning upside down. I’m so grateful to all the fans who asked for this, and I’m so glad that we’re able to make it happen. I’m so proud of this show. I can’t wait for you to see it.”

    The accelerated release solves a continuing problem for Disney+,  a subscription streaming service, by providing fresh and highly visible content.  Disney+ has been a big success - it has signed up more than 54 million subscribers since launching in November - but the pandemic also has put a stranglehold on new content by shutting down productions.  This gives it an almost guaranteed high-profile win.

    Plus, with Broadway shut down for the foreseeable future, and real concerns about the degree to which audiences will want to crowd into theaters even to see hits like "Hamilton," putting it out for home viewing probably seems like less of a risk.

    Since it looks like we may well still be sheltering at home on July 3, I know what I'm going to be doing … "Hamilton" will be a welcome reminder of what this country was like when it was "young, scrappy and hungry," and how we managed to "fan this spark into a flame."

    Published on: May 12, 2020

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

    •  In the United States, there are 1,385,850 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 81,795 deaths and 262,225 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there are 4,272,725 coronavirus cases, 287,615 fatalities and 1,536,168 reported recoveries.


    •  In testimony to be delivered remotely to the US Senate Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, plans to say that Americans would experience “needless suffering and death” if the country opens up prematurely.

    The New York Times quotes Fauci as saying that "the major message that I wish to convey to the Senate HLP committee tomorrow is the danger of trying to open the country prematurely.  If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country. This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.”

    Fauci will be appearing remotely before the committee because he is in modified quarantine because of exposure to Covid-19.

    •  Axios has results from its newest Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus survey, which says that "just half of Americans would participate in voluntary virus contact tracing tracked with cellphones."

    Why does this matter?  "A strong contact tracing program - identifying people who have the virus and isolating those who've had contact with them - is the key to letting other people get back to their lives, according to public health experts."  However, the story says, "the poll underscores deep resistance to turning over sensitive health information.

    "The only way to get even half of Americans to participate would be for public health officials to run the program, not the White House or tech or phone companies."

    The breakdown also reveals a partisan split:  "68% of Democrats said they'd participate if the CDC were in charge, compared with 58% of independents and 32% of Republicans."


    •  Some other results from the Axios-Ipsos poll:   Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of those surveyed say that "returning to their pre-coronavirus lives would be a large or moderate risk. Just 30% say that's worth the risk right now."  In addition, "About a third of those polled know someone who has tested positive."

    One intriguing result:  More than  nine out of 10 sad they have not updated their wills or living wills since the pandemic began.


    •  The Washington Post reports on how "there is widespread recognition the novel coronavirus is far more unpredictable than a simple respiratory virus. Often it attacks the lungs, but it can also strike anywhere from the brain to the toes. Many doctors are focused on treating the inflammatory reactions it triggers and its capacity to cause blood clots, even as they struggle to help patients breathe."

    According to the story, it is the multiplicity of symptoms that has created real nightmares for the scientists trying to craft a response.

    "It attacks the heart, weakening its muscles and disrupting its critical rhythm," the Post writes.  "It savages kidneys so badly some hospitals have run short of dialysis equipment. It crawls along the nervous system, destroying taste and smell and occasionally reaching the brain. It creates blood clots that can kill with sudden efficiency and inflames blood vessels throughout the body.

    "It can begin with a few symptoms or none at all, then days later, squeeze the air out of the lungs without warning. It picks on the elderly, people weakened by previous disease, and, disproportionately, the obese. It harms men more than women, but there are also signs it complicates pregnancies."

    We got word yesterday of a 28-year-old young man who one of my kids knew, and who died over the weekend of a heart attack that seems to have been related to the coronavirus.  This is scary stuff … and I'm sorry if this annoys some of my readers, but these lives seem so much moire important than whether malls or bars are allowed to open.  Solve the medical problem, and the economy will come back.


    •  From the Cincinnati Enquirer:

    "Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen and other food executives took off their masks before the start of a Friday food industry event featuring Vice President Mike Pence – just hours after a Pence staffer was revealed to have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

    "Kroger officials said McMullen had planned to remove his mask for the event, which was not attended by Pence's afflicted press secretary Katie Miller who stayed in Washington.

    "Kroger officials said the executives were spaced apart from each other to maintain social distancing.

    "As previously planned, McMullen and other participants avoided close proximity with one another, the vice president and other participants. The event also followed other White House medical protocols, including temperature checks at the door."


    •  Fast Company has a story about a "smart thermometer company called Kinsa. Through Kinsa’s FLUency program, each family is sent a thermometer for use at home. If a child is feeling sick, a parent can check their temperature, as they normally might, before they make a decision about sending their child into school.

    "Temperatures are sent from the thermometer over to a corresponding app, where parents can add symptoms and communicate with school nurses.

    "A dashboard, available to both parents and school nurses … reveals illness trends at their school. The data is anonymized so the adults only see the number of students with symptoms and fevers for each grade. A parent can also voluntarily identify that their child is sick to a school nurse. The data allows parents to make more informed decisions about whether or not their kid should stay home from school even if they don’t have a fever. If they see their child has a bad cough and other students in the grade have sore throats, they might opt to keep their kid home."

    The relevance is clear:  "As COVID-19 continues to spread across the U.S., public health experts have been debating the merits of reopening schools. A recent study shows that children, who often only exhibit mild to no symptoms when infected with COVID-19, have lots of opportunity to transmit the virus at school. As a result, some epidemiologists think that it’s too early to bring students back into schools. But experts on childhood education think that keeping kids home is also damaging, since kids could be falling behind on learning and missing out on critical social experiences.

    "So far, suggestions for how to welcome students back into school include strict social distancing rules and allowing teachers and students with preexisting health conditions to continue working from home. But the early success of Kinsa’s FLUency program suggests that health surveillance could also play a vital role."


    •  CNBC reports that Simon Property Group, the nation's largest mall owner, says that "it plans to have roughly 50% of its properties reopened again within the next week, as states begin to loosen their lockdown restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic … Simon owns roughly 200 malls and outlet centers in the U.S., including Copley Place in Boston and Northgate Mall in Seattle."

    The story says that "as of Monday, the company said it has reopened 77 of its properties in the U.S., where local lockdown restrictions have been eased. It said a dozen of its premium outlets have reopened."

    “We are now leading the effort for these local economies to get back to business,” says CEO David Simon.  “We want to help these local communities ... because frankly they depend on our sales taxes.” 


    •  ABC News reports that " Steak 'n Shake permanently closed 57 of its restaurants nationwide during the first quarter of 2020 as its parent company attributed major financial losses to the COVID-19 pandemic … The closings decreased the number of Steak 'n Shake locations to 553 from 624 at this time last year."

    "The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected our operations and financial results," the company says. "The COVID-19 pandemic could cause disruptions to our supply chain. Moreover, we cannot predict how the outbreak of COVID-19 will alter the future demand of our products."


    •  From the Washington Post:

    "Add food habits to a list of societal and economic changes wrought by the coronavirus lockdowns.

    "Packaged grocery brands that had run up against Americans’ growing preference for fresh and private-label foods are seeing a resurgence as iconic brands like Goldfish, Oreos, Campbell Soup and Doritos fill the pantries of homebound consumers in search of small pleasures.

    "Major processed food companies such as General Mills, Conagra, Kellogg and Campbell’s are among suppliers whose snacks, canned goods and frozen food have taken off, often sending their stock prices along for the ride."

    It seems likely that the move toward packaged products that provide us succor when the world has been thrown into turmoil will continue as long as masks and gloves and the whiff of Lysol in the air - not to mention closed restaurants and bars - remind us that the world is a different place.  But I also suspect that the move away from private label to national brands won't be long-lived, especially if the nation's economic problems persists for more than a quarter or two.  Look for own-label to make a quick comeback.


    •  The Wall Street Journal has a story about the impact the coronavirus is having on food deserts, defined by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as "areas where people live more than 1 mile from a supermarket," and places were millions of Americans live and work.

    "To shop for fresh food in such places, the story says, most people "rely on often-crowded public transportation, something people are told to avoid during the pandemic.  Many families share small homes and don’t have the space or means to stock up for long stretches of time as authorities recommend." 

    During the pandemic, the Journal writes, these people "are often forced to lean on fast food or local takeout if they want to avoid public transportation to the supermarket."   However, "to fill the gap during the coronavirus crisis, small institutions like Growing Home are experimenting with contactless delivery and pickup options in neighborhoods that haven’t historically had such options."

    Have to wonder what the long-term implications for poor food choices may end up being.  Think about the impact on the health care system alone.


    •  At the other end of the spectrum, the New York Times reports on how "among those who are privileged enough to afford buying in volume, the pandemic has suddenly spawned a new population of bulk shoppers.

    "They’re stocking up on foods they never thought they’d need in large amounts.

    "They’re experiencing the simultaneous bouts of stress and satisfaction that come with buying and storing so much food, and trying not to waste any. They’re changing how they cook, diligently planning meals to use up all those ingredients — like, say, 50 pounds of potatoes."

    The Times writes that "hoarding and panic-buying have certainly played a role, most recently as news of potential meat shortages has spread and some stores have limited purchases.  But many shoppers say they are simply responding to the demands of the moment: more mouths to feed and more meals at home, despite the need to make fewer shopping excursions or delivery orders."


    •  The Los Angeles Times has a story about how, "thrust into the role of front-line soldiers amid a war against the coronavirus, employees have had to manage panic attacks, cursing, near-fights and counseling sessions at the checkout stand. They’ve been threatened by customers who are angry about having to wear masks.

    "Some workers have received an hourly bump in appreciation pay. A growing number across the U.S. have become ill. Dozens have died.

    The story - appropriately titled "Cleanup on aisle everywhere: A day in the life of supermarket workers during coronavirus" - cab be read here.


    •  The New York Times has a piece about the reopening of the nation's department stores, which seem to be happening at the forefront of cities' and states' efforts to reopen their economies even as the pandemic persists.

    "New and unfamiliar sights await," the Times writes.  "Hand-sanitizer dispensers scattered on every surface, employees smiling through their face masks, signs displaying checklists of 'what we’re doing to keep you safe' … So far their plans are similar: Employees will wear face masks and submit to health screenings; some store layouts will be reconfigured to create more space and promote one-way traffic flows; customer capacity will be limited; stores will be cleaned more often; hours will be reduced; hand sanitizer will be liberally available; in-store events or any services requiring close contact (beauty tutorials, bra fittings) will be suspended or adapted."

    But what remains unknown is whether customers will come back en masse, and how they will react to the changes they find:  "Consumers may turn to shopping, as they have in the past, to deal with the emotional stress of this moment. Yet how can they escape that stress when they’re surrounded by reminders of it?"

    One of the things that a number of department stores will have to do is pivot away from a recent trend - opening restaurants and bars on their premises as a way to attract new customers into formats that in many cases may have seemed like they were growing less relevant with every passing day.  File this one in the "best laid plans" file - these installations either will have to be minimized or remain closed for the time being.


    •  USA Today reports that "Hertz has sent out yet another red flag about its troubled finances," saying in a regulatory filing that it may be hard for it to survive the year.

    The story says that "in a 10-Q filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the publicly traded company said it may not be able to repay or refinance its hefty debt and 'may not have sufficient cash flows from operations or liquidity to sustain its operating needs or to meet the company's obligations as they become due' over the next 12 months.

    "'As such, management has concluded there is substantial doubt regarding the company's ability to continue as a going concern' within a year of the filing, Hertz Global stated."

    Published on: May 12, 2020

    MarketWatch reports that Amazon has been in talks to acquire the AMC movie theatre chain.

    The story notes that it would be a good time to buy AMC, since its value has declined since its facilities have been closed for the past two months because of the pandemic.  Of course, AMC shareholders may not want to sell at a time when their holdings have diminished value.

    Neither Amazon nor AMC have commented on the speculation.

    KC's View:
     

    First of all, let's be clear.  The markets love speculation like this.  Pretty much anytime a major bricks-and-mortar entity runs into trouble, someone says Amazon is getting read to buy it.

    The odds on this happening probably aren't high.

    That said, I must admit that I am intrigued by it.  Debates persist in the movie business about how long theatrical windows should be, with theatre chains not wanting any reduction in the amount of time they have access to movies before they are available for home viewing.  But if Amazon suddenly owned the nation's biggest theatre chain, that debate suddenly become moot - Amazon can do what it wants.

    Now, I would argue that what Amazon really needs is more content, not a bunch of theatres, especially because of severely interrupted and constricted production schedules - an enormous number of movies and TV series had to be shut down because of the pandemic, meaning that at some point there will be a shortage of product.  (Which is why Disney+ will debut "Hamilton" on July 3.)

    What really intrigues me about this is that it also suggests what Amazon could do if the US Postal Service (USPS) decides to raise its rates.  It could either try to buy the Post Office, or it could just launch an alternative building on assets it already has created.

    When you have access to so much capital, and a hunger for disrupting existing and often somnolent business models, anything is possible.

    Published on: May 12, 2020

    From Fast Company:

    "On May 1, Texas businesses started to reopen under restricted guidelines. They are among the first in the nation to do so, and if the results of an investigation by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban are any indication, things aren’t looking good.

    "Cuban hired secret shoppers to evaluate the rate at which Dallas businesses were reopening and whether they were following safety protocols. The results are stark:  Only 36% of businesses reopened that first weekend, and 96% of open stores weren’t compliant with the protocols. Yikes.

    "On May 1-3, hiring platform Shiftsmart called about 1,000 popular restaurants and retailers (based on their number of Yelp reviews) to determine how many had fully reopened for dine-in and in-store shopping. From there, the company physically audited about 300 open businesses.

    "They evaluated mandatory protocols such as single-use condiments, marked waiting spots, and sanitized carts, as well as suggested protocols like contactless payments, at-risk group hours, and disinfected surfaces. They found that businesses followed only about 60% of mandatory protocols and 54% of the suggested protocols."

    Yikes, indeed.

    You can read the entire analysis here.

    Published on: May 12, 2020

    •  Ahold Delhaize-owned The Giant Company yesterday announced "the more than 100 recipients of its emergency grant program. Announced last month in partnership with Team Pennsylvania, The GIANT Company originally designated $250,000 for the program, but due to the overwhelming response, the company decided to double the amount of funding available to $500,000. In all, the company is awarding 110 grants to help support small businesses in Pennsylvania’s food supply chain impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic."

    Published on: May 12, 2020

    Yesterday, in my Monday Eye Opener, I took note of a Fox News report on the case of a Cape Cod ice cream parlor where, after the owner reopened it following a pandemic-oriented shutdown mandated by local regulations, he closed it down after one day.

    The reason:  customers who "grew frustrated with having to wait longer for their ice cream" because of lines "took their anger out on his staff," including a 17-year-old girl.

    I commented:

    I'm not surprised by this, sad to say.  People can be idiots.  People can be so obsessed with what they want and what makes them look and feel good that they forget about other people's feelings.  Sometimes this manifests itself with ignoring sensible regulations designed to protect the public health, sometimes it looks like people saying that public health officials are fascists when they try to do their jobs, and sometimes it sounds like people who should know better foisting verbal abuse on a teenager who is a grocery checkout person or a clerk in an ice cream parlor.

    Stupidity reigns.  Narcissism persists.  And the fabric of what is supposed to make us an advanced, sophisticated and compassionate society continues to unravel, little by little.  At what point will there be no fabric left?

    I find myself wondering if the real virus that infects us is not the coronavirus, but rather incivility, intemperance and self-absorption that has been revealed by current circumstances.

    I find myself thinking of the words of Thomas Wolfe, in "You Can't Go Home Again"…

    "I think the enemy is here before us with a thousand faces, but I think we know that all his faces wear one mask. I think the enemy is single selfishness and compulsive greed. I think the enemy is blind, but has the brutal power of his blind grab. I do not think the enemy was born yesterday, or that he grew to manhood forty years ago, or that he suffered sickness and collapse in 1929, or that we began without the enemy, and that our vision faltered, that we lost the way, and suddenly were in his camp. I think the enemy is old as Time, and evil as Hell, and that he has been here with us from the beginning."

    The enemy is within … our own worst instincts and compulsions, in which we put ourselves first, and think our right to have an ice cream cone right now, no matter what, is somehow the most important thing and a test of what we think of as being our freedom.

    What an Eye-Opener this virus turns out to be.

    One MNB reader responded:

    Would love to see  commentary be more centered  instead of always very left leaning - example of your ice cream story - where is your question on the additional stupidity of some of the lock down orders and their inconsistency and hypocrisy - it was all questions slanted the other way.

    I didn't think that this was a left-leaning commentary.  I thought I was coming down on stupidity and defending civility.

    You are welcome to disagree with me.  In fact, I encourage it.  (To be honest, Mrs. Content Guy read that commentary and, I think it is fair to say, believed that sometimes I get way too comfortable on my high horse.  And told me so.)

    I'm sure that when the history of the pandemic is written, we will find that health officials made lots of mistakes.  We'll find out that they did things they didn't need to do, and didn't do things they should've done.  But I believe with all my heart that all these doctors and nurses and health professionals and scientists are simply doing everything they can to protect people from getting sick and dying - that this is their primary agenda.  Have state governments, therefore, made some mistakes in how they've approached the pandemic?  Sure … but I don't believe maliciously.

    And I'll repeat something that I said back at the beginning of this pandemic - that if things go better than expected, it will be because public officials went too far rather than did too little, and because  the media largely has focused on it relentlessly.

    The good news is not everyone agreed with this fellow (and my wife):

    You nailed it with your comments about civility. And, to top it off, a quote from “You Can’t Go Home Again.”

    From another reader:

    This is sad and unfortunately reminds me of my days as a cashier in a mid-size grocery chain.  I had a lady become upset with me when I gently explained that the cereal that she selected was not approved for her WIC voucher.  I handed her a pamphlet that listed the authorized cereals but she started throwing canned goods at me.  I had to duck and hide behind the register as she threw canned vegetables as hard as she could at me.  She finally stormed out of the store.  I broke out in hives from the stress.  I was 18 years old.  Later that evening, this same woman called the store asking to speak to a manager.  She told him that I threw canned goods at her!  All the other cashiers on duty that day (and the security cameras) confirmed that was not true.  I remember that was the day that I realized that there are some not-so-nice people in this world.  This was one of many incidents that helped me grow a thicker skin and develop advanced customer service skills.  I’m happy to hear that the ice cream shop owner stands behind his employees and won’t tolerate the abuse.  It reinforces that those not-so-nice people are the exceptions, not the rule.

    On a related subject from another MNB reader:

    The pandemic has not persuaded everyone to eat comfort food………

    Both my wife and I are considered to be “essential personnel” in our respective jobs in Iowa, so we have been continuing to go to work each day and return directly home each evening.   Because I am married to a health professional, we aren’t even comfortable going to a drive-up window for food yet.   As a result, we have attempted to improve our eating habits now that both of us have given up eating fast food or at restaurants for lunch or dinner (and we carry our lunches to work) along with one of us cooking dinner each night.  In addition, we now grocery shop together once every couple of weeks (I did all the shopping previously) and I now find fewer examples of junk food in our refrigerator or pantry.  I’m hoping that our shopping changes along with our added walking at night might actually help us get into better shape, not worse.   We are exceptionally fortunate that both of us can cook and enjoy doing so.      

    As a way for us to expand our culinary horizons (and stay out of grocery stores), we have subscribed to two different “food box” programs.   One program is run by a family with a large produce farming operation near the Mississippi River and the products they put into their boxes are only things that they grow themselves.  It reduces their distribution schedule down to an eight to ten week period from late summer to early fall, but the quality of the produce was excellent.   It caused us to be a little more adventurous as we would often find things in our weekly baskets we hadn’t eaten or prepared previously (we found out that we like kohlrabi!) and it gave us more sweet corn and seedless watermelon than we could eat, but we just gave the excess away to others.   We paid for the program in advance of the growing season and we will pick up our numbered bag during a four-hour window each week at a pop-up roadside stand set up in our community.  

    The second program is based in a different nearby county with a higher percentage of free and reduced school lunches and has more food instability.   The program is run by a family who has opened a farm-to-table convenience store and cafe where they only sell products that are manufactured by other farm-to-table operations in Eastern Iowa.   The store has fresh and prepared meats, milk, cheese, eggs, and other seasonal products.   We got our first produce bag from them last week and for $20 we received bananas, oranges, cantaloupe, baking potatoes, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, romaine lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, and yellow onions.   They appear to be working with a local produce wholesaler to get most of their product, but the quality and quantities provided were outstanding.   We’ve been recommending their service to anyone who will listen to us, knowing that it you’re willing to be flexible in your eating and cooking practices, you can eat very well!

    As we start thinking about new ways to adapt our lives to a post-pandemic world, it would not be a bad thing for programs such as these to capture more of a share of America’s stomachs. 

    And, from MNB reader Janis Raye:

    Adding a plug for the CSA! I usually subscribe to a CSA during the late winter, when our local farmer’s market isn’t operating and I’m desperate for some good local produce (greenhouse-grown as it may be here in Vermont at that time). So starting in March, I added to my weekly veggie share to get milk and some pantry items like bread and cheese. It’s been a great way to lessen my visits to the supermarket — now I only go to the supermarket when the fresh fruit in the house is getting low (can’t get that this time of year from the CSA). I could also get meat and chicken this way, but I prefer going direct to another farm for that, where there is a self-service “store” right next to the barn— about 10 freezers full of different cuts and varieties of meat and chicken — you pick out what you want and leave the money in a box. No human contact at all! One of the many things I love about Vermont!

    Published on: May 12, 2020

    From CNN:

    "Major League Baseball (MLB) owners have finalized a plan that may allow the 2020 season to start on Fourth of July weekend … The season, which was set to start on March 26, was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. MLB owners and league management have agreed upon an 82-game regular season, down from the traditional 162 games, according to the reports.

    "Spring training will begin in early to mid-June, and games would resume in early July in ballparks without fans, as long as state legislation and health officials allow, reports say.


    "In order to proceed with this unprecedented season, all the proposed ideas would need to be agreed upon by the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). An MLB spokesman told CNN on Monday night that the league plans to present a proposal to the players association Tuesday. No details of the proposal were provided by MLB."

    KC's View:

    I really miss baseball, so I will be happy if the games come back, even for half a season.

    One distressing part of the reported proposal, I must say, is the idea that the National League, which plays real baseball, would be forced to accept the designated hitter rule used by the American League.  I've always suspected that this is the real agenda, the real conspiracy.