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    Published on: May 18, 2020

    JC Penney became the latest retailer, following the likes of Neiman Marcus and J. Crew, to file for bankruptcy protection after the coronavirus pandemic  pulled back the veil on its lack of viability and made it almost impossible to maintain the status quo.

    The New York Times noted that the filing comes after a two-decade, almost unrelenting decline, and "represents the biggest casualty by far based on the number of locations, with stores that are anchors at many of the nation’s malls."   JC Penney has more than 800 stores and some 85,000 employees.

    According to the Times, "J.C. Penney said it filed for Chapter 11 protection from its creditors in federal bankruptcy court for the Southern District of Texas, adding that it had $500 million in cash on hand and had received commitments for $900 million in financing to use during the bankruptcy process. The company said it had struck a deal with lenders that would reduce several billion dollars of its debt and it would explore a sale. It also said it planned to close stores, but specific locations and timing would be disclosed in coming weeks."

    “They’re not luxury, they’re not as cheap as Walmart and T.J. Maxx, they don’t have the niche stuff at specialty retailers,” Barbara E. Kahn, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, tells the Times. “It’s stuck in the middle with no differentiation.”

    KC's View:

    The stories all say that JC Penney would like to quickly emerge from bankruptcy, but what I don't understand is what - other than a reduction of its crushing debt load - will be different.

    Will the new JC Penney be more competitive?  More compelling?  More differentiated?  More appealing?  What strategies and tactics will allow it to emerge stronger?  

    Who will shop there a month from now that did not shop there a month ago?   Who will shop there a year from now that did not shop there a year ago?  And who the hell would want to buy for anything other than the real estate?

    And … should a lot of other retailers be asking themselves the same questions before they end up in bankruptcy court?

    Published on: May 18, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Grubhub has turned down Uber's initial offer to acquire it, but that they "continued their merger discussions over the weekend, with the companies’ chief executives trying to hash out the price of a deal that would reshape the meal-delivery business."

    According to the story, "Grubhub Chief Executive Matt Maloney spoke to Uber Chief Dara Khosrowshahi Sunday and indicated that Uber’s latest offer of 1.9 of its shares for each Grubhub share is too low, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Khosrowshahi said he might be able increase the offer to 1.925 Uber shares, but that is still well below the price Grubhub had been seeking."

    KC's View:

    Even if an agreement is reached - and that is not seen as certain - there still would be antitrust regulatory hurdles to be dealt with.  There already has been some political pushback on the possibility of such a deal, in part because of the perception that this is a case of restaurant delivery companies prospering even as the restaurant business is in disarray.  Which is an irony, I must admit…

    Published on: May 18, 2020

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

    •  In the United States as of this morning, there have been 1,527,951 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 90,980 deaths and 346,389 reported recoveries.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is projecting that the US will top 100,000 fatalities by June 1.

    Globally, we are closing in on five million coronavirus cases - the number stands at 4,819,277, with 316,959 deaths and 1,864,194 reported recoveries.

    This would mean that the US, with less than five percent of the world's population, has more than a quarter of the world's coronavirus deaths.

    •  From this morning's Wall Street Journal:

    "The coronavirus pandemic is spreading from cities to rural communities that have a higher share of older, at-risk residents, a trend that has implications for the stress it may put on local health-care systems as well as the push by many governors to ease economic restrictions and reopen for business.

    A Wall Street Journal analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows in the two-week period between April 20 and May 4, newly confirmed Covid-19 cases in nonmetropolitan areas outpaced those in metro areas by 30%.

    "The virus’s spread to nonmetropolitan areas, where resources for testing and medical care tend to be in short supply, could present new dilemmas for state officials charged with determining when and how much to relax stay-at-home rules … Compounded by other factors, including the lack of access to more sophisticated medical care and a higher prevalence of underlying conditions, the virus could cause damage if it continues to spread in rural counties."

    •  The New York Times has a story about how, "as more parts of the country reopen businesses, many retail workers have reluctantly turned into de facto enforcers of public health guidelines, confronting customers who refuse to wear masks or to maintain a wide distance from others. The risk of a violent reaction now hangs over jobs already fraught with health perils."

    The Times writes that "masks have been recommended by public health officials as a key way to diminish the spread of the coronavirus, with at least a dozen states requiring them and many others issuing a hodgepodge of county or municipal orders."  But, the story says, "They have also turned into a flash point in the country’s culture wars, with some defending their right to not wear one."

    The Times cites numerous situations in which employees and customers came into conflict - in places like California, Texas, Pennsylvania and Michigan - and the violence that sometimes grew out of those conflicts.

    I have to be honest here - I find the fact that some customers are so unbearably selfish to be absolutely appalling.

    Let's be clear.  Masks are not there primarily so people can protect themselves.  They are worn to protect other people.  Like the folks working in those stores, who should not have to put up with this crap.  And they are there to protect other customers in the stores, including those who may more at risk than others of serious illness or death if they are infected.

    And yet, some people maintain, like one customer in California, that "we have individual rights, we don’t have community rights,” and individual rights include not giving a damn about your fellow citizens.

    Well, that customer is right that one cannot legislate or regulate giving a damn.  But stores are allowed to say at this moment, "no mask, no entry," in the same way that they can say, "no shirt, no shoes, no service."  Stores are allowed to say that they are part of a larger community, that they feel a responsibility for that community, and that part of that responsibility means enforcing some basic, simple rules designed to make it as safe as possible.

    I admit to a bias.  Back on April 7, I suggested here that it was time for retailers to start requiring the wearing of masks by employees and customers.  I'm glad so many have done so.  And, to be honest, I think that it is time for some people to pull their heads out of their rear ends and start caring about other people, not just themselves.

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "U.S. officials are preparing to begin checking passengers’ temperatures at roughly a dozen airports as soon as next week, as the coronavirus pandemic has heightened travel anxieties, according to people familiar with the matter.

    "Details of the plan are under review by the White House and are subject to change, the people said. It couldn’t be determined which airports will initially have the new scanning procedures. A senior Trump administration official said the initial rollout is expected to cost less than $20 million, and that passengers won’t be charged an additional fee.

    "Airlines have been pushing for the Transportation Security Administration to start taking passengers’ temperatures as part of a multifaceted effort to keep potentially sick people from boarding planes and to make passengers feel more comfortable taking trips again. Demand for air travel has dropped more than 90% amid transport restrictions and stay-at-home orders."

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "Apple and Google’s announcement last month of a joint effort to track the coronavirus by smartphone sparked a wave of excitement among public health officials hoping the technology would help alert them to potential new infections and map the pandemic’s spread.

    "But as the tech giants have revealed more details, officials now say the software will be of little use. Due to strict rules imposed by the companies, the system will notify smartphone users if they’ve potentially come into contact with an infected person, but it won’t share any data with health officials or reveal where those meetings took place.":

    While health authorities have asked both tech companies to make data more accessible, "Apple and Google have refused, arguing that letting the apps collect location data or loosening other smartphone rules would undermine people’s privacy. The companies are also concerned that easing the restrictions around apps’ Bluetooth use would drain phone battery life, which could irritate customers. That unbending stance has led some health authorities to abandon hopes of building a fully functioning contact-tracing app."

    •  Kroger on Friday announced that it "will provide a special Thank You Pay to hourly frontline grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center associates to acknowledge their dedication to maintaining safe, clean and stocked stores."  Kroger said its "new $130 million Thank You Pay bookends an Appreciation Pay first provided to frontline workers for their efforts at the start of the pandemic in March. It also follows multiple Hero Bonuses that were paid in April through mid-May, with a final payment by May 23..

    The one-time Thank You Pay, which will be $400 for qualified full-time associates and $200 for qualified part-time associates, will be paid out in two installments on May 30 and June 18.

    “Our associates have been instrumental in feeding America while also helping to flatten the curve during the initial phases of the pandemic. To recognize and thank our associates for their incredible work during this historic time, we offered special pay in March, April and May,” said chairman-CEO Rodney McMullen in a prepared statement.  “As the country moves toward reopening, we will continue to safeguard our associates’ health and well-being and recognize their work. At the same time, we will continue running a sustainable business that provides steady employment and opportunities to learn and grow for over half a million associates.”

    Kroger hopes that this new bonus will put to rest complaints that it is ending hazard pay - hourly bonuses paid to employees - at a time when workers still are endangering themselves just by going to work.  I suspect that if there is a resurgence of the coronavirus later this year, Kroger will avoid giving temporary hourly pay increases and just do bonuses - it avoids a lot of perception problems.

    And a lot of this is perception - to be clear, Kroger has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses.  But perception matters, especially if based on precedents.

    •  The New Yorker has a piece entitled "How The Coronavirus Is Killing The Middle Class," which looks at some of the specific problems being imposed on one sector of society by the economic issues created by the coronavirus pandemic.

    An excerpt:

    "In the last four weeks, as large sections of the global economy have shut down, more than thirty-three million Americans have filed for unemployment. People with jobs that aren’t deemed essential, or that render telework impossible, are suddenly without work, and, in many cases, savings. According to the C.E.O. of Feeding America, the pandemic is likely to leave an additional seventeen million Americans needing food assistance in the next six months. Recently, in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Irving, Texas, people waited outside food pantries in lines that stretched miles.  Tens of thousands of people who can’t pay their bills have gone on rent strikes.

    "The disaster has become so dire so quickly owing, in part, to the legacy of the 2008 financial crisis. Minimum wage, in real terms, is more than thirty per cent lower than it was fifty years ago … We are beginning to see who will be most affected by the economic downturn. Women are losing jobs at a higher rate, because there are more of them in the service sectors most affected by the virus. The crisis has also been increasing racial economic disparities: black and Latino workers are more likely to work service-industry jobs—in restaurants, bars, hotels—and that sector was the first to shut down, and the least likely to fully reopen in the near term."

    All of these people in financial distress are people who no longer will be able to spend money at retail, including food retail.  While supermarkets have been doing very well in the initial months of the pandemic, it seems entirely possible that this new recession, which some fear could worsen into depression, could create significant problems for them in the near future.

    •  CNN reports that even as some companies - like JC Penney and J Crew - have been devastated by the pandemic and the resulting recession, "discount chains like Dollar General and Aldi stand to thrive. These budget retailers are building on strong growth in recent years. They are likely to benefit now as consumers cut back on discretionary spending but continue to buy food and household essentials, retail analysts say."

    The story continues:  "Sales at discount stores are already proving to be a bright spot. For the week ending on May 10, sales in the category, which includes names like Dollar General and Dollar Tree as well as clothing chains like Marshalls, increased 53% compared with the year prior, according to Facteus, a firm that analyzes daily card transactions. That's at a higher clip than sales at wholesale clubs, drugstores, and grocery stores … Indeed, with millions of Americans out of work and food prices rising, shoppers are more likely to gravitate toward stores that offer them lower prices."

    •  The New York Times reports that "Amazon has reached an agreement with French unions to reopen its warehouses in France after a lengthy battle over safety measures to protect workers against the coronavirus, capping the most prominent labor showdown the retailer has faced during the pandemic … Amazon closed the warehouses in mid-April and put 10,000 employees on paid furlough after unions successfully sued, accusing the online giant of not taking adequate steps to protect workers from the risk of the coronavirus and of trying to sidestep the unions as they sought improved conditions.

    "Two French courts sided with the labor organizations, ordering Amazon to stop delivering 'nonessential' items as part of measures to protect worker health and threatening millions of euros in fines if it did not comply. Amazon shuttered the warehouses to avoid risking those penalties."

    Amazon said it was “reopening our business after going through a formal clarification and information process with works councils about the extensive safety measures already in place at our fulfillment centers to keep our employees safe. The fundamentals of these measures are the same as before.”

    •  In western New York, the Democrat & Chronicle reports that "Wegmans has announced that it will raise prices on some items.

    "A letter emailed to customers said the grocery store chain's operating costs have increased during the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, it is experiencing price increases on items where supplies are challenging. Retail prices on certain items will fluctuate, the letter said.

    "The cost increases are primarily in the meat department, specifically beef, pork and chicken, said Laura Camera, Wegmans spokesperson."

    •  The Tampa Bay Times reports that "Publix stores have extended their hours and will now be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

    "The supermarket chain had shortened its operating hours in response to the coronavirus pandemic, to give its employees more time for stocking and cleaning. Before the virus, Publix stores would close at 10 or 11 p.m. Pharmacy hours also have returned to normal.

    "The store will no longer dedicate the opening hour for seniors or those who may be more vulnerable to the virus. It also will stop devoting the last hour to those who work in health care."

    •  The New York Times  reports that renowned restaurateur David Chang has announced that his Momofuku restaurant group "would not reopen Momofuku Nishi, in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, and Momofuku CCDC, in Washington."

    “This crisis has exposed the underlying vulnerabilities of our industry and made clear that returning to normal is not an option,” Momofuku’s chief executive, Marguerite Zabar Mariscal, wrote in a post on its website. “For our industry to have a future, we must do nothing less than rethink how restaurants operate.”

    The Times writes that "the two permanent closings are among the most high-profile since the coronavirus outbreak. Small independent restaurants face existential questions about their future, and owners have scrambled to obtain federal loans. Restaurant failures may have devastating effects for cities across the country."

    •  The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that "Specialty's Café & Bakery, the chain known for its crusty sandwich bread and delectable cookies, is closing permanently.

    The 33-year-old chain … said on its website that Covid-19 and shelter-in-place policies 'have decimated company revenues'."

    Another one bites the dust.  And I mean that neither glibly nor ironically.  This is serious stuff … there will be many stories like this one.

    •  The Boston Globe has a piece about what the office of the future will look like, now that the pandemic has adjusted our reality in substantive ways.

    "Temperature checks. Long lines to get on the elevator. Desks cleared of personal items. One-way corridors and closed meeting rooms. And lunch? Let’s not even go there yet.

    "While many white-collar workers have been sequestered at home to help stop the spread of COVID-19, landlords and property managers, architects and safety experts have been trying to figure out how to make the office buildings that have been vacant for two months or more into safe places in a pandemic. Now, with a phased-in restart of the local economy imminent, companies are preparing to gradually return to dramatically changed workplaces."

    The Globe goes on:  "Concierges and security guards may sit behind plexiglass. Masks will be mandatory. Hand sanitizer dispensers will be everywhere, said Ben Myers, director of sustainability at Boston Properties, one of the city’s largest office landlords. So will janitors … You might notice something else feels different: The air. Many buildings and landlords are upgrading air filters, to sift out finer particles in an effort to prevent the coronavirus from spreading through HVAC systems. Boston Properties plans to flush its towers with outside air 48 hours before they officially reopen. Some property managers plan to experiment with higher humidity levels, based on the theory that the unusually dry air in air-conditioned towers can more easily spread the virus."

    •  The Wall Street Journal has a story about how the California wine country is navigating the pandemic.

    "This area has survived disruption before," the Journal writes.  "First came the 6.0 earthquake in 2014. Then a devastating wildfire in 2017. Then 2019 brought a triple whammy: flood, blackouts and another giant fire. But nothing has put the California wine country on its back like the coronavirus pandemic."

    An excerpt:

    "Americans are drinking at least as much as ever, which has been good news for the large alcohol companies with space on supermarket shelves. But small wineries that rely on tourists stopping by tasting rooms have seen revenue dry up.

    "The nation’s $30 billion wine industry stands to lose nearly $6 billion this year due to the coronavirus disruptions, according to wine consultant Jon Moramarco. Top producers with grocery shelf space will benefit from a projected $1.3 billion jump in non-winery retail sales, he estimated.

    "But he said the majority of the nation’s 10,000 wineries and grape growers are likely to see losses this year because so many are dependent on sales in tasting rooms and restaurants."

    The story goes on:

    "Many vintners are going digital to try to make up for at least some of the shortfall. In the Napa Valley, Vincent Arroyo Family Winery moved its May 2 Winemaker’s Dinner, which was supposed to feature tastings and paella for 200 guests, onto Facebook and YouTube. Owner Matthew Moye said 150 households participated across the U.S., with four wines and recipes for the dinner that everyone made themselves.

    "Napa’s Honig Vineyard & Winery held an online wine class for 130 Google employees who were sent bottles to sample, said Stephanie Honig, director of sales and communications. In recent weeks, Honig has also held virtual tastings for an anniversary party in New York, the 30-year reunion of a California high-school class and a group of friends in Florida."

    There is part of that wonders if the pandemic is going to teach us all a lesson about outreach and community.  The wineries that are doing virtual events may be able to reopen to guests at some point soon, but that doesn't mean that they should stop their digital efforts - maybe they should sustain them for the long-term as part of maintaining a loyal and connected community.

    For my part, I'm kicking myself for not having started MNB Virtual Happy Hours until the pandemic started.  I enjoy them so much that I should've started them years ago.  (The next one, BTW, is at 5:30 pm EDT on Friday, May 29.  Join us!)

    •  There has been a lot of coverage , here on MNB and elsewhere, about how the first months of the pandemic and the stay-at-home policies that were imposed by many states and nations actually had some unexpected results - like cleaner air and fewer car accidents.

    But now, the Los Angeles Times reports, "Despite a precipitous drop in traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people killed in car collisions this year in Los Angeles is now about the same as it was at this point in 2019, officials said Thursday.

    After a steep drop in deaths during the last two weeks of March, when the city’s stay-at-home order took effect, the Los Angeles Police Department is seeing an 'alarming increase' in traffic fatalities on city streets, Deputy Chief Blake Chow said.

    "The increase in deaths is connected to a surge of speeding on streets that are emptier than usual, and a higher number of people walking and biking in their neighborhoods, police said."

    It is a good, albeit depressing, rule of thumb:  Never underestimate the ability of human beings to do stupid stuff and not learn the lessons that are right in front of them.

    •  Another cultural victim of the pandemic…

    From the Boston Globe:

    "In a major loss for the region’s summer performing arts landscape, the Boston Symphony Orchestra has canceled this year’s Tanglewood festival for the first time since World War II, due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

    "This year, in place of the usual 10 weeks densely packed with live events, the BSO will be offering an online version of the summer festival, with free and paid audio and video content beginning on July 1 …"

    The  Globe notes that since 1937, when Tanglewood was established,  it has been "an iconic New England summer destination, as central to many music fans as the beaches of Cape Cod. It typically draws some 340,000 visitors each year to its vast emerald lawns as well as soloists and guest ensembles from around the world."

    Losing 10 weeks of music certainly doesn't seem like a big deal when you think about it in the context of lost lives and lost jobs.  But we shouldn't ignore the fact that we're also losing a bit of our soul as a result of the pandemic - the plays, the films, the music and the art that are not being produced, that we're not seeing and hearing, that cannot raise us up (at least not through traditional venues) at a time where our hearts and spirits could surely use it.

    Published on: May 18, 2020

    The New York Times weekly "Corner Office" column has an interview with two food industry CEOs to get a sense of how they prepared for and dealt with the pandemic.

    "Linda Findley Kozlowski took over as Blue Apron’s chief executive a year ago and was working to lift the business after its stock cratered during its first two years as a public company. Thrive Market’s chief executive, Nick Green, a co-founder, was trying to scale the business and prepare for a public offering.

    "But in the past months, both executives have been scrambling to keep up with the crushing demand while tending to the sanitizing of their fulfillment centers, a wave of new hiring and a supply chain in flux."

    You can read it here.

    Published on: May 18, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Rite Aid  has announced a new partnership with Instacart that "will allow customers to conveniently order and receive essential healthcare and grocery items delivered directly to their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond … Instacart delivery is now available from Rite Aid’s more than 2,400 locations across 18 states."

    I know I usually object to companies doing business with Instacart because such deals erode their own brand equity.  But Rite Aid doesn't have all that much brand equity, or a compelling value proposition, to begin with, so it can use all the help it can get.

    Published on: May 18, 2020

    •  From MarketWatch:

    "Amazon is once again on the prowl for stores owned by bankrupt grocer Fairway Market … After forking over $1.5 million for two of Fairway’s grocery stores in March, the online shopping giant has been kicking the tires at other Fairway locations, including in the Douglaston neighborhood of Queens, in the Long Island town of Westbury and in Harlem."

    Amazon has not said what its specific plans are for the two Fairway locations.

    •  Ahold Delhaize USA announced Americold as its partner "to build two previously announced fully-automated frozen warehouses. The new facilities are part of the company’s previously announced supply chain transformation plan as it transitions to a fully-integrated, self-distribution model.

    "The plan will expand cold-storage space by 24 million cubic feet, or 500,000 square feet, by building the two frozen facilities in partnership with Americold. The facilities will be located in Plainville, Conn., which will serve Ahold Delhaize USA’s Northeast brands, and in Mountville, Pa., which will serve Ahold Delhaize USA’s Mid-Atlantic brands."

    Published on: May 18, 2020

    •  Fred Willard, one of the funniest and most ubiquitous comic actors of the past 50 years, has passed away.   He was 86.

    Just some of the films and TV shows in which he appeared:  This is Spinal Tap, Anchorman, Best in Show, For Your Consideration, A Mighty Wind, "Fernwood 2 Night," "New Girl," "Modern Family," and the forthcoming "Space Force" on Netflix.

    •  Phyllis George, who was a pioneering female sportscaster on CBS's "The NFL Today" in the late seventies and early eighties, after having spent a year as Miss America, has passed away after a long battle with a blood disorder.  She was 70.

    George was for a short time the co-host of CBS's morning news show, and also was an entrepreneur.

    Published on: May 18, 2020

    On a subject of continuing interest on MNB, one reader wrote:

    I have maintained for years now that the best thing for the USPS would be for Amazon to buy it. The hurdle will be the current pension plan – I don’t think Bezos would ever agree to accept that kind of liability. The employees and the American Postal Workers Union are unlikely to give it up. That leaves the U.S. government to retain the liability (on behalf of the U.S. taxpayer of course) as the most likely way to get the deal done. It would take several years to transform the delivery model and culture of the USPS, but Amazon is probably better suited to that task than FedEx or UPS.  

    Amazon buying the USPS may ultimately be good for us as consumers and as taxpayers, but it may not be the best use of capital for Amazon.  And that would be the bottom line, I'd guess.

    Regarding future travel on airplanes, one MNB reader wrote:

    My travel “risk mitigation” plan will be to have extra masks, Kleenex, and cough drops that I can “gift” to my sick seat mates…very “passive/aggressive”…

    Responding to our piece about an iconic Boston-area restaurant, MNB reader Henry Stein wrote:

    As a Kowloon fan, whose Boston-based niece (Bob Wong is her father-in-law) enjoyed her pre-wedding rehearsal dinner there several years ago, I can attest to the following: strong legacy; very well managed; service extraordinaire; creative concept (during our semi-private rehearsal dinner, there was a rock band playing to a sold out crowd in an upstairs section), and importantly, food that was memorable and plentiful. Kowloon is worth the trip. The Wong family knows what customers are seeking.

    Following up on my pieces about Butcher Box, MNB reader Brian Todd wrote:

    Suggest you take a ride to the Hudson Valley where Applestone Meat is doing a bang up business with its vending operation. My son has raved about them for years as he could pick up a steak at 10 PM for a late dinner when butcher shops were long closed.  I have used them as an example of a great solution to combine local and convenience in my talks for a few years now. Great concept and execution that I see increasing in popularity well beyond the pandemic.

    From another reader:

    I was perusing your email today over lunch and watched your Butcher Box video and felt compelled to write you for the first time. You're spot on with your comments. This subscription service is an example of how companies can innovate and win.

    My husband, on a whim, took grocery shopping into his own hands pre-pandemic. I can only suspect the "free chicken wings for life" hooked him. As an employee of a grocery retailer, I shook my head and questioned his decision -- I could get it at my store! 

    And then the pandemic hit and the subsequent meat shortage. I didn't want to go out to the store or search for products and have turned to delivery exclusively. This box has been a blessing (and yes, I've let my husband know -- I can give credit when credit is due), so much so that I've put my parents and in-laws on the waiting list (great Christmas gift) and telling all my friends.

    With a bit of a guilty conscience, I can attest that the quality is great and on par with what I'd get at my store. We're four boxes in (fifth coming this week) and have been nothing but delighted each time. Be sure to try the filet! And while the cost is a little bit more based on my own comparison study, I'll gladly pay for the convenience of having such a high quality product delivered, especially right now.

    And from another reader:

    Thanks for experimenting with these different forms of retailing. it is valuable information for everyone, especially for those in the trenches that sometimes forget to look up!

    It is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

    MNB reader Adam Dill wrote:

    We have been using Butcher Box for almost 2 years now.  If you are a bacon fan, their thick sliced bacon is fabulous!  Also, watch for their member specials.  We have gotten ground beef and bacon for life during some of their specials, which has made the subscription an even better value.  Every once in a while, we will get a cut of meat that we need to go to their recipe ideas to figure out how to cook it, but have been extremely happy with it.  My daughter is also a fan of their sustainable packaging, which has improved dramatically over the past year.

    With the pandemic, we were happy to have the subscription and the reliable source for meat.  We have been on a every two month delivery, but COVID-19 is making us consider moving it back to monthly.  As a loyal subscriber, I was happy to see them create a wait list for people looking to join the bandwagon now!  I thought is showed a thoughtful approach to appreciating their existing subscribers, but also understanding the pandemic is a growth opportunity for them.

    MNB reader Stacy McCoy wrote in about the movie theater that was willing to rent out an entire theatre and movie screening to 10 people for a few hundred dollars - just to get people back in the habit:

    OMG can this be a thing always??

    I love watching movies on the big screen, but I hate actually GOING to the movies. I really dislike being in a theater with other people. All the people that are talking, chewing their popcorn, kicking the back of your seat, getting up to use the restroom…. If I had an option to buy out the entire theater for a few hundred dollars, I would be in heaven.

    But another reader found a flaw in the model:

    If only I knew 9 people.

    Regarding our criticism of private equity groups that saddle retailers with enormous debt, MNB reader Jeff Weidauer wrote:

    Right on KC.

    What’s being called the “retail apocalypse” has as much to do with PE debt loads and leverage as it does with online shopping. The pandemic shutdown is only going to accelerate the death of many retailers with PE-owned banners at the head of the line.  

    And finally, a couple of emails worth sharing.

    MNB reader Howard Carr wrote:

    Today the stock market is hammering the retail industry, for no justifiable reason. 

    This pandemic caught everyone off guard, and the reduction in retail sales should have been expected, especially in the food service sector.  In the hard and soft goods categories, we created an uneven playing field by allowing Home Depot and Lowes and related building materials retailers to be open and selling things like furniture and cleaning supplies, but Bed Bath was closed, as was At Home and Home Goods due to the shutdown.  When you consider the breakdown of the online systems that were over whelmed by the demand, and the lag times for receipt of orders, it is now wonder these are the numbers we are seeing.  However, some retail efforts require the attendance of the buyer at the point of purchase.  You might want to try on a suit, a pair of shoes without the need to have to return them via UPS when you are locked down, a coat, sit  in a chair or sofa, tes out a new mattress, or see if that fabric will work with your new décor.

    Did anyone really think retailer’s numbers were going to be good, during this once in a lifetime disaster?  Based on all the issues effecting the acquisition, purchase and delivery of goods and services, I, for one, applaud the industry for a job well done, considering all the obstacles to achieving the intended results.

    And from another reader:

    Some of our friends have lost jobs. It must be nice for the people including me who still have jobs. Being safe should be a high priority, but to politicize this virus is absolutely insane. People need to get back to work or small businesses in this country along with the overall economy is tanked beyond repair. Plus we may see a depression unlike anything this country has ever faced. We just can’t print money and think all is good! America needs to open and whether you choose to partake is totally up to you because here you have the freedom to make that choice. Certain people are using this pandemic to keep America closed so they can fundamentally change who we are as a country! They are the sick ones! America needs to work!

    Which brings me back to where I started this morning, with FaceTime.

    I would gently suggest that not everyone who is expressing greater concern about the impact of the pandemic than the impact of a recession is looking to "fundamentally change who we are as a country!"  (And even if they are, that doesn't make them "sick."  It just means they may have different opinions and priorities than other people.)  

    I worry deeply about people who are losing their jobs.  I also worry deeply about people who are losing their lives.  And I worry deeply that we as a nation have not found the right balance in figuring out how to deal with both in an effective way, and I worry that we do not have the community will to make the sacrifices necessary to address both issues.  And I don't think that means I am politicizing the issue.