retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: June 1, 2020

    The death last week in Minneapolis of an African-American man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer, has prompted nationwide protests - sometimes peaceful, sometimes violent - that have ravaged neighborhoods and destroyed some businesses.

    Calmer voices called for justice - the killing of Floyd was caught on various video cameras, with the result burned into the memories of everyone who saw the footage - and not just for a meaningful discussion of race and persistent racial tensions in America, but also for a public policy that reflects the reality of the moment.

    And, as the protests played out across the internet and cable television screens, businesses found themselves in the middle of the tumult, even as many of them were still trying to regain their footing as the nation's economy slowly reopens and tries to recover from the Covid-19 coronavirus.

    Here's how some of the coverage played out.

    •  The Wall Street Journal writes that "in some cities, smaller businesses bore the brunt of the damage. In Minneapolis, a family-owned liquor store, an Indian restaurant, a chiropractor and other businesses were left in rubble near the closed Lake Street Target."  The Journal notes that "some of those businesses were just starting to reopen this month as protests kicked off following Mr. Floyd's death during an arrest. Authorities have charged one of the arresting Minneapolis officers, Derek Chauvin, with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Mr. Chauvin was seen on video pressing his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck while Mr. Floyd begged for help."


    •  From CNBC:

    "Major retailers across the country are temporarily closing their stores in areas hit hard with protests against police violence. 

    "Target, Apple and Amazon-owned Whole Foods are among the retailers that announced they would shutter locations temporarily or adjust store hours around citywide curfews. Some Apple, Target and Whole Foods stores were damaged by looting, as demonstrations turned violent in several cities across the U.S."

    The story says that "the protests are likely to set back some retailers’ plans to reopen stores that were closed in the wake of the pandemic. For example, Apple had already shuttered about half of its 271 stores in the U.S. amid the coronavirus outbreak, though it reopened roughly 100 stores last week."

    It goes on:  "Whole Foods, which Amazon acquired for $13.7 billion in 2017, said Sunday it was temporarily closing or adjusting store hours at several locations across the country. 

    "Whole Foods’ stores near Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Chicago all remain closed. The company’s Bryant Park store in New York City has only been open for grocery delivery for several weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak, but the store is ending online orders early as a result of protests, a Whole Foods spokesperson told CNBC.

    "The spokesperson said Whole Foods is ensuring that affected locations close well ahead of when citywide curfews begin so that store associates can get home safely. Minneapolis, Chicago and Los Angeles all announced curfews this weekend that are expected to last at least through Monday morning."

    CNBC reports that "Target announced late Saturday that it’s temporarily closing 175 stores across the country as a result of ongoing protests. 

    "The company, which operates 1,900 stores across the U.S., closed 71 stores in Minnesota and at least a dozen stores in California and New York. Any Target employees impacted by the store closures will be paid for up to 14 days of scheduled hours, including Covid-19 premium pay, the company said."

    The CNBC story says that "Target CEO Brian Cornell wrote in a post on Sunday that "as a Target team, we’ve huddled, we’ve consoled, we’ve witnessed horrific scenes similar to what’s playing out now and wept that not enough is changing … And as a team we’ve vowed to face pain with purpose."

    And, CNBC reports, "Walmart said Sunday evening it would close hundreds of stores nationwide, the company confirmed to CNBC.

    Some Walmart stores were physically damaged or looted amid protests that turned violent. On Friday, the company closed stores in Minneapolis and Atlanta. As the protests continued throughout the weekend, Walmart later moved to close stores at locations across the country, a Walmart spokesperson said … Walmart plans to reopen stores that were shuttered on Monday, as long as there is no physical damage at those locations and it’s determined that the surrounding area is safe, the company said."


    •  The Wall Street Journal writes that "around a dozen Walmart stores have been damaged, with more closed pre-emptively over the past few days. On Sunday evening, Walmart closed several hundred stores throughout the country. The damage so far has included looting and other property damage, but no employees have been hurt, a Walmart spokesman said Sunday … Walmart Chief Executive Doug McMillon said in a statement Friday that 'this week is further proof we must remain vigilant in standing together against racism and discrimination'."


    •  From Business Insider:

    "As protests over George Floyd's death turned to riots across the country, Amazon offered an extraordinary show of support for the protesters and the Black community.

    "The Seattle retail and cloud giant tweeted out a statement that point-blank said that 'inequitable and brutal treatment of Black people in our country must stop.'

    "Should Amazon decide to put its weight behind such a message, it could be a game-changer, given that Amazon has itself faced criticism of its treatment of its warehouse and Whole Foods workers, and the sale of facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies."

    The story goes on:

    "Amazon Web Services has also been accused of selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies even though facial recognition tech does a far poorer job recognizing non-white faces, according to various studies. The concern is facial recognition could jeopardize the civil liberties of people who are misidentified. Amazon has criticized those studies, alleging that the technology was misconfigured.

    "So, Amazon's unequivocal statement of support for the Black community is particularly meaningful, particularly if Amazon begins with its own house and then throws its massive resources behind efforts to help police department solve the problem."


    •  USA Today reports that "Amazon is limiting deliveries and shifting routes in some cities that have been rocked by protests over the killing of George Floyd.

    "The e-commerce company is making the changes and reductions in  several communities to keep its employees safe amid unrest sparked by Floyd's killing by a white Minneapolis police officer."


    •  Business Insider also reports that "Twitter changed its logo, added a link to #BlackLivesMatter to its accounts and tweeted out a string of 'take action' advice that began with this statement:  "The recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and George Floyd, and the victimization of Christian Cooper has left many of us angry, and with a deep sense of grief, but it doesn't compare to what Black and Brown people face every day. #SayTheirNames"

    And, the story notes, Microsoft "tweeted out the link to a speech by CEO Satya Nadella last week in which he addressed the situation and pointed out that Microsoft is working with 'the Criminal Justice Reform Initiative, investing in partnerships and programs, working to drive reforms, focusing on policing'."


    •  Lunds and Byerlys sent out an email to customers over the weekend advising them of adjusted store hours:


    •  Some analysis from the New York Times:

    "Major companies are often wary of conflict, especially in a polarized time. They tend to be afraid of offending their customers and associating their brands with sensitive subjects.

    "American advertisements often shy away from addressing political issues, like impeachment, and also steer clear of news stories about violence, drugs and, recently, the coronavirus pandemic.

    "But after Mr. Floyd died on Monday in Minneapolis, a wide range of companies began to take much more public stances on racial injustice and police violence.

    "Speaking out on social issues is often a calculated decision, a form of 'values and identity-driven targeted marketing,' said Americus Reed, a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. By aligning corporate values with what customers care about, companies are hoping to build a sense of loyalty and a deeper sense of personal connection, he said."


    •  And finally, CNBC reports that Nike released an ad on Friday that played off its familiar "Just Do It" campaign, imploring people:  "For Once, Don’t Do It... Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America... Don’t turn your back on racism.”

    "Nike has a long history of standing against bigotry, hatred and inequality in all forms," the company said in a statement about the ad.  "We hope that by sharing this film we can serve as a catalyst to inspire action against a deep issue in our society and encourage people to help shape a better future."

    As of this morning, the ad had more than 6.5 million views.

    Published on: June 1, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal has a long piece about the challenges facing Wegmans in the current competitive environment.

    "Wegmans became one of the country’s most famous grocery store chains by lavishly pampering its customers with cooking demonstrations, restaurants and movie nights," the Journal writes.  "Now every customer is a potential risk.

    "The shift required by the age of Covid-19 represents an existential challenge to the 104-year-old family-owned company as it upends a shopping experience that made it a household name across the U.S. Northeast.

    "The chain’s famed food bars, which sell everything from pizza to sushi, are closed. Its beloved free samples are gone. It removed varieties of pasta sauce, yogurt and butter as Wegmans loaded up on basic staples. Its stores—built to resemble European-style market halls—now feature plexiglass dividers at cash registers and more security guards to keep customers in line/

    "'A huge part of our business has been treating our customers really as guests and entertaining them. We can’t do that anymore,' Danny Wegman, Wegmans Food Markets Inc.’s 73-year-old chairman, said in an interview. 'We lost our mojo. We have to replace it'."

    The Journal cites some of the impacts:

    •  "The company closed the large on-site restaurants which comprise roughly 10% of its sales. In-house chefs have been redeployed to work registers, run sanitation and manage carts in parking lots. Seafood departments stopped displaying fish on ice and deli counters stopped slicing deli meats to order. Also gone were the copious free samples and a dozen or so cooking demonstrations each store held every week."

    •  "Wegmans lowered the number of shoppers and workers in its stores to a 15-20% capacity. It also introduced job-protected voluntary leave to part-time and full-time employees at stores and warehouses."

    •  "Customers were required to wear masks, and stores closed their doors if lines at checkout went more than two deep. To ensure distancing between customers and cashiers, Wegmans taped indicators throughout stores and placed plexiglass dividers at cash registers."

    •  "The company declined to disclose the number of employees who have tested positive, but said less than 0.5% of its workforce have been affected."

    And now, "With more areas in the U.S. reopening, Wegmans leaders are rethinking how much food and how much customer experience it can offer—and how much customers will want … The company is learning that shoppers will accept fewer options and executives are thinking carefully about the level of assortment they will need in the future. Leaders see long-term opportunities with prepared family meals, as people cook more lunches and dinners at home. Wegmans will focus on affordability and ways to bring services online. The grocer continues to add more room on its floors by removing displays or making them smaller."

    The Rye Daily Voice, meanwhile, has a story about Wegmans' plans to open a store in Harrison, New York, in the city's Westchester suburbs.  Originally planned for an early June opening, the new Wegmans store's debut has been delayed, with "no announced date for a new hard opening … and due to social distancing practices, no grand opening celebrations will be held."

    KC's View:

    It is interesting that Danny Wegman referred to have to "replace" the company's lost mojo, not "regain" it.

    I am confident that the folks at Wegmans will figure this out, and that the stores will be better for it.  I'd even suggest that while the circumstances prompting these decisions and adjustments are far from what one would want, I think this will be a good thing for the company.

    Internal disruption and renewal always is a good thing.  A little discomfort can be a positive experience.  That's where Wegmans' folks find themselves, and that's okay.  They'll embrace it.

    Published on: June 1, 2020

    The New York Times this morning writes about how "customer service representatives, even on the best of days, typically field a lot of complaints - missing deliveries, unsatisfied customers and other gripes. But these days, with people grappling with financial insecurity, separation from their friends and family, and uncertainty, the tone has changed. Rather than viewing calls as a form of drudgery, some people seem to relish having a person on the other end of the line to talk with.

    "Sensing the shifting need, and wanting to make use of customer service representatives whose call volume was down, Zappos, the online merchant best known for its shoes, in April revamped its customer service line: People could call just to chat — about their future travel plans, Netflix shows or anything on their minds.

    "'Sure, we take orders and process returns, but we’re also great listeners,' Zappos said in a statement on its website.  'Searching for flour to try that homemade bread recipe? We’re happy to call around and find grocery stores stocked with what you need.'

    "Brian Kalma, one of the Zappos employees who came up with the idea for the revamped customer service line, said the company’s use of Holacracy, a self-management system in which there are no managers and employees define their own jobs, had helped to create an environment where the idea could come to life."

    The Times notes that Zappos even is considering adding to its customer service staff and extending the new service even as the nation's businesses reopen.

    KC's View:

    What a great concept - going above and beyond just selling stuff, and becoming a real and very human resource for customers.

    It is, I think, the kind of things that can be transformational for a company - even one as accomplished and respected as Amazon-owned Zappos is.

    Published on: June 1, 2020

    Excellent piece in the New York Times "Corner Office" column, featuring an interview with Powell’s Books CEO Emily Powell, in which she discussed the Portland,Oregon-based business's prospects as it deals with the repercussions of the pandemic.

    Powell says that "in many ways the book business hasn’t changed in a very long time and that’s certainly no different for Powell’s. When we opened, all we needed were wooden bookshelves, a rotary phone, a cash register and cash. Now we, like many other retailers, need social media. We need dev ops engineers to build an automated website. We need a database that lives in the cloud that’s searchable in a very nuanced way. There are far more costs to doing business. So we have these expenses that have been going up for a very long time, and now we have very few of the sales, and we anticipate when we open the sales will be quite low even as folks come back.

    "So how do you make that work? Especially as we add the additional expense of creating a very safe environment for our employees and for our customers. You have to be comfortable touching a book, pulling it off a shelf and putting it back and lingering in an aisle. And that’s going to take quite a bit of work on our part, which we’re happy to do, but we have to be able to pay our bills at the same time. So that’s the essential struggle: How do you exist in this modern business retail environment at a time when your sales have returned to a level you maybe haven’t seen in 20 or 30 years? We will figure it out, but it will be a very different business and it’s going to take us some time."

    Powell notes that "Amazon came along relatively late into our story. We went online ourselves in 1994, which was just slightly before Amazon, but we were already very well established as a very large independent bookseller with very large inventory and selection."

    But, she says, "I think the threat of Amazon in some ways has only really arrived at our doorsteps. We are all becoming more and more accustomed over time to placing just one more order on Amazon. 'Oh, I just ran out of this thing. It’s too much trouble to go to that store or to find it somewhere else.'  Little by little, that’s eroded all of our shopping behavior."

    KC's View:

    Fascinating interview … and I should note that Powell's is one of my favorite retailers.

    I do love her answer to the question, "What would you tell someone considering opening an independent bookstore of their own right now?"

    Powell responds, "Don’t do it. Um, that’s not good advice. I don’t mean that. It is really a lovely line of work. My only advice is that it will always be challenging. You know, don’t get into the business thinking that if you sort of get a few things right in the beginning that then it will just work and I don’t have to think about it again. The work of book selling is always challenging. There’s always something new, whether it was the big box stores in the ’90s, and then Amazon and now this. There’s always something."

    Those words ought to be emblazoned on the wall of every retailing entity:

    "There’s always something."

    Published on: June 1, 2020

    The New York Times Magazine had a long story over the weekend about how the pandemic briefly brought Amazon "to its knees — by prematurely bringing about a future it has long been planning for."

    An excerpt:

    "… in a time of crisis, Amazon’s vaunted e-­commerce machinery was failing, and at the very tasks for which its millions of customers flocked to it. All of a sudden, the Everything Store wasn’t even as well stocked as, say, an urban corner store, or a gas station, or a smaller online retailer. To customers trying to place orders, it didn’t just seem overwhelmed — the site seemed broken, more like a sprawling, malfunctioning machine than a retailer under unusual stress. More than just failing them, it seemed to be exposing them to scams and exploitation, a peculiar sort of store that seemed to have lost control of its own shelves. There were signs of distress in Amazon’s vast network of fulfillment centers, too. Employees were falling ill. Some workers were staying home out of fear for their own health; others staged walkouts."

    In so many ways, this was the future Amazon had been planning for: Brick-­and-­mortar stores were closed, consumers were eager to order all manner of things online and the brand was all but synonymous, already, with e-­commerce … To customers and investors alike, the company has long been the alternative to modes of shopping that may now be in accelerated and terminal decline. But for a few weeks, Amazon — the borderline-­magic website that makes things appear on your doorstep — showed us what it was really made of, revealing something more complicated and delicate than its seamless surface usually lets on: machinery half-built and already straining under its own success, supported by an army of invisible middlemen and kept running by hundreds of thousands of workers."

    You can read the entire piece here.

    Published on: June 1, 2020

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

    •  In the United States, there now have been 1,837,170 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 106,195 deaths and 599,867 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 6,282,377 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 374,232 fatalities and 2,854,425 reported recoveries.


    •  The Washington Post reports that "nearly 6 in 10 Americans say the coronavirus outbreak has exacted a severe economic toll on their communities, but a majority of a divided country still says controlling the virus’s spread is more important than trying to restart the economy, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll."

    However, the story also points out that there are considerable political and demographic divides in the numbers - more Democrats than Republicans … more women than men … and a majority of black Americans …  say they are more concerned about the coronavirus than the economy.

    "Overall," the Post writes, "42 percent say they personally know someone who has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, a sharp increase from 11 percent who said this in late March.

    "Despite declines in the rate of new infections in some parts of the country, personal fears persist, with 63 percent of Americans overall continuing to worry that they or a family member will catch the coronavirus. That is not far below the 69 percent who two months ago said they were worried.

    "More broadly, nearly 7 in 10 say they are worried about the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus infections in the fall, a specter that Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has warned could coincide with the start of flu season."

    One can only imagine what kinds of spikes we'll see in a few weeks - a large percentage of the folks who I saw protesting this weekend were not wearing masks, and few were respecting the kind of physical distancing guidelines that help prevent pandemic spread.


    •  The Seattle Times reports this morning that "about 1% of kids who visited a Seattle hospital in April had been infected with the novel coronavirus, according to the first large-scale survey for antibodies in children. The study also found most of the youngsters developed a robust immune response, an encouraging sign for a future vaccine."

    The Times goes on:  "Most of the children who tested positive for antibodies had no symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. That fits with widespread evidence that children are much less likely than adults to become ill or die.

    "The analysis has not yet been peer reviewed or published in a scientific journal, and researchers caution it is just a snapshot that doesn’t shed light on two of the most vexing unknowns about the pandemic: the role of children in spreading the virus, and what is likely to happen when schools reopen."


    •  From CNBC:

    "While apparel retailer Abercrombie & Fitch reported a sales decline of more than 30% during its latest quarter, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, its results also hinted at a rapid rebound among younger consumers as it reopens stores across the U.S.

    "Abercrombie said it’s recovered about 80% of its sales in the U.S. stores it has opened so far, compared with a year ago. And it has reopened 45% of its stores in the country, or 285 locations.

    "It said shoppers appear to be flocking to malls to visit its stores in the U.S. at a faster pace than in parts of Asia."


    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "surging e-commerce volumes during the coronavirus pandemic are straining the U.S. Postal Service’s parcel network as staffing shortages and backlogs in hard-hit areas slow deliveries … The problems have delayed some packages for days and even weeks, shippers and consumers say, holding up orders at a time when many people are shopping more online to avoid infection with the virus.

    "The slow deliveries have complicated business for e-commerce sellers who rely on the Postal Service to ship packages at affordable rates, and tracking services have added to the frustrations, with some items appearing to get stuck at certain locations or vanishing altogether."


    •  Barron's reports that Amazon has announced that it will be "the presenting sponsor for a virtual concert featuring Pearl Jam and Dave Matthews among others, to benefit the Covid-19 response effort All in Washington (All in WA).

    "The post also stated that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos personally will match individual donations under $1 million to the nonprofit’s causes, up to $25 million. The donation is the second major one by Bezos to address the pandemic, following last month’s pledge to give $100 million to Feeding America."


    •  Bloomberg reports that "gym owner 24 Hour Fitness Worldwide Inc. is preparing for a potential bankruptcy to cut its debt as it re-opens locations across the country with precautions in place for social distancing.

    "The operator of more than 430 mid-tier gyms is in talks with investors over the terms of a loan that would keep the company operating through a court restructuring, according to people with knowledge of the situation. The proposed Chapter 11 filing would cut 24 Hour’s borrowings by swapping debt for equity and handing control to lenders, said the people who asked not to be named discussing a private matter."

    However, Bloomberg notes that "even before the pandemic, the company, which has more than $1.3 billion of debt stemming from a leveraged buyout by AEA Investors and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan in 2014, was struggling to hold onto to customers lured by gyms that were either cheaper or fancier."


    •  From the Department of (Literally) Rarefied Air, this story in the New York Times:

    "Commercial air travel has plummeted in the pandemic, but interest in private jet service is surging, particularly among people who have not paid to fly privately before.

    "For years, jet service providers have ferried corporate executives and wealthy leisure travelers who paid high fees for the privacy and security. Now, those same companies are shifting to meet rising demand from people worried about getting on a commercial flight.

    "Over the Memorial Day weekend, one of the busiest travel times in the United States in years past, traffic in the private jet industry was 58 percent of the volume from the same time last year, according to Argus, a company that tracks aviation data. But commercial flights fared worse over the holiday, plunging to 12 percent of the 2019 level."


    •  And, another New York Times story suitable for the Department of Rarefied Air, talking about how auction house Sotheby’s now will do its "big-ticket biannual art sale that was supposed to take place in May but was delayed by the coronavirus outbreak" virtually - it will be "digitally live streamed" on June 29.

    Just in case this is of interest to you, make sure you bring your checkbook - according to the Times, "at the top of the New York lineup on June 29 is Francis Bacon’s 1981 three-part oil painting, 'Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus,' which is estimated to sell for at least $60 million. The work has been guaranteed by Sotheby’s, meaning the auction house has already secured a bid. Still, given the demand for Bacon, there is likely to be competition for the painting, which would lift the price over the estimate."

    Published on: June 1, 2020

    The Journal of International Consumer Marketing has an analysis by Russell Zwanka, who is moving to Western Michigan University's Food Marketing program, and Cheryl Buff, in which they review "the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 on global consumer traits, buying patterns, global interconnectedness and psychographic behavior, and other marketing activities."

    An excerpt:

    "As past cataclysmic events have shown, major shifts in viewpoints and behavior inevitably form from collectively experienced events. The global flu epidemic of 1918 helped create national health services in many European countries. The twinned crises of the Great Depression and the second world war set the stage for the modern welfare state. But, those are shifts in governmental policy and social safety nets. In this framework, we want to postulate how consumer behavior will be impacted, and if that impact will vary by age. Will the COVID-19 pandemic, in effect, form a new generational cohort, as represented by the collective response of that group?"

    You can read the paper here.

    Published on: June 1, 2020

    •  Bloomberg reports that "DefinedCrowd, an Amazon.com-backed startup that provides data sets to train artificially intelligent speech programs, is setting its sights on a public listing in the next five years as voice interactions between humans and machines become more common."  The company already has raised more than $50 million in a recent round of funding.

    The story says that "DefinedCrowd curates voice and text data for clients including BMW and Mastercard to train virtual assistants and customer-service chatbots. The company designs the sets to be diverse and balanced, representing certain dialects or age ranges for audiences most likely to use the systems."

    Revenue grew more than 600 percent last year, and management expects post-pandemic, businesses from "a range of industries" will be turning to AI as a way of better serving customers.


    •  Reuters reports that Amazon "said it was removing certain images after messages using extremely strong racist abuse appeared on some listings on its UK website when users searched for Apple’s AirPods and other similar products."

    “We are removing the images in question and have taken action on the bad actor,” an Amazon spokeswoman told Reuters on Sunday, though she "did not elaborate more on the 'bad actor'."

    Published on: June 1, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  From the Associated Press:

    "As if trips to the grocery store weren’t nerve-racking enough, U.S. shoppers lately have seen the costs of meat, eggs and even potatoes soar as the coronavirus has disrupted processing plants and distribution networks.

    "Overall, the cost of food bought to eat at home skyrocketed by the most in 46 years, and analysts caution that meat prices in particular could remain high as slaughterhouses struggle to maintain production levels while implementing procedures intended to keep workers healthy.

    "While price spikes for staples such as eggs and flour have eased as consumer demand has leveled off, prices remain volatile for carrots, potatoes and other produce because of transportation issues and the health of workers who pick crops and work in processing plants.

    "In short, supermarket customers and restaurant owners shouldn’t expect prices to drop anytime soon."


    •  Well, thank goodness for small victories.

    The Boston Globe reports that Necco wafers soon will return to store shelves.  According to the story, "The beloved candy that once rolled out of the former New England Confectionery Co. factory in Revere is set to make a comeback following a two-year hiatus thanks to the Ohio-based Spangler Candy Company … The midwest company says affectionados and sweettooths alike can expect essentially the same product they’d come to love all those years, from the flavors on down to the wax paper wrapper and recognizable logo."

    Small but reassuring comforts suitable for a time that demands them.

    Published on: June 1, 2020

    •  Christo, the conceptual artist who was known for projects like saffron-curtained gates that ran through New York's Central Park, or the giant curtain that went across a Colorado mountain pass, or curtains that completely covered the Pont Neuf in Paris and the Reichstag in Berlin, has passed away.  He was 84.

    The New York Times describes the Bulgarian-born Christo as "an artistic Pied Piper. His grand projects, often decades in the making and all of them temporary, required the cooperation of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of landowners, government officials, judges, environmental groups, local residents, engineers and workers, many of whom had little interest in art and a deep reluctance to see their lives and their surroundings disrupted by an eccentric visionary speaking in only semi-comprehensible English.

    "Again and again, Christo prevailed, through persistence, charm and a childlike belief that eventually everyone would see things the way he did."

    KC's View:

    I cannot help but think that in a time of both pandemic and racial strife, Christo's work somehow seems like a remnant of a more innocent, genteel and frivolous era.

    Published on: June 1, 2020

    MNB reader Dan Jones wanted to weigh in on a Washington Post column that we referenced last week.

    In that Post piece, Steven Pearlstein wrote:

    “Even before the pandemic, there were encouraging signs that American capitalism was beginning to shed its single-minded focus with maximizing shareholder value. Companies that offered shoddy products and services began to find themselves at the receiving end of nasty social media campaigns, while those whose business models depend on squeezing employees, despoiling the environment and ignoring their responsibility to the rest of society were finding it increasingly hard to attract the most sought-after talent.”

    Dan Jones responds:

    This is a non-sequitur.   Any company with “shoddy products and services” or companies that “ [are] despoiling the environment and ignoring their responsibility to the rest of society” are in no way maximizing shareholder value.  The value of an organization is based on its long term value.  Corporations should maximize shareholder value – understanding this value is a marathon not a sprint.


    On a different subject, from an MNB reader:

    I continue to appreciate MorningNewsBeat and all it offers.  I’m in Michigan. As you know, we’re getting a lot of coverage for those who are protesting stay-at-home-stay-safe orders.  Personally, I’m trying to abide by the guidelines. I’m pretty healthy.  But, I would hate to chance infecting anyone else.  Still, I’m one of the lucky ones.  I am able to continue working—probably busier than I’ve been in years.  How long that will last, I don’t know. 

    I do know this civil war cannot go on.  I also agree that we can’t wait for a vaccine.  I would prefer folks would do the simple things until then. I mean, can’t we just try to help keep each other safe while medical experts find a few more mitigation treatments?  Sadly, it doesn’t appear so. 

    Therefore, I’m wondering if it’s time to consider something akin to “smoking sections.”  I realize those have been outlawed in many states.  And, for good reason.  But, these times call for some way of finding a middle ground.  This won’t work for every type of business.  But, it could work for those that used to offer such distinct seating.  And, it could work for many retail stores.

    For lack of a better term (and since it’s used regularly by protesters) let’s call them “Liberty Sections.”  Or, if not sections then “Liberty Hours.”

    As a business owner, if you are willing to follow all medical/scientific guidelines and state mandates, no other steps need be taken. Except that you MUST enforce the guidelines/mandates. No mask, no entry or service. Monitor flow and (politely) ask folks to follow the signs. Etc. I would think owners would want to promote this, just like lots of businesses were proud to do when they stopped offering a smoking section. I realize these businesses may have to charge more.  And, that is fair. 

    If you are a business owner who wants to cater to those who don’t want to wear masks, stay six feet apart or otherwise protect themselves or others, you need to do the following. Make your “Liberty Section” as large as you’d like. But, you must also offer safe entry to the “Non-Liberty Sections.”  Or, if you are offering “Liberty Hours”—and that could be any number of consecutive hours—be sure you disinfect before you open for the “Non-Liberty Hours.” You must also protect your employees. You must allow them the option of working in those sections or during those hours. Give them the appropriate PPE and paid sick leave if they contract COVID-19.

    In fact, open your whole business as a “Liberty Business” and don’t bother with any of the recommended safeguards. Be sure everyone knows this is your policy, posted clearly on your building, parking lot or otherwise well before the entry.  Most of the businesses I see protesting in Michigan would likely promote this proudly. 

    Just throwing this out there as a starting point for discussion. We have to start talking and figuring this out together.

    I get your point.

    My first reaction is that I would object on philosophical grounds to referring to these as "Liberty Sections."  Because it ignores what I think is important - that with liberty comes responsibility … for our own behavior, but also to take care of our sisters and brothers in liberty.

    And that's what wearing masks is about.  Not insuring our own health, but preventing us from spreading the disease to others.

    I'm not anti-liberty for being pro-mask.  Far from it.

    I believe in that line from the Boston Globe video from a few weeks ago - that addressing the pandemic in ways both serious and nuanced is the height of patriotism, fighting for something bigger than ourselves."

    Am I wrong on this?


    And from MNB reader Stacy McCoy, regarding the new Jimmy Buffett album, from which we shared a couple of songs last Friday:

    Awwww… thank you so much for sharing the new Jimmy tunes! My husband and I will be missing our annual concert this year… we will definitely be listening to some Jimmy in our backyard oasis with some of our chums and a bottle of rum… I just hope we don’t wind up drinking all night!

    Published on: June 1, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    I went back this weekend to watch the speech that Robert F. Kennedy gave on April 4, 1968, when he informed an audience in Indianapolis of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - words that would at least help keep the peace in that city even as riots erupted elsewhere in the country.  It is a little more than 52 years ago that Kennedy spoke there, but the sentiments seem timeless and the words timely.

    In those brief comments, Kennedy urged the nation "to "dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world."

    I share it with you in the same way that I shared it with my kids.