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    Published on: August 13, 2020

    There's speculation about a major league baseball player perhaps hitting .400 this season, which would be the first time since Ted Williams did it in 1941.  This irritates KC, who points out that Teddy Ballgame did it over 154 games.  It isn't the same thing, he argues ... but it does provide a relevant business lesson.  (Of course it does…)

    Published on: August 13, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    For the last few years, there has been a distinct demographic shift taking place that I've been arguing requires retailers - especially supermarkets - to rethink their approach to location and format.

    The construct went like this:

    Most supermarkets have been built for customers who got married in their twenties, have 2-3 kids, moved to a house with plenty of room for storage and bought a minivan/SUV.

    But the world is changing.  People are getting married later and having fewer children.  They're opting for  a more urban style of living, with less room for storage, and may not even own a car.

    How will/should retailers compensate for this shift?

    The pandemic, of course, has shot that trend all to hell.

    Axios has a story this morning about how "bidding wars, frantic plays for a big suburban house with a pool, buying a property sight unseen - they're all part of Americans' calculus that our lives and lifestyles have been permanently changed by coronavirus and that we'll need more space (indoors and out) for the long term … There's a gold rush in real estate across the U.S., driven by record-low mortgage rates and the dawning realization that for many of us, our homes are going to be the only place we work and play for the foreseeable future."

    (Let's stipulate that only part of the population is able to play this game.  There are, after all, a lot of people struggling to get by, who barely have enough money to pay the existing rent or mortgage, or who have lost their jobs and have no idea what they are going to do next.  It is critical, I think, for those of us who have been lucky enough to keep working and have enough money to pay the bills keep in mind that not everybody has been so fortunate.)

    The Axios story makes the point that "while spacious single-family homes in suburbs and exurbs are in hot demand, apartment rents are falling in places like Manhattan, where landlords are offering deals to entice tenants.

    "What buyers are looking for: Fresh air, backyards, home offices (for two adults), a homeschooling area, space for pets, home gyms - plus proximity to beaches, lakes, parks and bike paths."

    But here's the kicker from the Axios story:

    "As more people do their grocery and household shopping online, proximity to retail stores is no longer a real estate priority.

    "'We're not hearing as much around brick-and-mortar, where's the closest this-or-that,' Kris Lindahl, CEO of a real estate agency in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, tells Axios.  'Instead it's 'can we get delivery here?'."

    You know.  The same kinds of delivery services that they were getting back in the city.

    Go figure.  People want it all.

    I think this is interesting, and may actually show us what the future may look like.

    I still believe that retailers need to adjust to these new realities, and figure out where they fit.  They cannot ignore the e-commerce acceleration, and cannot just outsource it so they don't have to meet its demands.  At least, not if they want to burnish their own brands and value propositions.

    They have to think about new offerings that will be relevant to our new reality.

    For example, how many retailers have crafted product selections and marketing programs specifically targeted to families where parents are working at home but also dealing with kids who are learning remotely?  These are circumstances that may play out a lot more over the coming six to nine months than we'd like, and put specific demands and stresses on families.  If I were a retailer, I'd be thinking about this, and trying to figure out to make sure my brand is identified with the solutions that these folks may not even know they're looking for.  Yet.

    We all have to keep our Eyes Open.

    There's something happening here,

    What it is ain't exactly clear…

    (A personal note.  Some of this breaks my heart.  I have lived in the same Connecticut home for 36 years, and have been looking forward to moving to a city and enjoying the pleasures of an urban environment.  I'm looking out my home office window at the moment at the backyard, where the dogs are wandering around happily, and feel like maybe I got it at least a little wrong.  Or that maybe my timing is bad.)

    Published on: August 13, 2020

    Acosta is out with a new report saying that " 53% of shoppers plan to stock up if another shutdown occurs," and that retailers need to be prepared for this eventuality.

    “As COVID cases continue to rise, most shoppers believe we’re headed for another shutdown and plan to respond accordingly, so retailers should be prepared for a new surge in stocking up,” said Darian Pickett, CEO of North American Sales at Acosta. “The pandemic will also significantly impact back-to-school shopping this year, and retailers will need to adapt to parents’ new priorities and shopping preferences. Hand sanitizer, masks and gloves will be the most in-demand items, in addition to basic school supplies, and many will opt for online shopping and delivery options.”

    Some data points from the study:

    •  "Four months into the pandemic, the level of overall shopper concern remains high at 7.9 out of 10."

    •  "Sixty-seven percent of shoppers think another shutdown is extremely or somewhat likely to occur."

    •  "In the event of another shutdown, more than half of shoppers intend to stock up on groceries:  Thirty-eight percent of shoppers stocked up at the start of the pandemic and plan to stock up again … Fifteen percent of shoppers did not stock up at the start but plan to stock up this time … Seventeen percent of shoppers stocked up at the start but won’t this time … Twenty-four percent of shoppers did not stock up at the start and also won’t this time."

    KC's View:

    While a lot of shoppers were frustrated by out-of-stocks the first time we went through this, most retailers could persuasively argue that we all got caught off-guard by pandemic realities, and that we all were in it together.

    I suspect - I have no evidence to back this up - that customers may be less forgiving if we have another round of shutdowns that prompt panic buying.  It just makes sense to me … in the way that I also think it is inevitable that the next 6-9 months are going to be very rough in the US because of the coronavirus.  I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think I will be.

    And so, retailers better be preparing now - not just in terms of stocking up themselves, but with programs designed to deal with heightened demand in a way that works.

    One thing seems sure.  Amazon will be ready … and I suspect will be more ready the second time around to make sure its best customers (Prime members) and subscription customers (with Subscribe & Save) are taken care of in a way that reduces panic to some extent.

    Published on: August 13, 2020

    Breaking news from the Wall Street Journal:

    U.S. unemployment claims fell to less than one million last week for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. in March.

    "New applications for unemployment benefits dropped to 963,000 in the week ended Aug. 8, the Labor Department said Thursday. Claims are down significantly from a peak of near seven million in March, but remain at historically high levels and well above the pre-pandemic record of 695,000.

    "The number of people collecting unemployment benefits through regular state programs, which cover the majority of workers, also decreased at the beginning of August. That figure, at about 15.5 million, was still well above the pre-pandemic peak of 6.6 million in 2009."

    Published on: August 13, 2020

    From the Washington Post this morning:

    "Grocery workers across the country say morale is crushingly low as the pandemic wears on with no end in sight. Overwhelmed employees are quitting mid-shift. Those who remain say they are overworked, taking on extra hours, enforcing mask requirements and dealing with hostile customers. Most retailers have done away with hazard pay even as workers remain vulnerable to infection, or worse. Employees who took sick leave at the beginning of the pandemic say they cannot afford to take unpaid time off now, even if they feel unwell.

    "The mounting despair is heightened by the lack of other job options: Supermarkets are among the few bright spots in an industry that has been ravaged by covid-related store closures and a sharp drop-off in consumer spending. The retail sector has shed 913,000 jobs and chalked up more than a dozen bankruptcies during the pandemic."

    More from the Post story:

    "Workers’ renewed sense of expendability comes after four straight months of double-digit unemployment. With more than 32 million Americans collecting unemployment benefits, labor experts and economists say there is an ever-growing pool of desperate people willing to face hazardous conditions and low pay to put food on the table. The nation’s 2.7 million grocery workers make, on average, $13.20 an hour, or about $27,000 a year, Commerce Department data show … At least 130 U.S. grocery workers have died, and more than 8,200 have tested positive for covid-19 since late March, according to data from workers’ groups and media reports. Grocery stores are generally not required to inform shoppers about coronavirus cases or report them to local health departments, which can make it difficult to get an accurate count."

    And more:

    "Adding to the stress, many workers say, are new responsibilities, including disinfecting store fixtures and enforcing social distancing and mask requirements.

    "Almost every major retailer, including Walmart, Home Depot and Target, is now asking shoppers to wear masks, although employees say enforcement is spotty and often fraught. Grocery workers have been demeaned, screamed at and even assaulted for reminding shoppers of the new protocols, with some of the most egregious incidents captured on video and shared online. Illinois this week made it a felony to assault workers who are enforcing mask requirements."

    KC's View:

    My first question about this story:

    Isn't it a felony to assault anyone?

    That said, I'm okay if states and communities want to underline the importance of mask mandates and the fact that the hammer will come down on anyone who assaults or harasses workers who enforce them.

    There's good reason for this:  USA Today reports that "a teenager in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was reportedly attacked while working as a hostess at a Chili's restaurant last weekend for refusing to seat a large party at a single table."

    The story also says that "the same day of the incident in Louisiana, a similar attack took place in Pennsylvania.  Two people allegedly assaulted a children's theme park employee Sunday near Philadelphia after the teen reminded them of the park's face mask requirement."

    Really?  At Sesame Place?  What the hell is next?  Shouting profanities at Bert and Ernie?

    There's no excuse for this crap.  These people are kids and just trying to do their jobs.  When are some of these adults going to grow up and start acting like it?  (I have no patience with these people.)

    Let's be clear about one thing.  Not every retailer has this problem.  There are more than a few, I'd guess, that have done a good job about communicating to employees that they remain essential, and putting into places policies and practices that reinforce this ongoing commitment.

    However, I'd suggest that the retailers doing a good job are the ones who worry about it and make dealing with these issues a priority.  If you are retailer not focusing on it, or convinced that you have the situation well in hand, then I'd guess that you have a bigger problem than you know.  (Just sayin…)

    From almost the beginning of the use of the word "essential" to describe retail employees, it has been a concern around here that this would be an ephemeral commitment, and that employers and customers would see workers as less essential as time went on.  The Post story reinforces that concern … but this should be be thought of as a permanent problem.  But it does require a permanent commitment to recognizing the critical - and primary - importance of front line employees.

    You can't do it without them.  

    One caution.  This well could become a political issue.

    Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) the other day co-authored an op-ed piece with Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), in which they called for supermarkets to continue the hazard pay for workers that was instituted at the beginning of the pandemic.

    They wrote, in part:  "The brave, dedicated workers who put themselves at risk when they enter their workplaces don't make headlines, but each of us should value their quiet courage and sacrifice every time we visit our neighborhood grocery store. We cannot take their work or safety for granted -- and their employers shouldn't either. But too many grocery chain CEOs treat their workers as expendable. This is unacceptable.

    "Grocery workers are essential workers -- without them, families across the country would not have access to the food they need during this pandemic. Given the increasing dangers as Covid-19 continues to spread, the time is now to reinstate hazard pay for all of America's grocery workers."

    Now, when she co-wrote this piece, Harris was just the junior senator from California.  Today, she's the presumptive Democratic nominee for the vice presidency … which means that her soapbox just got a lot bigger and higher.  I wouldn't be surprised if this became a campaign issue over the next 82 days.

    Published on: August 13, 2020

    Bloomberg reports that "Circle K plans to roll out automated checkout at select stores in the U.S. next year, becoming the latest retailer to bet on shoppers’ reluctance to stand in line.

    "The convenience store chain, owned by Canada’s Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., on Tuesday said it would deploy a cashierless checkout system at a store in the Phoenix area in early 2021.

    "The technology is supplied by Standard Cognition Corp., which has raised $86 million from investors, including EQT Ventures and Y Combinator, by pledging to retrofit existing retail locations quickly.

    "The San Francisco startup has also signed up a minor-league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox and Paltac Corp., a Japanese drugstore chain. Circle K declined to say how many locations will get the gear."

    KC's View:

    I visited the Standard Cognition test store in San Francisco back in 2018 … and remember being underwhelmed by it.  (The stench of urine coming from right outside the door on Mission Street may have contributed to that.)  

    But … they've had several years to get their act together, and I hope that they've come up with a legitimate and cost-effective response to Amazon Go.  

    There’s no question that there are going to be bunches of companies developing various iterations of checkout-free technology, and that somebody is going to take it for a successful ride, and that the world is going to continue to change. I still believe that checkout-free tech is going to end up being as important to retail as scanning.

    Published on: August 13, 2020

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  In the United States, there have been 5,360,302 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 169,131 deaths and 2,812,603 recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 20,827,637 confirmed coronavirus cases, 747,584 fatalities, and 13,723,478 reported recoveries.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "The seven-day average of new cases topped the 14-day average in nine states and Washington, D.C., for Aug. 11, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins University data, suggesting that cases were rising in those areas. A month earlier, the seven-day new case average topped the 14-day new case average in 42 states and D.C. … While the data suggests only about a fifth of states are seeing an increase in cases, some are seeing declines in testing. In 16 states, the seven-day moving average of tests per 1,000 people was down from a week ago, according to Johns Hopkins."

    •  The New York Times reports that one of the categories that seems to be booming in the pandemic is the mattress business - apparently because as people spend more time at home, they're also spending more time in bed.

    The interest seems to be across the board, from high-end mattresses to value offerings to mattresses for RVs and campers.

    Talk about timing.  The acceptability of ordering mattresses online, from companies like Casper and Tuft & Needle, certainly plays into this trend.

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the union that represents New York City's public school principals, is asking the city to delay the opening of school until September 10, saying that they cannot be opened safely because "the city hasn’t answered questions on topics ranging from teacher staffing to hand sanitizer."

    The story notes that "New York, the largest school district in the U.S. with 1.1 million students, is the only one of the country’s 10 largest school systems still planning for an on-schedule reopening with students attending school in person for at least part of each week. The other large school districts have decided to reopen for online learning only or have pushed back the start of the school year."

    •  ABC News reports that a Georgia school district has quarantined more than 900 students and staff members because of possible exposure to the coronavirus since classes resumed last week and will temporarily shut down a hard-hit high school in which a widely shared photo showed dozens of maskless students posing together.

    "The quarantine figures from the Cherokee County School District include at least 826 students, according to data the district posted online. Located about 30 miles (60 kilometers) north of Atlanta, the district serves more than 42,000 students and began its new school year on Aug. 3."

    If I understand this story correctly, this is the same school where the students who posted the pictures online got in trouble for having done so … the same district where no change has been made to the 'masks optional' policy … in the same state where no changes are being made to the high school football schedule … and in the same state where, as ABC News reports, authorities "posted (the) highest single-day death total yet in the pandemic at 137 fatalities … The state is currently averaging reports of more than 60 deaths each day though people may have died earlier."

    The New York Times writes that "Depending on whom you ask, the string of positive tests and isolation orders in Cherokee County either proved the district’s folly for opening schools during the worst American public health crisis in decades, or demonstrated a courageous effort to return to normal."

    I know where I come down in that argument.

    •  From the New York Times:

    "Pennsylvania State University is requiring its students to sign a waiver that absolves the university of liability for exposure to the coronavirus on campus. If they do not accept the terms in the document, which the school calls a compact, the students are denied access to the university’s portal where they sign up for classes … In the waiver, students are required to acknowledge that the university’s safety measures 'may, or may not, be effective in mitigating the spread' of the virus."

    Students are said to be protesting the waiver requirement.

    I checked.  At Pennsylvania State, in-state tuition is $18,450, and out-of-state tuition is $35,514.  For that kind of money, I might require a little higher accountability on the part of the school.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller said Wednesday that he is shutting down his TAK Room restaurant at Hudson Yards, one of the highest-profile closings to date due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    "The dining spot is a marquee attraction of the $25 billion complex, which was developed by Related Cos. and Oxford Properties Group and runs from 30th to 34th streets and from 10th to 12th avenues in Manhattan. The complex opened last year and has tried to position itself as a prime culinary destination in the city, featuring other restaurants from such acclaimed chefs as David Chang, José Andrés and Michael Lomonaco.

    "The pandemic has upended the restaurant and retail picture at the development. In July, Neiman Marcus Group Ltd., the upscale department-store chain, said it was closing its Hudson Yards location, a key component of the complex.

    "In announcing the permanent shutdown of the TAK Room and also his Bouchon Bakery at Hudson Yards, Mr. Keller said in a statement that the pandemic has 'devastated the global economy and caused irreparable damage to our business and profession'."

    The Journal says that the Hudson Yards owners plan to convert the Neiman Marcus and TAK spaces into offices … which strikes me as a little strange at a time when commercial real estate is in decline and companies are reconsidering the importance and necessity of office space.  Another example…

    •  The Seattle Times reports that "in yet another sign of the way COVID-19 is upending business models, REI is walking away from its nearly completed corporate campus in Bellevue and will shift headquarters operations to multiple sites across the Seattle area.

    "The Kent-based outdoor retailer said it is in talks to sell the 380,000-square-foot building and 8-acre campus with 'multiple interested parties.' People familiar with the situation say one of those interested parties is Facebook, which has facilities in the same upscale multi-use development, known as the Spring District, where the REI headquarters is being built."

    The story goes on:   "When the company returns to offices — the date is unknown — it expects to operate in several sites, including an existing one in Georgetown, as well as new satellite campuses on the Eastside and in South Puget Sound, which REI is scouting for.

    "The decision to abandon the nearly completed Spring District campus, which the company had expected to move into this summer, marks a major strategic shift for the outdoor retailer.

    "When REI announced plans in 2016 for the new headquarters campus, the project was billed as a way to consolidate operations that are spread across four Seattle-area sites.  But the pandemic has forced REI to rethink not only where its employees work but also how much capital it can afford to sink into a single asset, said Ben Steele, REI’s chief customer officer, who has led the headquarters design."

    It seems that indeed, necessity is the mother of invention.  Many companies have discovered that they didn't need people in a central location to be inventive and productive, and so they're turning this new model into a feature as opposed to a temporary glitch.  Like this next story…

    •  The New York Times reports that "a tabloid once famous for its bustling, big-city newsroom no longer has a newsroom.

    "In a move that was almost unthinkable before the coronavirus pandemic, Tribune Publishing said on Wednesday that The Daily News, once the largest-circulation newspaper in the country, was permanently closing its physical newsroom at 4 New York Plaza in Lower Manhattan. The same day, Tribune, the Chicago newspaper chain that has owned The News since 2017, told employees that it was closing four of its other newspapers’ offices.

    "'We have determined that we do not need to reopen this office in order to maintain our current operations,' Toni Martinez, a human resources executive at Tribune Publishing, wrote in an email to the staff that was reviewed by The New York Times.  'With this announcement, we are also beginning to look at strategic opportunities and alternatives for future occupancy.'

    "The paper will continue to be published. The company made no promises about a future physical location."

    It has been a long time since I worked in a newsroom, but I've always missed it.  One of the coolest moments of my life was when I got a chance to spend time in the old Washington Post newsroom - the same one that was replicated with care in All The President's Men - when I interviewed for a job there.  (I didn't get it.  Obviously.)

    What financial and human resources people never will get is how important a newsroom is to a reporter's work.  Though, to be fair, I may be guided in this by nostalgia.

    Longtime Daily News columnist Mike Lupica wrote last week, after the passing of Pete Hamill, about how in the old days when he started at the News, Hamill and his fellow columnist Jimmy Breslin worked in offices adjacent to the newsroom.  Hamill's office was clouded by cigarette smoke, he wrote, and Breslin's with cigar smoke.  But, he wrote, "it wasn’t smoke you saw and felt and smelled between them. It was magic."

    That's what a great newsroom always was.  Magic.

    •  Another sign of the broad cultural impact of the pandemic…

    Variety reports that "Diana," a music about the life of the Princess of Wales that was in previews on Broadway before the pandemic shut down all live theater, now will premiere on Netflix next year before its rescheduled opening night on May 25, 2021.

    According to the story, "While lights on the main stem have been off, theaters have been trying to offer up more content digitally. Disney Plus recently had a big hit with a taped version of 'Hamilton,' Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show about one of America’s Founding Fathers and the country’s first treasury secretary.

    "Netflix has been home to numerous theatrical works before, including 'American Son' with Kerry Washington, 'Springsteen on Broadway' and Nick Kroll and John Mulaney’s 'Oh, Hello.' Ryan Murphy is currently working on a film adaptation of the Tony-nominated musical 'The Prom' for the streaming service. But 'Diana' represents a first in that the show will be available to the public on Netflix before patrons can buy Broadway tickets."


    I'm happy that live theater - one of the great joys of my life - will be made more accessible to more people.  I hope that deals like these will serve to support more live theater.  I just hope that we don't get to the point where live theater is replaced by Netflix and its brethren.  Again, I may be partially guided by nostalgia in this, but I spent a lot of time on the stage when I was a much younger man (I actually went to acting school for a short time), and there are few things that compare to the charge of being on the stage in front of a live audience, or the charge of sitting in the audience and witnessing a great performance.

    Published on: August 13, 2020

    Albertsons announced yesterday that it is working with vertical-farming company Plenty Unlimited to provide fresh produce in more than 430 stores across California.

    According to the announcement, "Plenty’s sustainable indoor vertical farm delivers produce all year long. The operation leverages data analytics, machine learning and customized lighting to maximize taste, while a combination of wind and solar provides 100% of the farm’s energy. The current Plenty farm can grow 1 million plants at a time and process 200 plants per minute, and is designed to use less than 1% of land and 5% of water compared to traditional farming."

    The companies said that the partnership "has proven capable of meeting the evolving needs of the consumer - regardless of events that can impact the supply chain. When demand soared at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the Albertsons Cos. merchandising team asked suppliers, including Plenty, to help ensure its shoppers would have uninterrupted access to quality fresh produce. Plenty responded by ramping up production at its indoor vertical farm to bring more products to market, despite the global food chain disruption."

    Plenty is currently available in select Safeway and Andronicos locations in the Bay Area, with plans to expand to additional Albertsons Cos. stores in California – including Albertsons, Vons, and Pavilions – as supply increases.

    Published on: August 13, 2020

    USA Today reports on a new S&P study listing the number of restaurant chains that are likely to default and/or file for bankruptcy in coming months - all because of problems created or exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

    Among them:  Dave & Busters (a 16.1 percent chance of defaulting in the next year), Bloomin' Brands, owner of Outback Steakhouse and Bonefish Grill (13.2 percent), Denny's (11.9 percent), Cheesecake Factory (11.7 percent), Applebee’s and IHOP (11.3 percent), and BJ’s Restaurants (9.3 percent).

    According to the story, "While the nation’s largest publicly traded restaurants face a less than 1 in 5 chance of defaulting in the next year, according to the new report by S&P Global Ratings, they remain in perilous terrain.

    "Analysts are particularly concerned about the coming winter, which will eliminate outdoor seating options for many restaurants, and the demise of the extra $600 in unemployment benefits that had been available for jobless Americans. Congress is currently debating whether to extend those benefits."

    Published on: August 13, 2020

    •  From Bloomberg:

    "Walmart shoppers are a pretty loyal bunch. But when virus-spooked Americans began avoiding stores earlier this year and shifting spending online, far more Walmart customers went to Inc. than

    "So even though Walmart, too, has thrived as an essential service amid the pandemic, Amazon is benefiting more.

    "In the first week of February, for every dollar shoppers spent with the two rivals, 66 cents went to Walmart and 34 cents to Amazon, according to Facteus, which tracks credit and debit-card spending for millions of shoppers. In the first week of August, that gap narrowed to 55 cents to Walmart and 45 cents to Amazon."

    •  WWLP News reports that Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop has implemented the planned shift away from its Peapod app, transitioning all account information and histories on the Peapod platform to its own.

    The company's Giant division in the Washington, DC, area began the same shift late last year, as the company has moved away from the Peapod branding that it has used since acquiring the pioneering e-commerce company (it launched in 1989!) in 2001.

    Published on: August 13, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "Off-price retailer Stein Mart is the latest in a long list of businesses to file for bankruptcy protection amid the coronavirus pandemic."  The company plans to close many or all of its bricks-and-mortar stores and begin a liquidation process.

    According to the Journal, Stein Mart "is evaluating alternatives, including the potential sale of its eCommerce business and related intellectual property."

    Intellectual property at Stein Mart?  Can't wait for that auction….

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Two of J.C. Penney Co. ’s largest landlords have emerged as the leading contenders to acquire the department-store chain’s retail business out of bankruptcy, according to people familiar with the matter.

    "Simon Property Group Inc., the biggest mall owner in the U.S. by number of malls, and Brookfield Property Partners LP, another big shopping center owner, have joined together and are in advanced talks to purchase Penney’s retail operations, people familiar with the matter said … The negotiations are fluid, the people said, and aren’t certain to produce an agreement acceptable to Penney and its top lenders. Other bidders would have the opportunity to top the lead offer, which also requires approval from the judge presiding over Penney’s chapter 11 case in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Corpus Christi, Texas."