business 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: August 14, 2020

    The goal of "The Innovation Conversation" is to explore some facet of the fast-changing, technology-driven retail landscape and how it affects businesses and consumers. It is, we think, fertile territory ... and one that Tom Furphy - a former Amazon executive, the originator of Amazon Fresh, and currently CEO and Managing Director of Consumer Equity Partners (CEP), a venture capital and venture development firm in Seattle, WA, that works with many top retailers and manufacturers - is uniquely positioned to address.

    Tom and Kevin get together to talk about two recent stories about moves that threaten to reshape retail's competitive landscape - DoorDash's opening of DashMart, which competes with its own c-store retail partners, and Walmart's pilot with Instacart, offering one-day delivery but also putting Walmart on the same platform as Kroger, Albertsons, Costco and numerous other retailers that would describe Walmart as the enemy.  The writing is on the wall, but Tom and Kevin argue that too few people are reading it.

    Published on: August 14, 2020

    Kroger Health, Kroger's healthcare division, yesterday announced "the launch of COVIDCare Plus, a complete employer-focused health and wellness solution designed to help American companies restart and maintain their business operations. The testing program is centered on Kroger Health’s FDA-authorized COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit which combines self-administered testing with virtual supervision by a licensed healthcare provider to help ensure the highest level of accuracy of test results."

    According to the announcement, "Kroger Health’s COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit includes a telehealth consultation provided at the time of specimen collection. Supervision of the collection process by a licensed healthcare professional improves the quality of the sample collected, increases accessibility, and reduces patient anxiety. Through Kroger Health’s strategic partnership with CLIA-certified laboratory Gravity Diagnostics, testing can be administered comfortably at home, with results delivered in 24-48 hours. Samples are collected via mid-turbinate nasal swabs – the same process that Kroger Health has deployed at its COVID-19 drive-thru testing sites, where its multidisciplinary team has collectively administered 150,000 tests."

    In addition the company says, "COVIDCare Plus will offer employers and their teams access to advanced clinical services like vaccinations, telehealth, and telenutrition. These services are focused on driving actionable behavior change that helps combat the larger crisis of chronic disease that affects nearly half of Americans. According to the 2020 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, 72% of Americans are either overweight or obese, and more than 100 million Americans suffer from diabetes or pre-diabetes. The study also states that poor diet is now the leading cause of poor health in the United States. Kroger Health’s expertise in 'food as medicine' combined with Kroger’s position as America’s largest grocery retailer enables a broad set of solutions that address health, wellness, and nutrition."

    KC's View:

    To me, one of the most interesting elements of this program is its ability to reach into the home with actionable and holistic approaches to health - pandemic-related, of course, but also beyond that.  I've always been a fan of programs that draw a thick line connecting health and food, and supermarkets are uniquely positioned to deliver on that.

    Published on: August 14, 2020

    The Verge reports that the California Fourth District Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court opinion and ruled that "Amazon can be held liable for defective products sold on its Marketplace in California."

    This decision, the story says, "could have dire repercussions for Amazon, which has argued for years that it only serves as an intermediary between buyers and third-party sellers on the Marketplace portion of its platform. That stance has protected Amazon from liability for Marketplace products, that is, until now. The company is now facing several other lawsuits over defective products in other courts."

    Reuters reports that "both Pennsylvania’s and Ohio’s top courts are currently considering the issue, and federal appeals courts are weighing cases under California and Texas law."

    Amazon has not commented on the ruling.

    KC's View:

    I would expect Amazon to appeal the ruling, but I hope it doesn't.

    I believe it should have some level of responsibility for the products it sells.  Now, I know there distinctions that can be made and that this could open the company to billions of dollars in frivolous lawsuits.  So I get the appeal.

    But … I think every retailer needs to take some responsibility for what they sell.

    Published on: August 14, 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 now have been 5,416,014 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 170,422 fatalities and 2,843,642 reported recoveries.

    Globally, here have been 21,096,947 confirmed coronavirus cases, 757,823 deaths and 13,946,839 reported recoveries.

    •  The New York Times offers an analysis of national death numbers that suggests that it is possible that more than 200,000 people have died of causes related to the coronavirus.  "As the pandemic has moved south and west from its epicenter in New York City, so have the unusual patterns in deaths from all causes," the Times writes.  "That suggests that the official death counts may be substantially underestimating the overall effects of the virus, as people die from the virus as well as by other causes linked to the pandemic."

    The Times goes on:  "The Northeast still makes up nearly half of all excess deaths in the country, although numbers in the region have drastically declined since the peak in April.

    "But as the number of hot spots expanded, so has the number of excess deaths across other parts of the country. Many of the recent coronavirus cases and deaths in the South and the West may have been driven largely by reopenings and relaxed social distancing restrictions."

    •  California has become the first state to report more than 600,000 cases of the coronavirus.

    The New York Times writes that "with more than 10,800 fatalities, the state now ranks third in the country for the worst death toll, behind New York and New Jersey, which were overwhelmed with cases in the spring but have since managed to contain the virus’s spread.

    "Along with the Sun Belt states, California has been among the hardest hit in the summer resurgence of the virus, but the picture in California appears to have begun improving lately. Citing a 19 percent decline in the number of people hospitalized over the past two weeks, Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Wednesday that the state was 'turning the corner on this pandemic'."

    Not to cast doubt on what Newsom is saying, because California has been aggressive in its approach to the virus - on a per-capita basis, California ranks 20th in cases and 28th in deaths - but don't you have the feeling that whenever any state or community "turns the corner" on the pandemic, there's always another corner just waiting for them?

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "As Texas struggles to beat back a surge in coronavirus infections, its testing positivity rate has risen dramatically.

    "Faced with a question about that increase, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) told reporters on Thursday that the Texas Department of State Health Services was investigating potential reasons for it. Decreased testing is probably a significant factor, he said.

    "Texas’s positivity rate rose from 12 percent on July 30 to about 25 percent on Tuesday, state data show. It then fell to 16 percent for Wednesday, the latest day for which the statistic is available, in an update that the Austin American-Statesman reported was announced hours after the news conference.

    "Abbott … told reporters that the decline in testing partly resulted from the end of some surge-testing operations in July that caused a 'very abundant number of tests that were done' in some regions. Demand for testing has also dropped in the past few weeks, he added."

    •  The New York Times writes that on Thursday, "Officials in Nevada announced the most deaths in a single day, with 31. Hawaii, North Dakota and the U.S. Virgin Islands set single-day case records."

    The Times quotes Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, as saying, "Bottom line is, I’m not pleased with how things are going."

    Fauci told ABC News journalist Deborah Roberts at a National Geographic panel that "disparities between the ways different states were handling the situation were keeping the country from bringing it under control once and for all."

    •  The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the federal coronavirus task force "warns that Georgia continues to see 'widespread and expanding community viral spread' and that the state’s current policies aren’t enough to curtail COVID-19.

    "The task force 'strongly recommends' Georgia adopt a statewide mandate that citizens wear masks, joining a chorus of public health officials, Democrats and others who have warned that Gov. Brian Kemp’s refusal to order face coverings has plunged the state into deeper crisis and will prolong recovery.

    “'Current mitigation efforts are not having a sufficient impact,' the report said."

    •  The Boston Globe reports that public health experts are throwing cold water on the notion of hybrid schooling as an optimal solution for schools looking to reopen amid the pandemic.

    According to the story, "some infectious disease experts call it a potential public health disaster. Alternating schedules could cause children to ebb and flow within an expanded network, transitioning from home to school to child-care centers and thus having a greater risk of exposure or transmission.

    At face value, the story says, "hybrid plans provide students with some much-desired in-person instruction while lessening the burden on parents who are either working from home themselves or are essential employees who cannot work remotely. Meanwhile, hybrid plans limit class size and, seemingly, the risk to teachers of exposure.

    "But epidemiologists note that parents who cannot do their jobs remotely and those too busy to oversee at-home learning will still rely on external child-care solutions two to three days a week, further widening the child’s circle of exposure. With fully remote or all in-person learning, children are spending the majority of their time in one or two places with a consistent group. With a hybrid plan, that number balloons to three or more."

    •  From Axios:

    "The coronavirus isn't as deadly for children as it is for adults, but kids still get it and can still get seriously sick from it."  In addition, the story says, "the risk is higher for Black and Hispanic children."

    The problem is that "in communities with high caseloads, cases among children could explode as schools reopen. And kids in the communities already hit hardest by the pandemic are the most at risk."

    The American Academy of Pediatrics is out with a report saying that there was a  "40% increase in child cases during the second half of July — yet another indication that the virus can spread easily among children when given the opportunity."

    In addition, "Mirroring almost every other pandemic trend, Black and Latino children have had it worse than white children.  Hispanic children have been hospitalized eight times more than white children, per the CDC. Black children have been hospitalized five times more."

    •  Bloomberg reports that "even if the most optimistic projections hold true and a COVID-19 vaccine is cleared for U.S. use in November, the vast majority of Americans won’t be able to get the shots until spring or summer next year at the earliest.

    "That likely timeline, based on interviews and remarks from top specialists including Anthony Fauci of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, means businesses, schoolchildren and families will continue to wait."

    Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview, "I would hope that by the time we get well into the second half of 2021 that the companies will have delivered the hundreds of millions of doses they have promised."

    Meanwhile National Public Radio  this morning reports that "more than a third of Americans (35%) say they won't get vaccinated when a vaccine comes available; 60% say they will. There are huge splits by education and party on this. Those with college degrees are 19 points more likely to get vaccinated than those without (72% to 53%),and Democrats are 23 points more likely than Republicans (71% to 48%)."

    •  From the New York Times:

    "Amid a flurry of concern over reports that frozen chicken wings imported to China from Brazil had tested positive for the coronavirus, experts said on Thursday that the likelihood of catching the virus from food — especially frozen, packaged food — is exceedingly low.

    "'This means somebody probably handled those chicken wings who might have had the virus,' said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University. 'But it doesn’t mean, ‘Oh my god, nobody buy any chicken wings because they’re contaminated.'

    "Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain that 'there is no evidence to suggest that handling food or consuming food is associated with Covid-19.'  The main route the virus is known to take from person to person is through spray from sneezing, coughing, speaking or even breathing."

    •  The Wall Street Journal offers a sobering statistic:  "Nearly 11% of adults said they had seriously considered suicide in the previous 30 days as the coronavirus pandemic takes a toll on Americans’ mental health, according to data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

    That's more than double the number of people who might ordinarily make that admission, the story says.

    The demographics of the people who seriously considered suicide are striking:  "Among those 18 to 24 years old, 25.5% reported having seriously considered suicide in the last 30 days. The numbers were 15.1% for Black Americans and 18.6% for Hispanic Americans."

    And, the Journal writes, "The new survey also found that substance use and symptoms of anxiety and depression have risen. Nearly 13.3% of participants said they had started or increased their use of alcohol or drugs to help cope with stress related to the pandemic. And about 31% reported symptoms of anxiety disorders or depression."

    We're five-plus months into this thing, and while it gets harder and harder to resist the siren call of what we vaguely remember as 'normal,' it seems to me that we really have to do is take better care of each other and ourselves.  

    Published on: August 14, 2020

    •  Walmart said yesterday that its employees across the US will work in "a primarily remote way” until at least January 31, 2021.

    “For those of you with children at home, you are in the process of adapting to your kids returning to school. The status of the pandemic across the country remains dynamic, and we are continuing to actively monitor developments to slow the spread of the virus,” Donna Morris, executive vice president at Walmart, wrote in a memo."

    Published on: August 14, 2020

    •  USA Today reports that Amazon has ended its relationship with a number of small delivery companies around the country, which will have the result of some 1,205 drivers losing their jobs.

    According to the story, "Amazon's contracted delivery providers are letting go of staff across several states, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia and New York. 

    "An Amazon spokesperson told USA Today that the company continuously evaluates its delivery partnerships with privately owned small businesses, and the latest round of cuts isn't unusual."

    •  Bloomberg reports that Amazon "is offering Seattle-based employees a choice of smaller offices outside the city, suggesting the Covid-19 outbreak and a new local employers tax have pushed the e-commerce giant to consider alternatives to its hometown."

    Amazon asked employees in an email what communities near Seattle they might prefer to work in;  the story notes that "the company has threatened to focus employment growth outside Seattle due to a rocky relationship with city officials and new taxes imposed on big employers. The message suggests Amazon could significantly shrink its presence in its hometown, where it employs about 50,000 people in a mixture of offices it owns and leases."

    Amazon already has said that employees can continue to work from home at least until January 2021.

    •  The BBC reports that "online retail giant Amazon has launched an internet pharmacy in India, marking its entry into the country's online medicine market.

    "Amazon Pharmacy will make its debut in Bangalore and it may be trialled in other Indian cities.  The move comes as the online drugs business has been given a major boost during the coronavirus pandemic."

    Published on: August 14, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Newsbreak in Kansas City, Missouri, reports that Balls Price Chopper there has opened an in-store CBD boutique that is owned and operated by local CBD manufacturer American Shaman.

    Both companies say that the installation is designed to be as prototype that can be used for a future rollout.

    •  Overdrive reports that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has "extended the hours of service waiver through Sept. 14 for carriers providing direct assistance in support of COVID-19 relief efforts."

    The waiver, which was set to expire today, covers drivers hauling "livestock and livestock feed … medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 … supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants … (and) food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores."

    •  It is sometimes hard to figure the things that people yearn for in times of trouble.

    For example .. the Wall Street Journal reports on how "in the age of coronavirus, with most flights canceled and vacation plans ruined, would-be fliers are now longing for a taste of a trip that could have been."  Which means, improbably enough, a hankering for airline food - even the airline food that is "flavorless, expensive, and excruciatingly basic."

    The Journal reports that "erstwhile travelers snapped up 40,000 snack packs from Imperfect Foods that were originally destined for JetBlue and another airline, the retailer says. In Australia, in-flight catering company Gate Gourmet began selling meals online around June. At one point it sold out, but it has since replenished supplies in some cities, according to its website.

    "And in Indonesia, the in-flight caterer owned by flag carrier Garuda Indonesia recently began selling airplane meals online in a promotion called Fly with Meals. The menu included a cheese omelet, spinach-and-pastrami quiche, and two Indonesian dishes with rice."

    I miss traveling and I miss getting on planes, but I really try to avoid the food at all costs.  I'm with Anthony Bourdain on this one;  he once told Travel & Leisure that "you’re not digesting your food on the plane, which is why you feel like a horribly bloated beach ball when you get off … The food can’t possibly be that good. It can be edible at best, no matter how hard they try. The conditions that they’re working in, there’s not much they can do.”  His solution:  Sleep as much as possible, and order "scotch on the rocks, they can’t f--k that up."  (I don't do the scotch, but I take his point.)

    •  Sparc Group, the 50-50 partnership of Simon Property Group and Authentic Brands Group, is acquiring Lucky Brand, the jeans retailer, for about $140 million.  The deal comes the same week as Sparc Group bought Brooks Brothers for $325 million.

    Lucky Brands filed for bankruptcy protection last month.

    The question that remains to be answered is whether these deals will successfully prop up retailers with stores in Simon's malls, or if it will be a fruitless investment in a business model with a limited future.

    •  It isn't just the US where the mall business model is endangered.

    Bloomberg reports that "property developers in the Philippines are considering novel alternative uses for shopping malls as people stay home and prefer to buy things online.

    "SM Prime Holdings Inc., the nation’s biggest landlord, is leasing out some of its parking lots for longer-term car storage, while a unit of Ayala Land Inc. plans to convert areas in its shopping centers to e-commerce backend facilities and medical clinics."

    The story goes on:  "Southeast Asia’s worst coronavirus outbreak has made Filipinos fearful of going about their daily business and they’re seeking to avoid high-traffic spots. That’s putting extra pressure on retail landlords already weathering slump in demand and a recession."

    •  CNN reports that " FAT Brands, the owner of Fatburger, is buying the 1950s diner-themed chain Johnny Rockets for $25 million."  It is acquiring the chain from  private equity firm Sun Capital Partners.

    Published on: August 14, 2020

    The other day we had a story about how UPS is going to start charging large scale shippers extra fees during the holidays, which made me wonder why they're charging good customers more than smaller customers.

    One MNB reader responded:

    This is like lumber. A piece of white pine 2x4 is cheap but an 8x8 piece of western red cedar is crazy spendy. The more limited the resource the more it costs because of scarcity. As a carrier approaches maximum capacity every incremental unit shipped  further stresses the end to end capacity of the carriers to meet their delivery promises. The marginal cost of each unit begins to go up after a point rather than down,  adding a fee once that point occurs helps the carrier break even or improve margins while encouraging the shippers to think of alternative strategies to spread the demand out across carriers or over a longer period of time. Seasonal shipping companies don't really exist, yet.

    But another reader wrote:

    Ha, when I was running a large DC if you come in with something like that you better have a good story..... I would already be having meetings about alternate strategies and suppliers.  Feel this is a developing story. 

    On another subject, from another reader:

    Your reader that commented on Sweden’s approach leading to better results is misinformed.  While they do have fewer cases as a percentage of population, they have more deaths.  Sweden hasn’t locked down and hasn’t required masks – and all the recent reporting I’ve seen on their situation indicates that they are second guessing their approach.  What’s more, to contrast Sweden’s approach with the US approach ignores the fact there hasn’t been a unified approach here – each state and even many counties within each state are handling the pandemic differently, and even the stricter states have plenty of people ignoring the advice and regulations being implemented.  Much of the US has had functionally the same response as Sweden.

    Sweden’s higher deaths per million population (571 vs. our 507) despite few cases per million (8258 vs. 16,030) is a strong indication that their approach hasn’t worked – they aren’t identifying cases early enough.

    Michael Sansolo and I both had columns this week about retailers helping their customers to shop and cook better, leading MNB reader Bob Wheatley to write:

    Amen, amen and amen!!

    One of my favorite messages you periodically revisit is “don’t just be a source, try to be a resource.”

    Now is the time to do this. I think it constitutes the path to authentic customer relationship vs. being another seller of 60,000 skus.

    MNB reader Rita held wrote:

    Wow! Home Ec 365   As someone who has a home economics degree (aka BS in foods and nutrition), I’m delighted to see that even Whole Foods recognizes the value of home ec.  I’m in the SF Bay Area, and here we have a home ec group that is alive and well. It was started in 1923! :o)

    Really appreciate The MorningNewsBeat. Thank you.

    Regarding the move away from offices by various companies, one MNB reader wrote:

    I saw this story the other day and it just kind of made me sad, not sure what about it in particular, but maybe it’s the feeling that there is something that gets lost when we lose day-to-day connections to others, especially for those of us who really respond to social interaction.  I try to do the Zoom happy hours or calls with friends to stay in touch, but it’s just not the same and doesn’t provide me anywhere near the level of emotional “high” I get from interacting with others in person (and that I would get in an office setting).  I know and get that I am responsible for my own happiness (and health, of course), but the more that moves like this occur, the less I feel like some companies really want to do what’s best for all of their employees.

    I get that folks can be inventive and productive on their own (and that some folks really blossom during work from home), but I wonder if there’s a hidden cost for some folks that we may not see for a while – lost inspiration from not seeing others, lost opportunities from random moments that take ideas to the next level, or lost connections, not to mention the mental health issues from too much staring at screens all day.

    It may be the flavor of the month/season/year? to believe that the end of the office is nigh, but I think it’s going to be like many things that folks have said are going away and we just end up with more choices and options because once folks have tasted something different, they want all options, not just one or the other (kind of like your commentary about folks moving to the suburbs, again, for the space but wanting urban amenities on top of it, delivery, rather than having to go the store they are next to).

    There are those of us who do miss an office environment and when it is safe to do so will be happy to return – assuming it still exists.

    Responding to story about customers being likely to starting stocking up and panic-buying again - and the pressure this will put on retailers, MNB reader Doug Harris wrote:

    Well, many months' into this thing and both Walmart and Food Lion -- my only practical food-shopping choices -- are still struggling with out-of-stocks. If some of their shelves are bare now, heaven help us shoppers when supplies truly run short!

    MNB reader Joe Axford wrote:

    What I didn't know KC, until talking with a store manager, is that the reason the large soda and beer manufacturers were cutting back their brands was due to a shortage in cans, because nobody was buying either one in restaurants anymore.  Restaurants had to pay to have expired cola syrup disposed of, because in that state it's a hazardous material!  Frozen food aisles look terrible in most stores, due in part to not enough vegetable pickers.  And on and on.  Everything has been affected, to one degree or another.  Depressing!

    From another reader:

    Kevin, this is much easier said than done. As a category manager for a decent sized grocer (remain unnamed) I spend the most of my time now chasing inventory.  Every day a different supplier has a new issue.  Perhaps they closed a production facility due to a COVID outbreak and are trying to catch back up.  Many suppliers are reporting that their workforces are afraid and reluctant to return to the job, who can blame them.  In some cases the supplier is ready to go but their ingredient or packaging suppliers are having their own set of problems. I have heard of double and triple lead times for components that used to arrive in a week or two. Many suppliers have made changes to their production floor (spacing employees farther apart) that has resulted in slower line speeds and thus lower capacity.

    There are many segments of the grocery business that are performing at all time highs and facilities that are running at above capacity and the unprecedented demand is much higher than the industry capacity. Many commodities are just coming out of the fields and are being processed to fill gaping holes at the shelf.  Did farmers grow enough tomatoes to last a long term shut down?  What about all the frozen fruit?  The meat industry had their share of issues recently.  Products that depend on a steady supply of fresh meat have been impacted.  As you know pizza sales both in grocery and in food service are strong. Pepperoni is made from meat and then takes a period of time to cure.

    High early COVID sales wiped out stocks of pepperoni and now there is a waiting period for replacement product to finish curing. Pretty sure all grocers are doing all they can to obtain back up inventory when suppliers are able to ship. Sadly what we see is a never ending stream of products on allocation and cancelled/shorted deliveries. In this case I think you are giving Amazon too much credit.  They are certainly able to build up on general merchandise but household cleaning and food are a problem everywhere. 

    Not the first time I've been accused of giving Amazon too much credit.

    From MNB reader Andy Schoenhoft:

    The problem does not lie solely with the retailers. There are still glass bottle and aluminum can shortages, and manufacturing is still not back up to speed with production.

    Clorox is producing at over 2x their normal production and can’t keep up.

    If another lockdown occurs sooner rather than later, I am afraid we’ll be back in the same condition as before.

    Retailers are reaching out to suppliers with increased projections, but if the suppliers can’t produce (for any or all the above mentioned reasons) it doesn’t matter.

    Another MNB reader concurred:

    My issue with this is I still can't buy some basics because they aren't in stock. I find myself buying some things when I find them because at some point I couldn't find the item. I could start shopping more online but really dislike doing that for groceries especially since some items are significantly higher priced (generally due to being in glass bottles) online than in store. I am trying to be patient but find my patience wearing thin as items I once considered staples and readily available are difficult to find. It is a quandary and as I am one of the lucky ones who can work from home I am reluctant to complain. I could have it worse and I try to remember that when I can't find my preferred brand of tea bags. So my panic buying is more along the lines of purchasing multiples of my staples when I find them in stock.

    I did a FaceTime commentary yesterday about how 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 me, and I pointed out that Teddy Ballgame did it over 154 games.  It isn't the same thing … and I drew a business lesson from it, suggesting that just because retailers had great quarters this year doesn't mean that they always will - they also have to be exceptional in more normal times.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Great FaceTime today, KC!  As a huge fan of Ted, I'm insulted at the thought of someone hitting .400 for 60 games.  I grew up 30 miles north of Boston, and he's one of my childhood heroes.  The business lesson is spot on, retailers can't rest on their laurels.  Every day should be day one.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    Kevin, totally agree with your baseball rant.

    While there have been asterisks all over the baseball record books, based on more games played in modern baseball vs. pre-modern times, and designated hitter rules in AL that make no sense when comparing records to NL, the 60 game season should not include any records. The pandemic changes everything, most evident in looking at the fact the Cubs are currently 12-3, while the Cardinals, same division, are 2-3 due to Covid-19. Records will be meaningless.


    I did a piece yesterday taking note of an Axios story 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."

    This is a shift away from the urbanization of America, and may be yet another long-term impact of the pandemic.

    I also wrote, in 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 feeling like maybe I got it at least a little wrong.  Or that maybe my timing is bad.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    This is especially true in Southern California.  For years, many of my co-workers have had 2-3 hour each way commutes in order to have a nice sized house at an affordable price.  This situation is now very much in their favor as companies are looking at allowing work from home beyond the pandemic.  They will now have it all – a great home, great neighborhood, affordable cost and NO commute – not to mention getting 4-6 hours back in their day to spend with their families.  I believe there are going to be several areas like Corona, Temecula and more that are going to see a huge surge in new purchases as this opens up such a great opportunity.  I am sure this will be true in other parts of the country as well and will change how as retailers we go to business more and more!

    And from another reader:

    We are in our 60s- have lived in northern NJ for 35+ years on one acre where we raised 3 sons.  There are many trees on our property, and a brook that borders the back yard.  The space inside got a little small when all 5 of us were here- but now it is perfect for just the two of us.  Yes, we thought one day we would move to a smaller condo/townhouse in our retirement.  But now- I like my house.  I love my house.  I like the fact that I can work in my office, or at the dining room table.  Or outside on my deck; or even off the family room under the deck.  I can even just walk around outside my house to get steps in.  I don’t think I ever appreciated my home more until the past few months.

    The real estate market is booming here.  Maybe we should sell our home now while the market is hot?  We are asking ourselves this very question.  But do we really want to live in a smaller place with no yard?  Tough question for us.  Until we can agree on an answer- we will enjoy our home inside and out.   It sounds like you are enjoying your home too.

    I am.  A little grudgingly, if I'm honest about it.  But I'm lucky, and try not to forget it.

    Published on: August 14, 2020

    The New York Times reports that "championships for Division I fall college sports (except football) are canceled.  The N.C.A.A. president, Mark Emmert, announced Thursday that Division I fall sports championships excluding football would be canceled.

    "The championships were not explicitly dropped for health and safety reasons, but because there were fewer than the benchmark 50 percent of teams to compete in sports like women’s volleyball, soccer, cross country and men’s water polo. The N.C.A.A.’s move followed a spate of conferences deciding this week that they would not play in the fall.

    "The decision does not affect football, which runs its own championship through the College Football Playoff.

    "Also Thursday, some key doctors said they were skeptical about college football being played in the fall, a question under consideration by a handful of marquee conferences."

    “I mean, I feel like the Titanic,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an executive associate dean at the Emory University School of Medicine who is advising the N.C.A.A. about the virus. “We have hit the iceberg and we’re trying to make decisions of what time should we have the band play.”

    KC's View:

    Great imagery…

    Published on: August 14, 2020

    First Cow is a wonderful, found pleasure, and one of the best movies of the year.  And not just because it takes place in Oregon, a place for which, MNB readers know, I have enormous affection.

    The Oregon of First Cow is not the place with which I have become familiar over the past decade.  The year is 1820, roughly four decades before the Oregon Territory would become the nation's 33rd state, and Cookie Figowitz is the cook for a small group of fur trappers, doing his best to turn whatever he can find into something edible that will keep his customers satisfied;  it isn't an easy life, and there is a low level of tension emanating from the possibility that at any moment the trappers could turn on Cookie.

    While foraging one day, Cookie bumps into King Lu, a Chinese immigrant on the lam;  he recognizes a fellow outsider, and does not turn him in … which turns out to be an advantageous decision.

    As the movie ambles along - First Cow is a film that takes its time, preferring to be observational rather than a driving narrative - Cookie and Lu discover that they are kindred spirits, each with their own version of what we now think of as the American dream.  Cookie may be one of Oregon's earliest artisan bakers; he dreams of being to open a hotel and bakery, and making some of the biscuits that he used to have when he was a baker's assistant.

    The problem is, he needs milk to make the biscuits.  The solution is, there is one cow in the territory.  It is owned by a Brit who appears to be the wealthiest man in the territory, but as Lu points out, there is something entrepreneurial about sneaking over to the man's property and milking the cow in the middle of the night.  Cookie makes the biscuits, and they are an enormous hit with the locals … they want more, which means more milking and more baking, and then more milking.  And things then get out of hand, as the film becomes part buddy comedy and part heist film.

    The performances are uniformly excellent - John Magaro as Cookie and Orion Lee as Lu.  I know nothing about these fellows, but they always seem appropriate to the time and place, as opposed to actors acting.  There are only two well-known actors in the cast - Toby Jones as the wealthy Brit, and the wonderful René Auberjonois in a small and largely silent role that captures the pathos of the tim and place.

    Director and co-writer Kelly Reichardt does an excellent job is giving us a sense of exactly how tough a place the American west was in the early 19th century, and one of the wonderful things about the film is that it presages the artisan food movement for which the region is known today.  

    First Cow is a terrific piece of filmmaking - not showy or sophisticated, but nuanced and minimalist.  It is available for rent on a variety of streaming platforms.

    When the first episode of "Perry Mason" premiered on HBO, I wrote here that I was ambivalent.  I liked the production values, writing and acting - especially Matthew Rhys in the title role - but couldn't really figure out what it had to do with what I knew of the character.  I've read a couple of the Erle Stanley Gardner novels (a long, long time ago) and was a fan of the Raymond Burr series, and less so of the subsequent TV movies.  "Perry Mason," set during the Depression and starting out with Mason has a down-and-out private eye, seemed closer to being a prequel to Chinatown than a "Perry Mason" rethinking.

    Eight episodes later, with the first season come to an end, I'm totally sold.  As expected, 'Perry Mason" was a redemption story, but a textured one with enormous context and subtext.  Using a sensational child kidnapping-and-murder case as the driving narrative, the series managed to give us a sense of a Los Angeles steeped in both corruption and sensationalism.  It had style to spare, and managed to keep surprising with a plot turn here and a character revelation there - all of it firmly ensconced in the period but also with an eye to modern audiences.

    The cast is terrific - John Lithgow, Juliet Rylance (fantastic as Della Street, no mere secretary here), Chris Chalk (as Paul Drake, given his own compelling backstory), Stephen Root, Shea Wigham, Lili Taylor and Tatiana Maslany.

    The good news is that "Perry Mason" has been renewed for a second season.  I have no idea when they'll be able to produce it, given the limitations imposed by the pandemic, but when it is on, I'll be there.

    Go figure.  "Perry Mason" is guilty of being first-rate entertainment.

    That's it for this week.  Have a good weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    Stay safe … be healthy.