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    Published on: January 25, 2021

    Sur la Table has been through its share of troubles.  But KC wonders if its survival strategy has less to do with its traditional value proposition and more to do with imitating Bed Bath & Beyond (a questionable strategy at best).

    Published on: January 25, 2021

    The Boston Globe has an interesting story about how, even as the city's "darkened storefronts and shuttered restaurants" reflect the impact of the pandemic, there is a different, more nuanced story playing out in the suburbs.

    "Yes, the pandemic has hastened the demise of traditional malls," the Globe writes.  "But at open-air shopping complexes - those suburban 'lifestyle centers' where the word 'mall' is verboten - commerce has not only carried on, it’s booming. Parking lots are full. Lines snake out of stores."

    In downtown Boston, streets like Newbury Street and Charles Street, which normally would be packed with people shopping and dining, now feature "a combination of permanent closures, restaurant hibernations, and optional shutdowns … Meanwhile, outside the city, quite a different story unfolds. At Legacy Place in Dedham one recent Sunday, the parking lot of the outdoor mall was packed. The sidewalks teemed with people and the line for Shake Shack stretched nearly out the door.

    "At Assembly Row in Somerville, translucent igloo domes - outdoor dining pods for restaurants - dot the walkways and new stores are slated to open this year, while at MarketStreet Lynnfield, shoppers cozy up at fire pits.

    "A similar scene played out at the Derby Street Shops in Hingham, where shoppers queued outside the Apple store and weaved strollers along walkways, shopping bags swinging on their arms. The only evidence of the ongoing pandemic were the face masks and social distancing measures."

    The Globe reports that retail experts do not believe that this will be a permanent shift, but it is, they say, a "reshuffling" that will have retailers thinking differently about location, especially as they factor e-commerce into their thinking.

    KC's View:

    I read about those centers "teeming with people" and lines snaking out of various establishments, and I can think about is how important it is that these people wear masks and do all the responsible things necessary to slow the spread of Covid-19.  

    And then I wonder if I'll ever think the same way about crowds … and to what degree these concerns are shared by others.

    Published on: January 25, 2021

    From Fast Company:

    "In the modern world, few places are as linked to our survival as the grocery store. As the main source of most people’s food, it is the definition of an essential service—and one that’s become even more important during the pandemic.

    "The increased reliance on grocery stores has coincided with emerging trends in retail that are physically changing the way grocery shopping happens.

    "Architecturally, the grocery store is about to look and function differently than it has in the recent past, from store entrances to customer interfaces to the interior layout."

    To check out one vision of how, click here.

    Published on: January 25, 2021

    •  Hall of Famer Henry Aaron, who endured enormous racism when he chased Babe Ruth's career home run record - finally breaking it with number 715 in 1974 and finishing his career with 755, all of them hit without the use of performance-enhancing drugs - passed away over the weekend.  He was 86.

    From the ESPN story:

    "When he retired in 1976 after a 23-year major league career with the National League Braves (spending 1954 to 1965 in Milwaukee, 1966-74 in Atlanta) before playing his final two seasons with the American League Milwaukee Brewers, Aaron had amassed staggering offensive numbers, holding the career records for most home runs (755), RBIs (2,297), total bases (6,856), games played (3,298), at-bats (12,364) and plate appearances (13,941). He was second behind Ty Cobb in hits (3,771), though he held the NL record.

    "He is still the career leader in total bases and RBIs and is third in hits behind Pete Rose and Cobb. He was the first player in baseball history to amass 500 career home runs and 3,000 hits and the last player in history to be promoted from the Negro Leagues to the major leagues. Aaron appeared in a record 24 All-Star Games, won batting titles in 1956 and 1959, led the league in home runs four times, was named National League MVP in 1957, and twice appeared in the World Series, winning the title in 1957 when the Braves beat the New York Yankees in seven games."

    •  Larry King, who helped propel CNN into the mainstream with a nightly talk show that ran for 25 years, and who once described his interviewing style by saying, "I never learned anything when I was talking," has passed away at age 87.

    King had been hospitalized for Covid-19, but he also had a long history of health issues, including cancer, diabetes, and multiple heart attacks.

    Published on: January 25, 2021

    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 25,702,125 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 429,490 deaths and 15,409,639 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 99,829,777 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 2,140,306 resultant fatalities and 71,829,071 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Washington Post reports that "at least 18.5 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 3.2 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 41.4 million doses have been distributed."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "The number of people hospitalized in the U.S. due to Covid-19 fell to the lowest level since mid-December, while newly reported cases continued to decline.

    "More than 110,000 people in the U.S. were hospitalized as of Sunday due to the disease, the lowest total since Dec. 15, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The number of patients requiring treatment in intensive care units, however, remained elevated at more than 21,000.

    "The U.S. reported more than 130,000 new cases for Sunday, the eighth consecutive day the daily total was below 200,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The data may update later. Overall, the U.S. has reported more than 25.1 million coronavirus cases since the pandemic began."

    The story goes on:

    "While the situation in the U.S. has improved somewhat compared with earlier in the year, there is growing concern over the spread of new variants of the virus.

    "Anthony Fauci, who is serving as President Biden’s chief medical adviser for the Covid-19 pandemic, on Sunday reiterated warnings that the new coronavirus variant first identified in Britain could be more deadly.  'We need to assume now that what has been circulating dominantly in the U.K. does have a certain degree of increase in what we call virulence, namely the power of the virus to cause more damage, including death,' he said on CBS’s 'Face the Nation'."

    •  The Wall Street Journal writes that "as Covid-19 cases increase sharply in much of the world, a scarcity of oxygen is forcing hospitals to ration it for patients and is driving up the coronavirus pandemic’s death toll. The problem is especially acute in the developing world, but has also hit hospitals in London and Los Angeles."

    •  The Washington Post reports on how "a growing contingent of big-name companies — including Walmart, Starbucks and Microsoft — is teaming up with local governments and medical providers to get coronavirus shots in more people’s arms."

    According to the story, "Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer, has been preparing to offer the vaccine at 5,000 U.S. locations. Starting this week, the retailer is making inoculations available through its stores in seven states, plus Chicago and Puerto Rico. Walmart said it expects to deliver 10 million to 13 million doses a month, 'when supply and allocations allow,' through its pharmacies and events in underserved communities."

    At the same time, "Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced a public-private alliance with Starbucks, Microsoft, Costco and other homegrown brands to deliver vaccines in the state 'as effectively and efficiently as possible.' Meanwhile, Amazon said it is partnering with a Seattle hospital to deliver as many as 2,000 vaccinations to the public this weekend through a pop-up clinic … CVS, Kroger, Rite Aid and Walgreens are all playing a role in vaccine distribution, some through their own pharmacies and others through government partnerships at locations such as long-term-care facilities. Other big names have donated facilities for mass inoculations: In California, Disneyland and the home stadiums of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres have been converted into major inoculation centers. Several other sports venues, including State Farm Stadium in suburban Phoenix, Minute Maid Park in Houston and Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., have been used as vaccine hubs."

    Neil Saunders, managing director of Global Data Retail, tells the Post that "big retailers are in an ideal position to help with the vaccine rollout because their core businesses are already geared around serving millions of customers day in and day out. They have locations right across the country and they have national distribution and logistics networks that are efficient and effective in getting products to every corner of the nation … They’re basically already doing what the government needs to do with vaccines. Moreover, a lot of the very big firms like Amazon and Walmart employ so many people that they can kick-start the program by vaccinating their own staff."

    •  Politico suggests that Amazon could have an ulterior motive for "offering to lend President Joe Biden its operational expertise to shuttle coronavirus vaccines quickly across the country as the government struggles with logistics of the inoculation rollout … if it’s accepted, the offer may give Amazon a valuable new trove of health data just as it’s expanding into pharmacy and digital health."

    This possibility, Politico writes, "worries critics - including progressives calling on Biden to keep Big Tech firms at arms’ length."

    However, the story says, "An Amazon spokesperson rejected the idea that the company’s offer was motivated by a desire to gain competitive leverage or stir up good publicity. The spokesperson, noting that Amazon made a similar offer to states last month, said it’s a matter of public responsibility for corporations to lend their help to the health crisis."

    •  Reuters reports that "United Airlines may make the Covid-19 vaccine mandatory for employees, and other companies should do the same," CEO Scott Kirby said over the weekend.

    ""I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory," Kirby said.  "If others go along and are willing to start to mandate vaccines, you should probably expect United to be amongst the first wave of companies that do it."

    The story notes that "private U.S. companies can require employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19, but are unlikely to do so because of the risks of legal and cultural backlash, experts have said."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "nearly 200 members of the National Guard deployed to Washington in the days leading up to Wednesday’s presidential inauguration have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and some officials fear cramped rest and working quarters contributed to the spread, defense officials said."

    •  Axios reports that there seems to be general consensus in Japan that the Tokyo Summer Olympics, postponed from 2020 to 2021, will have to be cancelled because of a new surge in Covid-19 cases.

    The story says that while the government is denying that the games will have to be called off, the fact is that nobody wants to be the first one to admit it.  Some sort of decision would have to be announced by the end of March.

    The new focus, Axios writes, is "on securing the Olympics for the city in the next available year, 2032. Paris hosts in 2024, while L.A. hosts in 2028."

    •  The New York Times reports on how a number of mink "have grown sick and died in large numbers" from Covid-19, and then have passed the disease "back to people in mutated form."

    Which is why "at least two American companies, as well as Russian researchers, are working on coronavirus vaccines for mink … Scientists worry that if the virus spreads to more wild mink or to other animals, it could become established in natural populations and form a reservoir from which it could emerge, perhaps in mutated form, to reinfect humans at another time."

    •  Variety reports that "Stone Theatres, a small cinema chain with venues in North Carolina and South Carolina, has been empty for months after theater operator Dale Coleman made the difficult decision to stay closed due to the lack of new movies to show.

    "Yet for the first time since March, the lobby of one location - The Pointe 14 in Wilmington, N.C. - is bustling. People aren’t coming to see “The Croods: A New Age” and they certainly aren’t showing up for “Wonder Woman 1984.” Instead, nearby residents are going to their local theater to get COVID-19 vaccines.

    "The local New Hanover Regional Medical Center has set up shop inside the theater to vaccinate those eligible to make appointments."

    “This is something where we can be part of the solution,” says owner Dale Coleman. “We are thrilled and very proud we can donate our theater and participate in something that we think is extremely important, not just for our business but the community in general.”

    •  The New York Times reports that the city of New Orleans is out with a new public service ad that "is both resplendent and aching, an evocation of Carnival masking season that should have begun this month, culminating on Feb. 16 with Mardi Gras. All of it canceled, of course, by the coronavirus pandemic.

    "Yet the spot is hopeful: to regain this and more, it exhorts, get vaccinated.

    "The advertisement is one of numerous efforts around the country to persuade people of the importance of getting a Covid shot. But its homegrown approach, using neighborhood personas and invoking local culture with 'laissez les bons temps rouler' dance moves and costumes, may make it particularly effective, say experts in vaccine hesitance and behavioral change."

    Published on: January 25, 2021

    •  The Washington Post reports that "Amazon, Facebook, Google and four other top technology giants spent more than $65 million to lobby the U.S. government last year, shelling out record-breaking amounts in some cases to try to battle back antitrust scrutiny and a wave of new regulatory threats … Amazon in 2020 spent roughly $18 million on lobbying, and Facebook spent nearly $20 million, marking the most that either company has ever devoted to pushing its political agenda in Washington, D.C., according to an analysis of federal lobbying disclosures that became available Friday."  Google is said to have spent close to $8 million on lobbying.

    The Post goes on:

    "The tech industry’s sustained lobbying push reflects its souring reputation in Washington, D.C., where lawmakers in 2020 continued to bear down on Amazon, Facebook, Google and their peers for their size, power and perceived missteps. Democrats and Republicans did not manage to advance some of their most ambitious proposals, including efforts to toughen antitrust laws and hold social-media sites more directly accountable for their content-moderation practices. But lawmakers say they plan to reengage on these debates in 2021, now that Biden is in the White House and Democrats control both the House and Senate."

    •  CNBC reports on one of the central issues about which major tech companies are lobbying:  "Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields tech companies from being liable for what users post on their platforms. 

    "Talks of Section 230 reform are often targeted toward social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube. But the law affords Amazon and other e-commerce companies some protections as well.   Similar to social media companies, the law protects e-commerce sites from being held liable for any user-generated content on their platforms, like product descriptions or customer reviews."

    •  In Illinois, the Daily Herald reports that a new Amazon Fresh grocery store is scheduled to open in Schaumburg later this week - a 45,000 square foot unit that is the second in the fleet to open in the state and the eighth overall.

    "The store will featured free same-day delivery and pickup for Prime members, optional use of the Amazon Dash Cart that allows customers to skip the checkout line, and new Alexa features enabling shoppers to better manage their lists and navigate the aisles," the story says.

    •  The New York Times reports that Uber has " laid off roughly 185 people from its Postmates division, or about 15 percent of Postmates’ total work force … as the ride-hailing giant consolidates its food delivery operations to weather the pandemic" and integrates Postmates' operations into its own six months after it acquired the company for $2.65 billion.

    "Most of the executive team at Postmates, including Bastian Lehmann, the founder and chief executive of the popular food delivery app, will leave the company … Some Postmates vice presidents and other executives will leave with multimillion dollar exit packages … Some employees may also see reduced compensation packages … while others will be asked to leave or serve out the end of their contract positions, which could lead to more exits in coming months."

    Published on: January 25, 2021

    •  Kroger announced that its latest Ocado-powered robotic customer fulfillment center - its 10th overall - will be built in Phoenix, Arizona, and "will be used to serve customers across the region. Kroger is designing a flexible distribution network, combining disaggregated demand and the proximity of its stores and facilities that vary in design and size."

    •  In Wyoming, Buckrail reports that independent grocer Jackson Whole Grocer will be acquired by Whole Foods.  Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    “For more than ten years, it has been an honor to steward Jackson Whole Grocer. During that time, our team has proudly served our customers and community,” said Jeff  Rice, owner of Jackson Whole Grocer.  “After much mindful consideration, we have decided to sell our business. We are fortunate to have this opportunity with Whole  Foods Market, an organization that is aligned with our mission of creating and sharing exceptional experiences in food and shopping."

    •  USA Today reports that "Godiva is closing all of its U.S. locations as in-store visits for its luxury chocolate dip during the coronavirus pandemic.

    "The company plans to shutter its 128 locations in North America, which includes 11 in Canada, by the end of March.

    "But Godiva chocolates aren't disappearing completely. You can still get them online as well as at grocery and other stores."

    Published on: January 25, 2021

    •  Ahold Delhaize announced that Abbe Luersman, its Amsterdam-based chief human resources officer, has decided to leave the company as of April 30, citing a desire to return to the US after 13 years in Europe.  Before joining Ahold Delhaize in 2013, Luersman was a senior vice president-human resources in Europe for Unilever.

    Published on: January 25, 2021

    Responding to our story last week about Walmart being criticized for allegedly overstating its commitment to Made-in-America products, one MNB reader wrote:

    Am I wrong, but I thought there was a time that Walmart had Made in America on their store fronts?  Then with their heavy handed approach to beating up the manufacturer into offering non profitable costs, or not accepting cost increases,  they forced those manufacturers to go outside the states to have products produced.  Since they are one of, if not the, largest retailer in the country, it would be very beneficial to our manufacturing base if they truly focused on in country sourcing and quality vs out of country junk.   

    So, if they “committed” $250 billion over 10 years towards locally sourced items, how does that work??  Are they lowering their margin requirements on these items and see the $250 B as a loss?  Are they partnering through long term commitments so it is profitable enough for the manufacturer to sustain and plan?  Or are they just doing cost comparisons and saying this widget from the US costs us $3.  The same widget from China (only using them for comparison) cost $1.50.  We are buying the US widget and just invested $1.50 towards US products?  Or, maybe they are calculating how much they pay the workers from local businesses, they put out of business, as their way of “committing” to local.  I wonder as to how they came to this figure.  

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    On your Walmart made in America article: Oh if only Sam Walton was still alive. I would bet that a lot of your readers can remember when they came here to the northeast and the stores had the banners all over hanging. You would see an American flag on many items with the made in USA. Once he passed, it did not take long until the big blue push vendors oversees, and those that did not, well many are now gone!

    We had a piece last week saying that "Unilever has promised that every worker who provides it with goods and services will earn a living wage by 2030 even if it costs the company more … the living wage initiative will extend to 65,000 direct suppliers and several thousand agricultural businesses." 

    MNB reader Brian Carpentier wrote:

    Did they think it could cost less?

    On another subject, from another MNB reader:

    The story about the Kroger employee stealing almost $1MM from a store is almost inconceivable to me.    However, I can understand the frustration and embarrassment they must be feeling……..

    As a young assistant store director in the 80’s I once had a high school employee who stole enough cash over a period of months from us to buy himself a new car.  We knew that was what he had done with the money he had taken from us because he was driving the car to work each day and claimed his parents bought it for him.   He was really good at embezzling, which was a tremendous waste of his talents and it did not take me long to understand how law enforcement people become obsessed with the idea of catching people who break the law.   In addition to my regular duties, I spent hours reviewing closed circuit camera footage, hiding in places around the store, and recounting numerous cash drawers.   When we finally had enough evidence to have our corporate security staff confront him and threaten him with arrest, (even though my employer at that time would not actually prosecute for embezzling because they didn’t want the ‘bad press’…….) he resigned his position on the spot and denied all that he had done; more than that, within an hour after his resignation the accused’s mother appeared in the store’s accounting office in a screaming fit telling us that we had no right to suggest that he had been stealing from us and threatening us with a lawsuit, which never materialized.   Needless to say, he never repaid a penny of his ill-gotten gains. 

    More than 30 years later, he still lives within 10 miles of where we worked together and I can’t help but wonder what other crimes he has committed over his lifetime……..because he certainly wasn’t dissuaded by the experience he had with us. 

    Published on: January 25, 2021

    In the National Football League Conference Championships…

    Buffalo Bills 24. Kansas City Chiefs  38

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31, Green Bay Packers 26

    The Chiefs will meet  the Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV on Sunday, February 7.