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    Published on: May 17, 2021

    The revised guidance late last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suggesting that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks inside or outside - with certain caveats - prompted varying reactions from retailers around the country.

    Walmart announced that as of May 18, it will no longer require employees and customers to wear masks in-store, except in municipalities that mandate them.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, Kroger "said it would continue requiring masks and encouraging social distancing. The company said it is asking employees for feedback as it reviews safety practices and the latest CDC guidance."

    The Journal writes that "at Costco, vaccinated shoppers and workers will no longer need to wear masks, though it recommends employees continue to do so, said Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti Friday."

    The Boston Globe reports that "Trader Joe’s on Friday became one of the first large companies to say customers who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask in its stores."  In addition, the  Globe writes, "Target and Wegmans, have said they will continue to require masks in their stores despite the new CDC guidance."

    KMOV-TV News reports that "customers are who vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer have to wear masks inside Schnucks' stores, the company announced Saturday afternoon."

    The Connecticut Post reports that Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop "confirmed 'there are no changes' to the company’s mask mandate 'at this time' … Other chains taking a wait-and-see approach to their mask policy include CVS. In a statement issued by CVS Health, the company said it is 'reevaluating its position on masks given the CDC’s new guidance'."

    And Stew Leonard’s "announced Friday it will still require shoppers to wear masks when the restriction is lifted.

    "'Stew Leonard’s was among the first leaders to ask our customers and team members to wear masks last year, but now we are going to be laggers,' Stew Leonard Jr., the chain’s president and CEO, said in a statement. 'We are going to monitor our customers to see what they say. If you want to share your opinion on this topic, we have a poll posted on our Twitter page. My family and I would love to hear from you'."

    The Wall Street Journal reports that "Erik Nordstrom, chief executive of Nordstrom Inc., one of the largest department-store chains in the U.S., said in an interview Thursday that Nordstrom’s stores would continue to follow CDC guidance on masking, but that the company was in no rush to change its mask requirement for both employees and customers. The retailer’s priority, he said, is helping both customers and employees feel safe."

    The Verge reports that "despite new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Apple will keep its mandatory mask policy in place at its US retail stores for the time being … The company informed stores that it is continuing to evaluate COVID-19-related health and safety measures, but that the policy requiring customers and employees at its Apple stores would stay in effect."

    NBC News reports that "Starbucks and Walt Disney World Resort are the latest major companies to relax their mask policies days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 no longer need to wear face coverings whether indoors or outdoors in most circumstances.

    "Starbucks said in a statement on its website Friday that facial coverings will be optional for fully vaccinated customers beginning Monday unless local regulations require them by law … Meanwhile, Walt Disney World said in an update on its website that masks are now optional in 'outdoor common areas.' The change took effect Saturday. Face coverings are still required upon entering and throughout all attractions, according to the website."

    And, The Hill reports that Starbucks is aiming to have 100 percent of its indoor seating restored in its nationwide locations by the end of May - seating that was eliminated as the pandemic kicked in.

    The Journal writes that the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) "said the CDC’s mask announcement creates ambiguity since it doesn’t align with state and local orders. The group asked customers who decline to wear masks to shop online or use curbside pickup services."

    And, the Journal writes, "Food makers Conagra Brands Inc., General Mills Inc. and Kellogg Co. said they are continuing to require masks and social distancing at their factories even as employees get vaccinated, as food manufacturers have to follow a range of industry-specific regulations … The Consumer Brands Association, a trade group for food and other grocery manufacturers, said it has asked the CDC for more details on how its latest mask guidance affects businesses such as factories."

    The New York Times reports that unions are unhappy about the new guidance. "'Millions of Americans are doing the right thing and getting vaccinated, but essential workers are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local Covid safety measures,' the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Marc Perrone, said in a statement. 'Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police?'"

    The Wall Street Journal reports that upon the issuance of the new CDC guidelines, "states across the U.S. are tailoring their rules on face masks and social distancing to align with new federal health guidance for fully vaccinated Americans.

    "Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont, Colorado, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Washington were among states that updated their public-health guidance."

    However, some states - New York, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Hawaii among them - aren't there yet, and local officials continue to evaluate their situations and consider what adjustments need to be made in their regulations and guidance.

    Willamette Week reports that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown "declared that businesses in Oregon could stop requiring masks and social distancing - so long as they mandated COVID-19 vaccination for anyone who set foot inside their buildings."

    The Times writes that, "introducing the new recommendations on Thursday, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the C.D.C. director, cited two recent scientific findings as significant factors: Few vaccinated people become infected with the virus, and transmission seems rarer still; and the vaccines appear to be effective against all known variants of the coronavirus.

    "There is no doubt at this point that the vaccines are powerful. On Friday, the C.D.C. released results from another large study showing that the vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are 94 percent effective in preventing symptomatic illness in those who were fully vaccinated, and 82 percent effective even in those only partly vaccinated … One of the lingering concerns among scientists had been that even a vaccinated person might carry the virus — perhaps briefly, without symptoms — and spread it to others. But C.D.C. research, including the new study, has consistently found few infections among those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines."

    The Times writes that "fully immunized people are unlikely to get seriously ill, even if they are infected with the coronavirus. The risk of infection is greater for the people around them — unvaccinated children and adults, or vaccinated people who remain unprotected because of a medical condition or treatment."

    KC's View:

    One of the related stories that grabbed my attention was one from Fox News, which said that Publix Super Markets, which said that the wearing of masks by employees and customers henceforth would be optional, also said that it would bring back its free-cookies-for-kids program, which was suspended when the pandemic began.

    Which raises a larger question:  Will we start to see the return of self-service hot and cold bars"  Some say yes, some think they'll never return.  I'm not sure about the larger trend, but it'll be a while before I use one.

    I find this to be an extraordinarily complicated issue, and I'm not sure what I think retailers should do.  I like the Stew Leonard's approach - I was in the store yesterday, and was glad to see everyone wearing masks.  But I recognize that the new guidance does put retailers and their front line employees in the position of being mask cops, which isn't fair.

    I also worry that the people who were irresponsible in their approach to masking and social distancing will continue to be irresponsible in their approach to getting vaccinated - they won't get their shots but they'll act as if they did, which could put some people at risk.  Sure, I may not be at risk because I'm fully vaccinated, but if enough people are irresponsible, it gives the virus oxygen, which is the one thing we should not want.

    The one thing we can't afford is an outbreak that forces tougher guidance and mandated restrictions - it'd be a huge hit to the economy and national morale levels.  Which means we need to get the vast majority of Americans vaccinated, and then work on getting the entire world vaccinated.

    I recognize that there are problems with mandating vaccinations for certain kinds of behavior, or with having a national vaccine passport.  But frankly, I'm not wildly confident in the willingness of all of my fellow citizens to behave in a selfless, responsible way.

    The best news - and it pains me to say this because I am a New York Mets fan - seems to be coming from the New York Yankees, where there has been an outbreak of Covid-19 even among people who have been fully vaccinated.  Those people were largely asymptomatic and probably wouldn't have been detected as infected if they were not being tested regularly - which, as I understand it, means that the vaccines are working.

    Though you can sign me up right now for a booster shot.

    Published on: May 17, 2021

    From Bloomberg this morning:

    "The Covid-19 outbreak super-charged online grocery shopping, prompting industry watchers to declare that the habits of millions had forever changed. In fact, it’s a little more complicated than that. Yes, Walmart Inc., Kroger and other chains picked up millions of new online customers - generating additional revenue and persuading even skeptical executives to expand their digital operations. But holding onto these shoppers is hardly a foregone conclusion - especially older ones like Crowell, who are already reverting to pre-pandemic behavior.

    "That’s bad news for web grocery specialists like Instacart Inc., which processes orders and deliveries for thousands of supermarkets and has helped almost 300,000 senior customers figure out how to use its service. It’s also not great for brick-and-mortar food retailers because shoppers spend considerably more when they buy groceries online than when they have to lug everything home themselves. And there are more seniors online than you’d think: More than three in 10 people age 60 or older shopped for groceries online in April, according to consultants Brick Meets Click and Mercatus, and the number of seniors using Instacart last year rose faster than any other age group.

    "Almost half of Baby Boomers surveyed by Morgan Stanley said they’ll continue to grocery shop online at the same rate they did during the outbreak … But the number of seniors using web grocery regularly declined by 25% in April compared with the previous year, Brick Meets Click and Mercatus found, the biggest drop of any age group by far."

    KC's View:

    There's an interesting dissonance here.   A lot of grocers for years decried the e-commerce trend, believing that groceries would be the exception to the rule and avoid the shifts that affected virtually every other retail segment.  But now, discovering that there are some advantages to e-grocery, companies like Albertsons and Kroger are developing services to make it easier, especially for seniors, to stay online;  companies also are investing major dollars in distribution systems  -  like CFCs, MFCs, and dark stores - that will enable and streamline the e-grocery sector.

    Despite the drift away from e-grocery by seniors, I actually don't think there is a lot to worry about.

    First of all, the very nature of being a senior citizen (I'm trying to find a way to say this gently) means that the drift is temporary.  At some point, it becomes less possible to go easily go to the store, in which case online habits cultivated during the pandemic may be re-adopted.  And, at some point, senior citizens stop shopping.

    Younger people, on the other hand, that have continued to embrace e-grocery, won't abandon those habits as they move into the senior citizen category.

    And, we'll continue to watch the likes of Amazon and Walmart working hard to drive growth in the category.

    There may well be some backing off of e-grocery growth  as the pandemic recedes, but the broader trend will be expansion of the sector.

    Published on: May 17, 2021

    The recent defeat of a unionization vote at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, could be in question with reports that Amazon had access to a mailbox the premises used to collect ballots.

    The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Friday heard testimony that "Amazon security guards used keys to open the mailbox, which was located near the entrance of the facility in Bessemer, Alabama.

    "The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which lost the election last month, has accused Amazon of having the mailbox installed so it could spy on workers. Even just the impression of election surveillance by an employer can influence the vote’s outcome, so the hearing is focusing largely on what workers witnessed during the election … Amazon has denied an ulterior motive, saying it asked the U.S. Postal Service to install the mailbox in a bid to boost turnout."

    The story notes that "Amazon employees voted 1,798 to 738 against joining the union … The labor board has the authority to invalidate election results in response to conduct that could have changed the outcome and prevented employees from making a free choice about whether to unionize."

    KC's View:

    If indeed it is true that Amazon had keys to a US Postal Service mailbox, and then actually opened it at any time, it strikes me as being criminally stupid.  (Isn't it illegal for anyone other a postal employee to break into a US mailbox, which is actually federal property?)

    It also is just plain stupid because it casts a pall over Amazon's entire argument - that people are better off without a union, and that a legitimate vote would bear out that opinion.

    Someone needs to have their head handed to them.

    I actually hope there's another vote - one that is fair, clean, transparent and unquestionable.

    Published on: May 17, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal reports that "companies across industries have been buying back stock and raising dividends at a brisk pace this year. That is a sharp reversal from 2020, when they suspended or cut such programs, warning of the urgent need to preserve liquidity in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.

    "Already this year, U.S. companies have authorized $504 billion of share repurchases, according to Goldman Sachs Group data through May 7, the most during that period in at least 22 years. The pace of announcements trounces even the 2018 bonanza that followed the sweeping tax overhaul of late 2017."

    The Journal goes on:  "The increased desire among companies to spend comes as the U.S. economy is edging toward normalcy, and as executives are deciding how to deploy the cash hoard they amassed last year … In recent weeks, executives at companies ranging from Apple Inc. to Advance Auto Parts Inc. have unveiled plans for share repurchases or dividends - with many citing excess cash on their balance sheets, as well as confidence ahead."

    KC's View:

    It will be interesting to see the degree to which this impulse occurs in the retailing sector, and then the inevitable blowback that will come from labor interests concerned about wages.  The argument will be that investors are being rewarded on the backs of low-wage front-line employees … which will further fuel the ongoing debate about income inequality.

    This is a debate that will not subside … witness this story from Bloomberg about Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen:

    "In early 2020, as the coronavirus swept across the U.S., McMullen announced a $2 hourly hazard increase, or Hero Bonus, for store and warehouse workers. Two months later, the company ended the raise — even as critics pointed out that the hazard remained.

    "McMullen, meanwhile, collected a $22.4-million pay package for 2020 — his largest haul since he became Kroger’s boss in 2014.

    "The package, disclosed Thursday in a regulatory filing, rose almost 6% from the prior year thanks to a bigger bonus, a larger package of stock awards and a salary increase.

    "Pay for Kroger’s median employee fell 8% to $24,617.

    "McMullen, a Kroger lifer, is one of many CEOs who saw their pay jump last year even as the pandemic roiled the U.S. economy and drove millions into unemployment. The typical company in the Russell 1000, an index of larger corporations, reported CEO compensation up 3% last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg that is derived from filings available as of April 30."

    Published on: May 17, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal has a story about how some retailers, faced with a shortage of employees with digital skills appropriate to doing business in 2021 and beyond, have decided that, rather than seeking out candidates for such jobs, it makes more sense to retrain existing employees with an interest in and aptitude for such roles.

    Levi Strauss & Co., for example, has developed a "machine learning bootcamp, a new program designed to teach coding and statistical analysis to people who don’t have a statistics or coding background.

    "Levi’s is confronting a problem faced by companies in a range of industries from finance to retail to technology. Many of their workers lack the necessary skills to address modern business challenges. For retailing, artificial intelligence and machine learning are playing an outsize role as more shopping shifts online."

    Other companies that have taken similar approach are the Choice Markets c-store chain and Verizon Communications.

    The Journal draws the bottom line here:  "McKinsey & Co. estimates that replacing an employee can cost 20% to 30% of an annual salary on average. By contrast, retraining an employee costs less than 10% of annual pay."

    Published on: May 17, 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…

    •  Here are the current United States Covid-19 coronavirus numbers:  33,715,951 total cases … 600,147 deaths … and 27,136,020 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  163,763,088 total cases … 3,394,442 resultant fatalities … and 142,243,576 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  In the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 59.8 percent of the population age 18 or older has received at least one dose of the vaccine, with 47.2 percent being fully vaccinated.

    Published on: May 17, 2021

    •  Fox News reports that Coca-Cola plans to discontinue sales of its new energy drink, Coke Energy, launched just last year.

    According to the story, "The decision comes as a part of the company's move to streamline products and focus on its fast-moving beverages as consumers pick up more of its traditional sodas and flavored sparkling waters as they come out of the pandemic."

    Coke Energy will remain on store shelves outside the US, the story says;  Coke "still holds a majority stake in Monster Beverage Corp, one of the top energy drink makers in the United States," Fox News notes.

    •  Bloomberg reports that "7-Eleven Inc.’s purchase of the Speedway retail chain violates antitrust laws, the head of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said, casting doubt over the future of the $21 billion deal that closed Friday.

    "FTC Acting Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter and her fellow Democratic commissioner said the agency would continue to investigate the acquisition even after 7-Eleven announced it had completed the deal."

    The story says that "7-Eleven and Marathon said in separate statements that they were legally allowed to close the deal after they negotiated an agreement with the FTC that allowed them to complete the transaction Friday if the agency didn’t move to stop it. Such so-called timing agreements are common in merger investigations by the government.

    "7-Eleven said the companies agreed to multiple extensions of the timing agreement this year. During that time, 7-Eleven negotiated a settlement with with the FTC’s staff to resolve the agency’s concerns that the Speedway deal threatened competition, the company said. The agreement called for selling 293 stores, according to 7-Eleven."

    "The FTC’s two Republican commissioners issued a statement agreeing that the deal violates antitrust laws," the story says, and it seems at least possible that the FTC could go to court to unwind the merger.

    •  In Colorado, the Daily Camera reports that the "Longmont City Council on Tuesday night is to resume discussing whether it still wants staff to proceed with steps toward an ordinance that would require restaurants serving children’s meals to make water or unsweetened milk the preferred drink options with those kids’ meals.

    "In March 2020, Council members voted to have city staff continue working on that idea, which had been promoted by a coalition of agencies and organizations lobbying for such a 'healthy drinks for kids' measure. Those advocates of a Longmont ordinance had argued it could help prevent such long-term consequences as obesity, tooth decay, diabetes and other health problems in those children’s later lives."

    Published on: May 17, 2021

    We had a story last week about how numerous companies are competing for low-wage workers, which prompted me to comment:

    I know that there is a growing feeling out there that unemployed people are getting so much government assistance that they're not going back to work, and there may be some element of truth to that.  

    I do think it is a little more complicated that that - we are actually coming out of a pandemic, and there are residual fears and personal issues with which people are grappling.  Yes, they have to get back to work, and yes, we shouldn't make it too easy for them not to.  But a little compassion isn't a bad thing.

    I also think it is important to remember that what some folks portray as extravagant government benefits isn't actually all that much money.  The dollars we're talking about are what some people - among them the very people who are complaining about the benefits - drop in T&E on a weekend.  The people getting these benefits are, for the most part, using the money to pay their bills, feed their kids, make rent or mortgage payments.  And it isn't like they are buying cryptocurrency on the side with all the extra dollars.

    It may be that the current scenario is creating an environment in which low age workers will become not-quite-so-low wage workers, putting them in a position where they can more comfortably pay their bills, feed their kids, make rent or mortgage payments.

    One MNB reader responded:

    I would guess you’ll get mixed views on this topic depending on how close your readers are to what’s happening with their current hiring success in the companies they represent.

    With cost of living ranging from Mississippi at one end and California at the other , median rents ranging from $888 to $2518 by state, and annual mean wage ranging from $41,600 to $70,010, the recipients in states at the lower end of the economic scale do benefit more with a $300 per qualified person per week benefit than the states at the top.

    From what I’ve read, the states having the most difficultly filling job openings are the ones at the lower end. 

    Even in Seattle, a market closer to the top of the economic scale, employment targets are not even close to being met. 

    You might think the answer is simply to raise wages, but raising entry levels on new hires means passing that consideration on the valuable current team members as well.  That would be a great act if the business could survive and hold on to their team and company.

    But in a sector with very slim margins where a cost of labor increase pushes you in the red unless you raise prices, and be willing to lose market share at the same time, it doesn’t leave you with a lot of good options.

    Time will tell, but for an economy that could be ready to really take off, it won’t get off the ground without a much healthier job growth rate.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    Kevin, I agree that the low wage worker may begin to experience more of a living wage.  The issue is that it puts additional economic strain on our country’s businesses and places them in an increased noncompetitive situation when selling their goods. 

    So realistically, how sustainable is this?  The economic reality is that we will have less people making more money.  Which in turn will push more people to the subsidy lines because they have NO income.  I have compassion for the people that can’t work.  I have no compassion for the people that don’t work because they can’t find the work they want.

    There has been and will always be work.  The questions are will people be willing to put aside their pride, to work harder, to step back so they can run forward, in order to feed themselves or their families.  In today’s society, a larger number of people are answering “no” to these questions.  Entitlement is live and well in the US across all peoples.

    From another reader:

    One point that I rarely see mentioned in any media coverage about the challenge of getting lower wage workers right now, is the fact that millions of parents, largely women but men as well, are forced to be home right now because their children are not in school. Until all schools are fully open, a huge pool of potential employees is unable accept any job despite higher wages. In addition, childcare is less available and less affordable than it was before the pandemic.

    After reporting last week about the change in CDC mask guidance - and expressing a certain skepticism that people who have not been vaccinated will behave in a way the CDC would view as responsible - I commented:

    I am totally comfortable with a national vaccination program that makes it easily determined who has been fully inoculated and who has not.  Vaccine passports strike me as being entirely reasonable, at least for the short-term future.

    In fact, I'll go even farther.  I've believed all along that businesses ought to require their workers to get vaccinated (with exceptions for religious or health reasons).  But I also think that any business that took government money during the pandemic ought to be required to mandate employee vaccinations … and at the very least, you can't get forgiveness of your government loan if you don't implement such a mandate.

    One MNB reader responded:

    Kevin, this comment should be in your Politics Desk section…’re opening a large can of worms here with the passport and the mandate idea. Vax passport today …. what’s the next passport idea for tomorrow? I shudder to think what our creative government/big tech overlords could come up with.

    I like to think I specialize in opening worm cans.  (And, by the way, I reject the idea that masks and vaccines are political issues.  Some people have made them that, but they shouldn't be.)

    Rather than worrying about what government/big tech overlords might come up with tomorrow, I like to think of this in terms of what institutions came up with yesterday.

    Like, actual passports that allow you to go into other countries.  Or TSA Pre-Check, or Clear, which allow people to get through security faster.  Or requirements that kids get vaccinated, and be able to prove it,  for things like measles before going to school.

    All those things exist.  Frankly, they make me feel reassured, not threatened.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    I understand your point on the businesses navigating through this mask/vaccination mine field.  Frankly, now that I am vaccinated what others choose to do is up to them.  From the government standpoint, I would say don’t require masks.  Then at the business levels, they can make their own mandates as to standards for their stores.  Ie: no shoes, no shirt, service (or no problem).  Maybe this too will fall under the EGS movement.  But for now, I’m safe.  My family is safe.  So if someone who is not “safe”, gets sick, that is on them.

    I cracked wise the other day about cruise ships dealing with vaccination issues, commenting that I wouldn't want to get on a cruise ship anyway since they tend to be petrie dishes for disease, not to mention places that serve bad food and wine.

    MNB reader Mike Lama objected to that characterization:

    KC - you were spot on with my views, up to the point that you said you wouldn’t get on a cruise ship even without COVID going on because it’s a petrie dish for other illnesses.  REALLY, Kevin !   A lot of us cruise and have never gotten colds or the flu. I totally see it with COVID - no way I’m getting on a cruise ship until this is completely over. But, never?

    Nope, never.  Not me.

    Commenting on a story about how a Mexico-based retailer is acquiring Smart & Final, I asked why we never seem to read stories about American retailers buying retail businesses in other countries.

    MNB reader Greg Seminara responded:

    International acquisitions are beyond risk tolerance level for USA retailers.

    Target failed in Canada. Whole Foods never ventured far beyond the starting gate in UK or Canada.

    Walmart maintains a mixed record with international deals: success in Mexico, Chile, and Central America, but failures or pullbacks in Germany, UK, and Japan. Why has USA overseas expansion not worked ?  Basically, because chains available for sale were already under performing.

    “Managed by the USA” failed to supply any turnaround magic.

    I am a globalist, but feel that USA retailer capital (financial/human) better deployed against USA opportunities like e-commerce and survival .

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    Walmart disclosed possible violations in Mexico to the Justice Department and SEC in November 2011.

    1.     Bribes and kickbacks are common in other countries.

    2.     Most American retailers are honest.  

    3.     Foreign real estate ownership can be difficult in some countries.

    4.     Exchange rates can screw up the financial reporting of a small public company. That is why Jewel exited Mexico, wild swings in the peso made for wild swings in earnings.

    5.     Have you ever been to a wet market?

    We took note the other day of a New York Post report that Amazon plans to open an Amazon Fresh grocery store in the second of two former Fairway locations in New Jersey that it bought out of bankruptcy.  The two stores are in Woodland Park and Paramus.  The Woodland Park location's conversion to an Amazon Fresh was confirmed by the company late last year, and now the Post reports that the Paramus store will get the same treatment.

    I commented:

    My sense of the Fairway stores is that they probably are a little larger than ideal for the Amazon Fresh format … but that means that there could be plenty of space in which Amazon could operate some version of a micro fulfillment center that could effectively integrate its bricks-and-mortar and online operations.  You'd think this would be the sweet spot that Amazon is aiming for.

    There's a Stamford, Connecticut, Fairway store that's been closed for some time, and that, best I can tell, hasn't been picked up by any other retailer.  It doesn't seem like a big stretch to think that this also could be on Amazon's wish list.

    One MNB reader responded:

    The Paramus FW store is a smaller location.  It might even have been the smallest of the FW suburban locations.  One floor; smaller kitchen for prepared foods; small office space; no basement.  I think this location would suit Amazon Fresh perfectly.  The Paramus location has lots of competition too.  Large Stew Leonard's just a walk away; Shop Rite; Stop & Shop, Whole Foods only minutes away by car.  A local hospital is doing construction right across the street from the FW location- they are building a brand new 4 story facility to replace one a few towns away.  I believe the opening is in 2024?  This will be a huge boost for any retailer in the area- especially Amazon Fresh.  I’m thinking of hospital staff stopping by to pick up something on their way home from work or at lunchtime.  It’s all about location, right?

    The Woodland Park location is huge.  Much bigger than Paramus.  Offices on the second floor, good sized back rooms, kitchens, freezer and cold storage space, no basement.  Last I was there- you could not access the store from the highway (46) and had to use a side road.  There is a Shop Rite across the highway from them (can’t access from 46 either) that is huge too.  I don’t know of any construction going on there that would add to the appeal of this location.  That being said- this location might be too big for Amazon Fresh- and they will have to divide it- maybe use it for a warehouse for the Paramus location too?

    As for Stamford- that was even bigger than Woodland Park.  Not sure how AF could use that.

    And finally, from another reader on another subject:

    I really wanted to write to you today about an experience I had at my local Sam’s club at their food court.  Number one, it irritates me that I have to show them my Sam’s club card to order food from the food court.  I had just shown to the people at the front of the building to be able to enter Sam’s club so why do I need to show it again to get a drink and slice of pizza?  It just slows the process down.

    Number Two;  Because I was wearing a mask, even though I have been fully vaccinated but do it as a courtesy to fellow shoppers, the kid behind the counter who took my order (and he was wearing a mask too) had a hard time understanding what I ordered.  I ordered a combo which is a drink and slice of pizza.  He thought I only ordered a drink.  He handed me a drink cup and $2.04 back from the $3.00 I just gave him.  I explained that I wanted the combo.  He called someone over to clear the register so he could start with a new transaction.  Unfortunately neither he or the person from Sam’s Club had the authority or override key to clear a $.96 cent miss-ring.  They called for a “supervisor” who could override the register.  After several minutes no one came so I asked for my $3.00 back and I was going to leave.  Thankfully the person who had come over to try and help said to just give me the pizza and drink for the $.96 so I wouldn’t be delayed any longer.

    During this ordeal the kid behind the counter told me he had only worked there for two weeks and was left alone behind the counter to fend for himself.  He said they were short-staffed, but I am still shocked they would leave a new person with little or no training to run the food court.  I was very patient with him since I know he was doing the best he could with the lack of training he was given.  I suggested to him to go and get a job at Costco, which is literally only a ½ mile from this Sam’s club.  I told him it was a much better run company.

    I don’t understand how a multi-billion dollar company like Walmart doesn’t empower its employees to void a $.96 cent transaction without supervisor intervention?  I walked out thinking I would never buy food here again.  Seems very short sighted to me.

    BTW – Costco is our to-go club store, but Sam’s Club carries a couple of items that Costco doesn’t.  Of our club store purchases I would say 90% are at Costco and 10% at Sam’s club.  We are lucky that they are do close to each other that it is easy to go to both when needed.