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    Published on: December 20, 2021

    There's just one Blockbuster Video left in America - in Bend, Oregon, standing as both a testament to a less complicated time and a warning of what happens when a business can't or doesn't read the signs about how the world is changing.  And now, that single Blockbuster is about to get the small screen treatment, for better or worse.  KC has some thoughts.

    Published on: December 20, 2021

    The US Department of Labor announced over the weekend that enforcement of a vaccine-or-test mandate at businesses with 100 or more employees, originally scheduled to take place on January 10, now will be pushed off a month, to February 9.

    The decision was made "to provide employers with sufficient time to come into compliance,” the Labor Department said in a statement.

    The Hill points out that the change was announced just a day after the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reinstated the mandate, reversing an earlier decision by the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued a stay preventing the mandate from being implemented.

    Additional appeals from state governments and the business community are expected, with the decision likely to eventually to go to the US Supreme Court.  The New York Times writes that "several of the many plaintiffs who have challenged that rule immediately asked the Supreme Court to intervene as part of its 'emergency' docket. Appeals from the Sixth Circuit are assigned to be reviewed by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who under Supreme Court rules can, in theory, make a decision on his own but is more likely to refer the matter to the full Supreme Court for consideration."

    The Times also reports that many businesses are feeling a sense of whiplash:  "The spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has seemingly bolstered the government’s argument, at the heart of its legal battle over the rule, that the virus remains a grave threat to workers. But the recent surge in cases has raised the issue of whether the government will take its requirements further — even as the original rule remains contentious — and ask employers to mandate booster shots, too. The country’s testing capacity has also been strained, adding to concerns that companies will be unable to meet the rule’s testing requirements."

    KC's View:

    I wish that everyone were vaccinated and boosted.  I think that it would put us in a much better position as a culture and an economy.  But with every passing day, I begin to think that while public health officials are doing their level best, this thing has become way too political - it is like many of the moves being recommended by public health officials drive us further apart instead of bringing us together.  That's what used to happen, but seemingly not anymore.

    Maybe the best way to deal with this is, rather than mandate that people get vaccinated, to say that if you're not vaccinated, not only are insurance companies not going to cover your medical expenses, but you're also not going to be able to go to theaters or restaurants or bars or ballgames, or travel on airplanes or stay in hotels.  Though, to be fair, this probably will deepen the sense of polarization as well.

    Maybe, in the world in which we live, it will be have to be enough to let it be a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

    It is a confusing time.  Yesterday, I went out to Starbucks to get coffee for my wife and daughter.  There were more than a dozen people waiting to pick up their orders, and maybe three of us were wearing masks.  A quarter-mile away, at the local Covid testing station, there were more than a dozen cars on line with people waiting to be tested.

    Talk about whiplash.

    I mentioned on Friday that I am way past "worn out" and "angry" about how some folks have responded to the pandemic - that I am "pissed off" and "exhausted."  But it occurs me that these emotions may be the very definition of the larger polarization.

    Published on: December 20, 2021

    Bloomberg reports that Amazon "is backing off plans to ban cell phones in warehouses, allowing employees to keep their devices with them at work … For years, Amazon prohibited employees from having their phones on warehouse floors and required them to leave them in their vehicles or in lockers near break rooms. The rule was temporarily relaxed during the pandemic, and Amazon announced earlier this year it would resume in January."

    This new approach "follows the emergence of a more contagious strain of Covid-19 and after six workers died at a facility struck by a tornado last week, which reinforced a desire among warehouse employees to have access to real-time information in emergencies."

    KC's View:

    Amazon has to read the room, and right now, banning people from having their cell phones with them is simply unacceptable.  The tornado-related deaths only drove the point home.

    Maybe it is time for businesses to treat employees like adults?  And, of course, for employees to act like adults.

    Published on: December 20, 2021

    The Portland Business Journal reports that after a brief weekend strike, employees at Kroger-owned Fred Meyer and QFC in Portland and elsewhere in Oregon returned to work after the two sides reached a tentative agreement.

    "The union said the agreement provides 'significant' raises, added worker safety protections and investments in pensions and health care," according to the Journal.

    A vote by the rank-and-file still is required to finalize the deal.

    Published on: December 20, 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…

    •  The United States now reports that there have been a total of 51,765,714 cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 827,323 deaths and 40,539,875 reported recoveries.

    Globally there have been 275,136,042 total cases, with 5,372,791 resultant fatalities and 246,909,654 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 77.3 percent of the US population age five and older and 72.8 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine, while 65.3 percent of the five-and-older population and 61.4 percent of the total population has been fully vaccinated.

    The CDC also says that 32.1 percent of the 18-and-older US population and 29.5 percent of the total population has received a vaccine booster dose.

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "the coronavirus’s Omicron variant has been detected in 89 countries, and Covid-19 cases of the variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission, the World Health Organization said Saturday. The variant is spreading rapidly even in countries with high levels of immunity in the population, the WHO said.

    "The Dutch government imposed lockdown measures, with all nonessential shops, bars and restaurants closed until mid-January.

    "Paris canceled its traditional New Year’s Eve festivities on the Champs-Élysées. London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a 'major incident' in the British capital following what he said was the largest daily rise in cases in the city since the pandemic began, with 26,000 new cases recorded in the latest 24 hours."

    •  Ashish K. Jha, M.D., Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, put out a Tweet over the weekend saying that "for nearly 2 years, I've closely tracked infections … Because infections invariably led to hospitalizations and deaths … But I expect that in the upcoming wave … That link will finally break … Cases will spike … But among vaccinated/boosted people, it won't lead to serious illness."

    Jha has an excellent piece in The Atlantic about the Omicron variant and how to deal with it, writing, in part, that "successfully navigating the next wave of the coronavirus pandemic requires charting a middle course - one designed with clear goals in mind: preventing deaths, protecting our hospitals from crushing caseloads, and keeping schools and businesses open. We can do this with the proven, effective tools we already have, while giving in to neither dismay nor dismissal."

    You can read it here.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Schools can use frequent testing to keep students in class after exposure to someone with Covid-19, federal officials said, embracing a strategy some educators and parents have adopted to keep children out of home quarantines.

    "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday updated its guidance for K-12 schools to include the strategy, known as test-to-stay. The CDC said testing students frequently after exposure to someone with Covid-19 can limit transmission of the virus while sustaining in-person learning."

    •  The New York Times reports this morning that "a booster shot of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine significantly raises the level of antibodies that can thwart the Omicron variant, the company announced on Monday.

    "The news arrives as Omicron rapidly advances across the world, and most coronavirus vaccines seem unable to stave off infection from the highly contagious variant.

    "Moderna’s results show that the currently authorized booster dose of 50 micrograms — half the dose given for primary immunization — increased the level of antibodies by roughly 37-fold, the company said. A full dose of 100 micrograms was even more powerful, raising antibody levels about 83-fold compared with pre-boost levels, Moderna said.

    "Both doses produced side effects comparable to those seen after the two-dose primary series. But the dose of 100 micrograms showed slightly more frequent adverse reactions relative to the authorized 50-microgram dose."

    •  Axios reports that "parents of small children started 2021 with the hope of giving their kids a more normal life — and are ending it with 2020 déjà vu."  The story notes that "a wave of K-12 schools is going virtual, citing rising cases among students and staff.  A Pfizer vaccine trial for kids under 5 failed to generate the desired immune response, the companies said today.  Kids 15 and under aren't eligible for boosters."

    The Axios story makes the point that it isn't just the pandemic creating "incredible stress" for parents, as last week there were a series of "viral TikToks alluding to potential violence in schools" that "horrified parents and sparked law-enforcement alerts.  Some parents kept their children home. Some districts canceled classes or limited where students could go inside school buildings. Many increased security.  

    We're living in a world where no place is safe, and there's no place to hide.

    •  Axios has a story noting that compared to pre-pandemic, "cities are lagging behind the nation in jobs recovery," and that "88 of the largest 100 metropolitan areas had fewer jobs in October than before the pandemic."

    •  The Associated Press reports that Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation last week that masks do not add any significant level of safety when worn on airplanes, though public health experts immediately pushed back on the assertion.

    According to the AP, "Kelly said that '99.97% of airborne pathogens are captured' by high efficiency particulate air filters, or HEPA filters, on airplanes, before suggesting that masks are unnecessary during air travel.  'Yeah, I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment,' Kelly said. 'It’s very safe, and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting'."

    Ironically, the AP writes, "On Friday, after returning home from the hearing, Kelly tested positive for COVID-19."

    Published on: December 20, 2021

    •  Kroger last week announced the soft launch of a new 375,000-square-foot automated customer fulfillment center (CFC) located in the Atlanta area, offering free delivery of orders of $35 and more to customers who signed up to be part of the launch.

    This is the fourth of the CFCs opened by Kroger, and the largest to this point.

    •  From Travel Agent Central:

    "Hudson, which has more than 1,000 stores in airports, commuter hubs, landmarks and tourist destinations across North America, has announced it is the first retailer in the travel industry to offer Amazon’s palm recognition service, Amazon One. The service is now available at Hudson Nonstop—powered by Just Walk Out technology—at Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL).

    "With the addition of Amazon One, Hudson is providing travelers with a contactless ways to enter, shop and pay. As the first-ever Just Walk Out technology-enabled store in an airport to deploy Amazon One, Hudson Nonstop at DAL now offers travelers two different options to enter and pay - either by inserting their credit or debit card or by hovering their palm over the Amazon One device at the store’s entry gate. First-time Amazon One users can sign up at the enrollment kiosk located outside of Hudson Nonstop to securely associate a credit or debit card with their unique palm signature before entering the store.

    "If a traveler has previously enrolled in Amazon One at select Amazon Go, Amazon Books, Amazon 4-star, Amazon Fresh, Amazon Pop Up or Whole Foods Market stores, they will not need to visit the enrollment kiosk; they can simply hover their palm over the Amazon One device at the entry gates to enter this Hudson Nonstop. Once travelers have completed their shopping, the card linked to their Amazon One ID will be charged for the items they selected and left the store with."

    Published on: December 20, 2021

    •  Philly Voice reports that Ahold Delhaize-owned Giant of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, has opened "its fourth Giant Heirloom Market at 801 Market St. inside the former home of the Strawbridge & Clothier department store, which had a long run beginning in 1928 … Giant restored the 32,000-square-foot space and maintained many of its interior design elements, including chandelier lighting, signage, decorative trim and the famous "Il Porcellino" wild boar statue that graced the department store.

    "Much like the other Giant Heirloom Market locations, the Center City store will feature a large beer and wine selection, gourmet cheeses with pairing recommendations, a seating area with TVs and 16 self-checkout registers. The store will stand out from the others with its Tap Hall housed inside the building's historic elevator hall, which includes 32 self-serve beers and wines."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "A high-profile startup that sought to popularize a K-Cup cocktail machine is shutting down and is offering to refund customers who already bought its countertop appliance.

    "Drinkworks, a joint venture between Keurig Dr Pepper Inc. and Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, will no longer sell its automated cocktail-making machines, the company said in a statement on its website dated Dec. 15 … Cocktail pods and accessories will continue to be sold through its website or at retailers through the end of March or until supplies last and customers have until Feb. 28 to apply for reimbursement, it said."

    Published on: December 20, 2021

    •  Smart & Final announced that Scott Drew, the company's COO, has been named president of the company.  Dave Hirz, current president and CEO, has been with Smart & Final for almost 12 years and is retiring effective February 1, 2022.

    •  The Financial Times reports that "former Tesco boss Sir Dave Lewis is set to become chair of GlaxoSmithKline’s new consumer health division, which is about to be spun-off from its parent company.

    "The division, which makes roughly £10bn of annual sales, will formally announce the pick of Lewis as the company’s non-executive chair on Monday, according to people familiar with the matter."

    •  DoorDash announced that Kofi Amoo-Gottfried, the company's director of marketing, has been promoted to the newly created role of Chief Marketing Officer.

    Published on: December 20, 2021

    The conversation continues….as one MNB reader wrote:

    Although these topics frequently are only peripherally related to grocery retailing, I always appreciate your willingness to air all sides of a discussion, even if you vehemently disagree. Sometimes you can’t find a middle ground, but in almost every situation you can find at least some common ground, and that seems lost these days.

    My argument isn’t about the vaccine, but the mandates. Requiring someone to have a medical procedure to be employed, go to restaurants, stores, etc… goes too far. I understand the thinking around a “greater good” argument, but I find it flawed in two ways.

    First, what about other communicable diseases/conditions? Sure, some are required at some point in your life (or heavily suggested). In my annual checkup last month, I got my flu shot and my tetanus booster (every year on the former, ever decade on the latter). Should I be required to have an app on my phone that I need to show everywhere I go that I got my shots? Should I have to prove that I don’t have a staph infection before going to the gym? HPV?

    Second, according to the CDC, the vaccine doesn’t prevent you from getting or transmitting the disease; it minimizes your risk of hospitalization and, most importantly, death. So, if you’re vaccinated, what do you have to fear from the unvaccinated? Due to the nature of this type of virus, COVID is here to stay. Like the cold and the flu, it will continue to mutate, whether the population is 100% vaccinated or not.

    From another reader:

    Really enjoy your blog and wanted to first say thank you for all that you do.

    Wanted to share my experience where a previous employer had health insurance rates based on your overall health (yes it does exist!).  This was at a large private employer with tens of thousands of employees across many sister companies.  On an annual basis, free of charge, all employees could voluntarily submit to testing of their BMI, cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar.  There was an onsite pop up clinic at each office for a few days or you could have the testing completed at your healthcare provider using specific forms.  If your results fell into the “healthy range” for at least a certain number of metrics, you qualified for reduced health insurance rates.  Spouses also had to submit to testing if they were being covered by the company’s health insurance policy and the employee wanted the reduced rates.  For employees with too many unhealthy results, they could complete various trainings and regularly meet with a lifestyle coach and still qualify for the reduced rates.  Personally, I liked being rewarded for healthy decisions and that my employer was encouraging employees to monitor their health annually or make lifestyle adjustments to improve their health.

    As for the heightened focus on freedom of choice, I’ve come to realize that having 100% freedom of choice in many aspects of our lives is a bit of an illusion (this may get a tad philosophical!).  There are so many instances where the choices made by others or factors beyond our control shape our behavior or limit our choices.  For example, if one wants to buy whole milk at 2am from a specific retailer, this may not be possible.  The retailer could be closed or out of stock.  While you most likely will be able to buy some type of milk from a retailer, it may not be your preferred choice due to the retailer’s operating hours, the retailers present in your community, varieties offered, supply chain challenges, etc.  All of these factors shape your options.  Your legal recourse to force XYZ retailer to adjust their operating hours, open a location in your community, change assortment, etc. are limited to nonexistent.  There are numerous professions that require specific training and certifications/licenses in many industries such as the medical, legal, education and real estate industries.  This is to protect the general population and make sure a person is qualified to perform their duties.  If you choose not to comply with the standards set by someone else, you don’t receive the appropriate certificate/license and are not able to pursue that desired career path.  The quality of education that one received as a child, which is influenced by factors beyond a child’s control, could impact one’s ability to meet these requirements.  Using one’s birth zip code, a person’s educational attainment can be predicted with stunning accuracy.

    Yes, I’m sure there are some that circumvent the system, but there are consequences if they are caught.  Take voting for instance as well.  We have very generous eligibility requirements in this country, however there are still guidelines around when, where and how you vote.  You don’t have the freedom to vote whenever and however you choose.  Election dates are not decided by the general population each year.  You must be a registered voter and meet those requirements.  Polls and early voting stations (if available) are open specific days and times.  There are deadlines for absentee and mailing voting you must adhere to for your vote to be counted.  You cast your vote using a pre-approved ballot, not whatever piece of paper you choose.  In order to exercise your voting freedom, you have to follow guidelines and requirements established by someone else.  Just something I’ve been personally mulling over the past few months.

    From another reader:

    My reaction to this reader comment from today's MNB:

    "When we talk of freedom, it is regarding the freedom to make your own choices based on your beliefs.  If you don’t believe the vaccine is the way to go then you take that risk upon yourself."

    This argument never fails to confound me. The best analogy I can think of is stop signs. Do we all have the same choice to either stop, or to plow through into cross traffic? Those who don't stop on a regular basis lose their right to drive because they endanger others. Vaccines reduce the likelihood of the vaccinated infecting others with a potentially severe or deadly disease, so mandating them makes as much sense to me as laws requiring us to stop at stop signs. Why shouldn't those who choose to not be vaccinated lose some privileges as well, like lower health insurance premiums, entry into public spaces like indoor concert venues, and even certain types of employment?

    That said, thank you for providing a respectful forum for the sharing of ideas from differing perspectives.

    And from another:

    Panama has about 4.5 million people.  It has strict mask mandates that everyone follows. 

    Yesterday there were 382 new cases of Covid.  Currently there are 3,486 active cases and 470,561 people who have recuperated.  Of current cases 3,365 are in quarantine at home and 102 in Hospital Hotels.  Total cases are 10.5% of the population.

    There are 121 patients hospitalized with 16 in Intensive Care.  A total of 7,391 have died of Covid.  That is 1.6% fatality rate, a smidgen below the US which has a better medical system.

    The positivity rate is rising.  For the last week it was 4.47%.  In the US it is 7.5%.

    My Benedictine education would lead me to believe, based on the above, that having the mask mandate in a country that had 10% of its population infected is working by the positivity rate alone being lower than the US.  I am not a doctor but a fatality rate below the US in a country that has a good medical system but clearly not as good as the US would indicate less dangerous symptoms due to the mandate.

    And, regarding the free test kits being offered at some airports, one MNB reader wrote:

    Sorry, but “free test kits” are still not enough to get me on an airplane or anywhere near an airport for at least the next few months.

    Gonna take a lot more to get me back in the “friendly” skies.   Not worth the hassle.

    On the subject of grocery deliver services gone awry, one MNB reader wrote:

    I think as with anything, grocery delivery will only be as good as the people who are actually doing the order selection and delivery. In our area I have heard horror stories about every grocery delivery service. A friend of mine said that she felt like she was on an episode of Chopped every night trying to cobble together a meal from whatever had actually been delivered to her, with no communication from the in store shopper. The one exception in our area seems to be Shipt. The employees working for that delivery app seem to be more engaged and stay in contact throughout their shopping trip to keep the customer informed of any substitutions that need to be made. I have to say that 22 months into the pandemic, my husband and I finally tested positive for Covid after a work trip to Florida last week. I was very happy with my first ever on line order experience and delivery using the Meijer app and the Shipt delivery. My order selector was excellent and in constant contact with me throughout her order selection process. Hopefully we will be testing negative again soon, but I will be using this order delivery in the future if we need to do so.

    From another reader:

    Nearly got trampled by an instacart shopper today that did not know the difference between Yucca root and Hanes underwear.

    On another subject, from MNB reader Tom Murphy:

    As I am sure you are aware, Raley’s is not acquiring Basha’s out of the goodness of their heart.  In fact, the transaction will be paid by greater volume discounts for products and services across the two companies as well as in reductions in duplicated human capital…you still need local accountants, merchants, HR staff, IT staff, etc…but you don’t need the same scale and many of the layers will be removed.  Certainly, this merger will likely save Basha’s and strengthen Raley’s.  Even with these costs, it will be worth it…given the alternative would likely be a slow bankruptcy death or sale to a private equity firm!

    Always loved Basha’s when we spent our winters in AZ…hope they don’t loose too much of the culture or the brand as the cuts and process/system transitions take place.

    We posted a terrific Chevrolet holiday ad the other day, prompting MNB reader Howard Schneider to write:

    KC, I’d noticed that great Chevy ad too. In the “everything old is new again” department, this spot reminds me of the kind of emotional ads that were a staple of the Leo Burnett agency. Everything from McDonalds to United Airlines became a 30- or 60-second emotional journey. Remember when one could advertise air travel as a positive experience…with a straight face?

    MNB reader Dr. Allen F. Wysocki wrote:

    We watch virtually no broadcast TV these days, so I was not familiar with the ad. As you said, it is a great ad and too, shed a tear or three.

    MNB reader Kevin Weaver wrote:

    Thank you for sharing that video. There is a connection between cars, memories, regret and grief and I felt all as I watched. As an owner of 2 vintage cars, I can testify that there is more ‘soul’ in older cars as they hold decades of precious memories…..

    MNB reader George J. Denman wrote:

    This commercial hit home with me as well. About 6 years ago I had to move my parents into assisted living residence because of failing health and vision. My father had had some recent  accidents taking down about 4 or 5 mailboxes “because they were installed too close to the road”…. It was extremely tough taking away his keys to his car. In his garage at the family home was an 8X10 photo of a 1965 Chevrolet El Camino in maroon paint  and with fender skirts, a car that my father had dreamed of someday owning but never realized. That picture now hangs in my garage wall. Month before he passed away, I surprised him with a trip to the Clark County Car Part Swap and Car show, picking him up in his wheel chair and wheeling him all over the grounds.

    We came upon the car show arena and there sitting in the front row of all these gorgeous show cars was a pristine 1965 El Camino in factory ermine white and turquoise interior. My father was so excited to see his favorite car and I wheeled him over to get a closer look. And to his surprise, the window sheet that showed the car on display with its owner, said 1965 Chevrolet El Camino--Owner Bob Denman. I had bought the car and put the title it in his name. Although he couldn’t drive it, it sat in the parking lot of his assisted living for the next 6 months where he could look out his window every day and see his car. He passed away a few months later loving that car.

    Point of personal privilege here, if I may…

    George Denman is retiring from Graeter's - which in my opinion makes the best ice cream around - and moving into a career in academia.  I'm a little jealous, though I am hoping that at some point he'll invite me to speak to one of his classes.  George is a great guy, and I've always appreciated both his support of MNB and his friendship.  I just wanted to acknowledge it here.

    On the subject of menu reduction in restaurants, one MNB reader wrote:

    In this climate I don’t believe this is a bad thing.  I have always felt a smaller menu with core items that they can do well and have consistent supply is crucial to a good restaurant.  Make your point of difference in the specials you offer.  Creates excitement, anticipation on social media, and allows the customer to engage the staff on favorites.

    And finally, I wrote last week about the difficulty I was having finding Temp Tee cream cheese, which prompted one MNB reader to write:

    Temp Tee is made by Breakstone, as you probably know. Which is owned by Kraft (Philadelphia Cream Cheese)… And best known in the Eastern US.

    Kraft is probably not changing over the production line (Lowville, NY and home of the annual cream cheese festival) to run this other regional brand when demand nationally for Philly is so high.

    Fun fact: Philadelphia cream cheese actually originated in New York and was simply a word-play because people thought dairies in Pennsylvania were higher delicacy of cheese products than those of New York.

    I knew none of that, so I appreciate the education.

    However … I am happy to day that we located a bunch of Temp Tee over the weekend.  So Mrs. Content Guy can make a load of clam dip for Christmas.


    Published on: December 20, 2021

    In Week Fifteen of National Football League play…

    New England Patriots 17, Indianapolis Colts 27

    Tennessee Titans 13, Pittsburgh Steelers 19

    Carolina Panthers 14, Buffalo Bills 31

    Houston Texans 30, Jacksonville Jaguars 16

    Dallas Cowboys 21, New York Giants 6

    Arizona Cardinals 12, Detroit Lions 30

    New York Jets 24, Miami Dolphins 31

    Cincinnati Bengals 15, Denver Broncos 10

    Atlanta Falcons 13, San Francisco 49ers 31

    Green Bay Packers 31, Baltimore Ravens 30

    New Orleans Saints 9, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0