(Thanks, Slog tipper Jesse. We miss you.)
. . . isn't easy, but today's service industry workers are less secure, with fewer benefits, than the household servants of the past whose work they replace.
Once upon a time, hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert was living a Wall Street fairy tale. His fairy godmother was Ayn Rand, the dashing diva of free-market ideology whose quirky economic notions would transform him into a glamorous business hero.
For a while, it seemed to work like a charm. Pundits called him the “Steve Jobs of the investment world.” The new Warren Buffett. By 2006 he was flying high, the richest man in Connecticut, managing over $15 billion thorough his hedge fund, ESL Investments.
Stoked by his Wall Street success, Lampert plunged headlong into the retail world. Undaunted by his lack of industry experience and hailed a genius, Lampert boldly pushed to merge Kmart and Sears with a layoff and cost-cutting strategy that would, he promised, send profits into the stratosphere. Meanwhile the hotshot threw cash around like an oil sheikh, buying a $40 million pad in Florida’s Biscayne Bay, a record even for that star-studded county.
Fast-forward to 2013: The fairy tale has become a nightmare.
Go read the whole thing. If it weren't for all the jobs at stake (fun fact: my very first job was at a Sears in the Maine Mall) this would be a near-perfect dose of schadenfreude. Rand fans, of course, will argue that Lampert wasn't a demonstration of pure Objectivist thought. That's exactly what they argued when Alan Greenspan nearly destroyed the economy by trying to transform America into Ayn Rand's economic paradise. And that's what makes Ayn Rand's philosophy so tough to erase. It will never exist in the real world, because the world in Rand's childish fictions is too simple-minded to exist. This gives Objectivists a kind of parachute that allows them to distance themselves from spectacular flame-outs like Greenspan and Lampert: They weren't pure enough. Then they cast their eyes to the next great Randian hope hurtling down the runway, rushing toward certain doom.
Of course, this advice was meant for their swimming-in-cash corporate execs, not their drowning-in-cooking-oil poverty-level workers.
The tipping guide from etiquette maven Emily Post on McDonald's website lists several high-ticket suggestions for givers during the holiday season, including "a gift from your family (or one week's pay), plus a small gift from your child" for an au pair, "one day's pay" for a housekeeper and "cost of one cleaning" for a pool cleaner.
The site also lists suggestions for dog walkers, massage therapists and personal fitness trainers.
Via the great QT, who headlined it "Marie McAntoinette Update," which would be a great new Slog category.
The real question: Who filled out the form?
I missed an Amazon drone delivery. pic.twitter.com/neJxYANj6p
— B to A to the R R Y (@QuantumPirate) December 2, 2013
(Thanks to Slog tipper Heidi.)
Blackfridaydeathcount.com is the most important website of the day.
And it's actually quite satisfying, albeit in a small way. Join me?
UPDATE: Good idea, Matt! Yes!
Greedy retailers are ruining Thanksgiving for low-wage employees by forcing them to work on the one goddamned American holiday that isn't about the buying and selling of plastic bullshit shipped in from China. ThinkProgress has smartly decided to call this phenomenonThe War on Thanksgiving. I wholeheartedly approve of this move.
They've compiled a list of chain retailers who are forcing their employees to come in and work on Thanksgiving Day. They've also compiled a list of chain retailers who are letting their employees have one fucking day to live like human beings without the threat of being berated by some asshole because the product they wanted isn't in stock. If you're going out this weekend, you should give your business to the stores that are treating their employees with dignity.
In addition to that list, I'd like to add the fact that there are a ton of local businesses that aren't forcing their employees to work on Thanksgiving. Every local bookstore, for instance, is closed tomorrow, so their employees can enjoy time with their friends and family. You should thank them with your dollars.
Just a reminder that when you order your Christmas gifts from the Great Walmart in the Sky, you're pumping money into a series of warehouses that overwork and underpay workers around the world. BBC reporter Adam Littler went undercover as one of Amazon's warehouse "pickers" to see what it's like on the other side of the Amazon transaction:
A handset told him what to collect and put on his trolley. It allotted him a set number of seconds to find each product and counted down. If he made a mistake the scanner beeped.
"We are machines, we are robots, we plug our scanner in, we're holding it, but we might as well be plugging it into ourselves", he said.
"We don't think for ourselves, maybe they don't trust us to think for ourselves as human beings, I don't know."
Prof [Michael] Marmot, one of Britain's leading experts on stress at work, said the working conditions at the warehouse are "all the bad stuff at once".
In response, Amazon says warehouse conditions "comply with all relevant legal requirements." Because they're empathetic like that.
Gizmodo's Mario Aguilar rounds up the offerings, from humongous gumball machines to "wet floor" signs and beyond....
Business Insider's Ashley Lutz writes:
A Cleveland Wal-Mart store is holding a food drive — for its own employees.
"Please donate food items so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner," reads a sign accompanied by several plastic bins.
Seen at the Walgreens at 23rd and Jackson.
Oh, Lululemon Athletica: When you're not hosting murders, you're pulling your $100 yoga pants from the marketplace because they were accidentally see-through. Now, the company's facing a new round of pant-related complaints. Meanwhile, the company founder took to BloombergTV to share his revolutionary thoughts on the importance of taking deep breaths, and to identify the true culprit in last year's yoga-pants scandal. From Yahoo News:
Less than nine months after Lululemon came under fire for the "sheerness" of its yoga pants, the company's founder says that woman's bodies may be to blame for problems with the luxury workout attire. "Frankly, some women's bodies just don't actually work [for the yoga pants]," Chip Wilson said Tuesday in an interview on Bloomberg TV's "Street Smart" program. "It's more really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, how much they use it."
Between this guy and Rob Ford, Canada's reputation is taking a beating this week. Video of BloombergTV interview below. (Pants discussion starts around 1:50 mark.)
Over at the conservative site National Review, Alec Torres says:
Hallmark recently released a Christmas-sweater ornament that changed the words of the famous Christmas carol “Deck the Halls” to “Don we now our fun apparel.” The traditional lyrics are “Don we now our gay apparel.”
Hallmark was then besieged by angry people, but the array of things those people were angry about is quite wide: For some, they're mad about "political correctness" and the war on Christmas. Others demand that Hallmark needs to apologize to "the gay community" for leaving the word out.
Hallmark apologized for offending people, saying they were "surprised at the wide range of reactions expressed" for the lyric change. In retrospect, they say, "we realize we shouldn’t have changed the lyrics on the ornament.” Of course, the comments on the National Review story range from very homophobic (someone makes a dumb anal sex joke about The Flintstones) to dully War-on-Christmas obsessed, to conspiracy-minded complaints about how gay people have subverted a perfectly good word:
"Deck the Halls" dates to the 16th century. Homosexuals have called themselves "gays" for a few years. Liberals love to pervert our language, giving words new meanings that advance their agenda. Maybe homosexuals should've thought about what gay actually means & not be so thin-skinned.
In conclusion, "Deck the Halls" is a terrible song.
This Friday, the latest dystopian novel hits theaters. Ender's Game is a story of humanity fighting back from extinction due to an invasion of aliens. We've heard the story before, but this time it's children who are fighting back. This could be to this generation what Star Trek was to mine. Now, instead of wearing Starfleet insignia, International Fleet logos could be the rage.
CafePress is working with Lionsgate to bring the Ender's Game official print-on-demand merchandise to the world. Kids, and adults, can order movie posters, mugs. t-shirts, magnets, iPhone cases, hats and more, all printed with logos and images from the movie. I'd like to offer you one Ender's Game item, of your choice, so you can test it out and tell your audience about it. Please go to the above link and make your selection, and then let me know and I will get it in the mail to you.
Of course, Ender's Game is having a dicey time selling itself due to its author's outspoken homophobia, with the filmmakers attempting damage control by publicly denouncing and distancing themselves from Card's extreme views.
But the film can't outrun the stink of homophobia, stepping in it even when they're trying really hard not to. (Exhibit A: this officially licensed T-shirt.) Poor Ender's Game.
Confidential to the Ender's Game/Cafe Press publicist: Please send me a large pink "Fear the Buggers" tee. Thank you.
Thanks to Edward Champion for posting these on Twitter.
A customer at a Hobby Lobby store in Marlboro, N.J., was recently told "We don't cater to you people," when she asked a sales associate if the store would be stocking any Hanukkah merchandise, according to Ken Berwitz, a Marlboro resident who first reported the story on his blog. Following up with Hobby Lobby's corporate headquarters, Berwitz found that the chain would not carry Hanukkah items due to founder David Green’s Christian faith. "Because Mr. Green is the owner of the company, he's a Christian, and those are his values," he claims he was told.
Hobby Lobby released a statement to Entrepreneur.com that they are investigating the "[a]lleged comments," which they say "are in no way indicative of Hobby Lobby culture, the owners and the operators." A representative of Hobby Lobby told Patch's Kaitlyn Anness that they "currently do not carry any Hanukah items in our store. Our customers have brought this to our attention and we are currently evaluating our Holiday items and what we will carry in the future."
In other Jewish Hobby Lobby news, it turns out that Hobby Lobby President Steve Green, son of CEO David Green, might be the owner of the world's oldest Jewish prayer book.
I don't like the headline on Gregory Ciotti's story at Medium. "Is Yelp Turning You Into a Crappy Customer?" is obviously one of those SEO headlines that overpromises in hopes of catching a few extra eyeballs. But the story itself raises a good point, arguing the flip side of that old saw about the customer always being right.
What we often forget, however, is that we, as customers, also shoulder some responsibility in the service that we receive. Customers themselves play a very important role in the customer service process, but this importance often goes overlooked.
In short, you have to speak up if you're not getting what you want. Good customer service doesn't involve reading minds. Rather than going home and passive-aggressively complaining about the experience on Yelp, or leaving the store in a huff and taking out your aggression on anyone who crosses your path on your evening commute, the simple act of speaking up could save you a sudden spike in blood pressure.
Ciotti uses the extreme example of someone on Yelp who loved a restaurant's food and service, but wound up giving the restaurant a two-star review because their cheesecake was served in squares rather than slices, which "made me uncomfortable because it was not at all what I expected." I'm pretty sure a waiter would be willing to serve that cheesecake in triangular form if that's what the customer expected. I'm also pretty sure that waiter would have rolled their eyes at this customer in the kitchen while fulfilling this request, but that's what you get for being the kind of naif whose entire evening can be thrown off kilter by being served a dessert in an unexpected shape.
With the exception of a few sociopathic outliers, nobody in the service industry goes to work wanting to screw up a customer's day. (Sure, some people are gruff, or bad at their jobs. But that's got everything to do with their own lives and nothing to do with you as a customer or as a person.) And as a customer, it's important to remember that the person who's helping you is a human being who can't know what's going on in your head. As uncomfortable as it may be for some people, actually having a conversation with another human being could easily resolve lots of these issues that you wind up reading about online.
In the early '90s, what is now the bustling Pike/Pine corridor was a rundown stretch of nothing much, and sex toys were things you found primarily in dank windowless rooms hawking "marital aids." Twenty years later, things look different, thanks in part to Claire Cavanah and Rachel Venning, two Seattle women who followed the inspiration of San Francisco's woman-powered sex emporium Good Vibrations and their own sex-positive feminism to create Babeland, Seattle's legendary sex-toy boutique which is today celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Full disclosure: Cavanah and Venning are old friends of mine, and when they first told me of their plan to open a woman-centered sex toy shop west of Broadway on Pike—Toys in Babeland was the name then—I wished them all the luck in the world while wondering about the iffy, distant locale and potential turnover in sex toys. (How many sex toys did even the most adventurous people need/wear out? Were these toys to be made of quickly-dissolving sugar?) Of course, Babeland soon became a bicoastal powerhouse as beloved for its community and concepts as its life-enhancing products, Pike is now all condos and destination revellers, and I am reminded again of why I am not a businessman.
Congratulations, Claire and Rachel! (Babeland's 20th anniversary party is tonight, but it is entirely sold out. Wait list info here.)
I think we're on the cusp of a local-media-fueled public freakout over thrift store bed bugs, and I think that's a shame. I've been a thrift shopper for my entire adult life, and I've learned enough to know that if you follow certain rules—wash the shit you buy before you wear it, people!—you'll be fine. Over at Seattleish, the new-ish site from some of the talented writers behind the late, lamented blog Seattlest, the editors published a list of rules to help you avoid bed bugs while thrift shopping. The rules are commonsense, they're easy to follow, and they should work.
Vancouver resident Michael Hallatt drives down to the United States on a regular basis. He shops at Trader Joe's and buys a ton of groceries. Then, he drives back to Vancouver, where he sells those groceries—highly marked-up, of course—in his store, Pirate Joe's. Joanna Cabot at Tele-Read explains:
Hallatt claims he is doing nothing wrong—he buys his “merchandise” at full retail price and is permitted to sell them if he wishes to under the first-sale doctrine. Trader Joe’s begs to differ and has filed a lawsuit for trademark infringement.
...There are no Trader Joe’s stores in Canada, so Hallatt cannot be argued to be taking business from them. And if Trader Joe’s ever did come to Canada, their retail prices would be cheaper than his marked-up ones, and he’d be driven out of business by normal market forces.
The article explains that the trademark infringement law generally applies to counterfeit items. This is certainly not applicable to Pirate Joe's, which only sells real, authentic Trader Joe's products. So what do you think, Slog?
Slog tipper Greg points out this NBC story:
Even before the school bells are ringing for many families, retailers are sounding sleigh bells.
Yes, that's right. With 120-plus shopping days left, stores are already talking up their holiday offers.
I still get itchy when I see Halloween candy displays in grocery stores in August, so this is obviously unacceptable. There should be a federal law against playing Christmas Music from January 1st through the day after Thanksgiving. But the worst part of people bumping up holiday sales, to me, is that it's just unimaginative. Why wouldn't you try to find some other way to sell things to people, rather than extending the one proven money-making device you've got to its breaking point?
But then I read Politico, and I'm reminded that quite a few media outlets are determined to start 2016 presidential buzz three years (and one midterm election) before the actual voting starts. And I can't quite tell which is worse. Can you help me?
As I told you back in February, today is the last day of business for the Capitol Hill location of Half Price Books. They still have a bunch of books on the shelves, many of which have been marked down to 50 cents. So if you're looking for books, or if you'd just like to stop by and say goodbye to the booksellers, the store is open until 8 pm today.
If you were hoping to cash in that Borders gift card for the latest Dan Brown novel — or at least hoping to get some cash for it — you're too late.
A Manhattan federal judge on Wednesday ruled that the bankrupt and defunct book chain owes nothing to the roughly 17.7 million people who hold $210.5 million in unredeemed gift cards.
Gift cards are a scam perpetrated on the American public by retailers. Gift cards to chain stores are a shit gift. Do not give gift cards as presents.
(Related: If this news leaves you feeling nostalgic about Borders, I wrote a thing about working at Borders a couple years ago that might scratch that itch.)
There's an app for that!
I got an e-mail this morning detailing the perfect Mother's Day gift for mothers who also happen to be total assholes:
Make May 12th An Atlas Shrugged Mother's Day
For one week only, take 10% off of the Official Women's "Atlas" Pendant & Necklace or, the Official Rearden Steel Dagny Taggart Bracelet. This Mother's Day, give the perfect gift to the woman who first inspired you.
Because this little banana shack is vacant again.
The decision to open stores, I’m told, came when drawing up plans to take the Google Glass to the public. The leadership thought consumers would need to try Google Glass first hand to make a purchase. Without being able to use them first hand, few non-techies would be interested in buying Google’s glasses (which will retail from between $500 to $1,000). From there, the decision to sell other Google-branded products made sense.
Along with Glass, Google will have an opportunity to demonstrate other upcoming and Google X projects like driverless cars and mini-drone delivery systems at its stores.
When I attended the political conventions last summer, Google set up hangout spaces for media to work in. They were large, colorful areas with lots of tables, charging stations, free wifi, and booths displaying Google products, along with coffee stands, games, and tech-minded employees to help out if you had any questions. I imagine Google is thinking of something like that, only with less free stuff and more products for sale.
Bear in mind, please, that there have been rumors of Amazon.com retail stores for years now, so this is not necessarily going to happen: Every tech brand presumably tosses around the idea of building brand-only retail stores, the way Apple has. But I think it's safe to say that Sony Style and Microsoft stores haven't taken off the way Apple's stores have, in part because Apple Stores feel like an extension of the brand, and Microsoft's stores just feel like ripoffs of Apple Stores. If Google is going to do this, they have to do something that isn't just a bunch of spare tables spread across a huge, well-lit space with a "bar" of "geniuses" in back.
For years now, from many different sources, I've heard rumors that the Capitol Hill Half Price Books was on the verge of closing. But yesterday, I heard a strangely specific rumor that the store was set to close on June 2nd. There has never been a date to go along with the rumors before, so I sent an e-mail to Anne Von Feldt, the Western Regional Manager of Half Price Books, and she confirmed the rumor. Von Feldt says:
Yes, we recently decided not to renew the lease and the Capitol Hill store will close June 2. We have great customers at this store, but not enough traffic, so we felt it would be best to focus our resources on our other seven Washington locations.
We're committed to the Seattle area - we've been here since 1984. We look forward to seeing our customers at our other locations including the closest store to Capitol Hill - our U. District location on Roosevelt, which is about 4 miles away - and stores in the north end (Lynnwood, Everett), on the eastside (Bellevue, Redmond), and in Tacoma.
Half Price Books has continued to open stores, and have opened 11 since 2010, including our 116th store in Lexington, Kentucky, which opened today. We're working to redefine what it means to be a 21st century brick and mortar bookstore.
We are encouraging our employees to apply for transfers to any of our seven other locations. We are also looking at possible new Half Price Books sites in the Puget Sound area and hope to announce a new store in the coming months.
This is terrible news. The Capitol Hill Half Price Books is a surprisingly beautiful store, and the staff has always been cheerful and helpful. Let's hope everyone manages to track down new employment soon, hopefully in some of Seattle's other great bookstores.