Tuesday, February 28, 2006
HOUSTON - Stage Stores, Inc. has completed its previously announced acquisition of privately held B.C. Moore & Sons, Inc. The company acquired 78 retail locations, which are located throughout Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, as a result of the B.C. Moore purchase. The integration plan calls for 69 of the acquired locations to be converted into Peebles stores. The remaining nine locations will be closed.
The acquisition expands and strengthens the Stage Stores’ position in the Southeast and furthers its strategy of increasing the concentration of its store base into smaller and more profitable markets.
"We are pleased to have completed this acquisition so quickly, and we enthusiastically look forward to entering these new markets with our Peebles store format, Jim Scarborough, chairman and CEO of Stage, said. “Our new customers in these markets will enjoy our exceptional service, exciting brand names, merchandise selections and value in easy-to-shop and conveniently located stores."
Putting an end to months of speculation about his future in fashion, the designer Tom Ford announced yesterday that he would open his first store, in New York. The three-story 10,000-square-foot space on Madison Avenue, set to open in November, will showcase his men's wear collection, his first fashion line since leaving Gucci nearly two years ago.
The line, produced in partnership with the Ermenegildo Zegna Group, the Italian men's luxury clothing and accessories brand, will be sold only at the store, at Madison Avenue and 70th Street. Its introduction is the latest phase in the resurrection of Mr. Ford's design career, which throughout his decade-long reign as creative director of Gucci was linked inextricably with luxury and a highly candid sexuality.
Since leaving the company in April 2004, Mr. Ford has maintained his profile, forming an alliance last year with Domenico De Sole, his former partner at Gucci Group, to create the Tom Ford brand. The introduction of the men's line follows the successful debut last year of a limited-run cosmetics and fragrance collection as part of a licensing agreement with Estée Lauder and an eyewear brand licensed by the Marcolin Group, an Italian manufacturer.
This month, Mr. Ford raised eyebrows as the editor of an issue of Vanity Fair celebrating Hollywood. On its cover the designer nuzzled a naked Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson, an image that struck some fashion insiders as evidence that his signature steaminess had grown musty and dated.
Mr. Ford's re-entry into the fashion arena may signal a retreat from his sexually charged marketing style. In an interview, he described his new store as "an old-fashioned men's haberdashery and tailor." Accordingly, it will place a significant focus on made-to-measure clothing, a way of reaching a customer, he said, "who doesn't want to look like a banker, but does not want either to look trendy, silly or too much of a fashion victim."
The men's wear debut coincides with the introduction of an independent Tom Ford beauty brand signature fragrance, also produced by Lauder. Each is a facet in a strategy to develop a global luxury business, Mr. De Sole, the brand chairman, said in an interview.
Mr. De Sole declined to project sales for the company, which is privately held. He said he expected the brand to become "a worldwide major player in fashion," and planned to open additional Tom Ford stores over the next three to four years in Milan, Tokyo, London and Los Angeles.
Mr. Ford said the new venture would leave him time to pursue other well-documented interests in Hollywood. "I've structured some time to make movies," he said, declining to offer specifics. No women's collection is planned. "It may never happen, or it may happen in three years," he said.
"I don't have anything new to say in that world yet."
HARVEY, Ill. - Dixie Square Mall, best known for being one of the locations for filming of the 1979 film, "The Blues Brothers," will be sold and razed, Harvey Mayor Eric Kellogg said in a news release Monday.
The "25-year-old eyesore" at 15300 Dixie Highway, closed down ever since its moment of fame in 1979, has seen numerous failed proposals, the mayor said in the release, but will now be the site of a new retail development to be run by Emerald Property Group.
The $70 million project will bring an estimated 1,000 jobs to the area, the mayor said. Emerald has been in communication with numerous retailers, including Barnes & Noble, Old Navy, Bed, Bath & Beyond, DSW and Borders, among others, according to the release said.
Anyone interested in obtaining a brick from the historic site can call (708) 210-5204.
Charlotte Business Journal
Nordstrom is opening a store in uptown Charlotte, N.C. -- at least for a couple of days next week, while the CIAA basketball tournament is in town.
In an unprecedented move for the Seattle-based department store chain, Nordstrom will temporarily turn a ballroom at the Hilton Charlotte Center City into a boutique.
"I came up with the idea for Nordstrom Boutique, and corporate ran with it," says Hade Robinson Jr., a wardrobe consultant at Nordstrom's SouthPark store. "We have never done anything like this as a company."
Robinson's idea is to give shoppers a taste of the personal services and selections the high-end retailer is known for and hopefully entice them to travel six miles to the mall for more.
"This will be a full-fledged store open to the public," he says. "We'll have everything from day to evening wear, business attire, cosmetics and more."
Special lighting, dressing rooms and displays will be assembled uptown by a team of Nordstrom employees who are flying in from all over the country for the two-day event. The boutique will be open from 7 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday. Alterations will be available on site for shoppers who purchase clothing and need a quick fit.
"We felt like this event was such a big thing for Charlotte, and since there are no major retailers uptown we thought we should take the lead," Robinson says.
CIAA officials estimate more than 110,000 fans will attend the tournament, being held at the uptown arena.
"It's the first time Nordstrom in its 100-year history has ever done something for an athletic conference," Robinson says.
For more information on the boutique, call Robinson at (704) 442-6000, ext. 1840.
Monday, February 27, 2006
BERLIN -- It's a Sunday afternoon, and the Potsdamer Platz shopping arcade looks like any American shopping mall on a busy weekend. It's thronged with parents pushing baby strollers, retirees eating ice-cream cones and teenagers sneaking kisses.
But there is one major difference. The mall has plenty of stores to draw shoppers--Foot Locker, H&M, Eddie Bauer, a discount supermarket and more. But today, absolutely no one is going inside. There's a reason for that: The stores are closed. By law, they have to be.
Any American merchant would be writhing in agony at the sight of hordes of patrons who are not allowed to buy. But in Germany, this abnormal spectacle is entirely normal. Sunday may not be a day of worship in this largely secular society, but due to government decree, it's not a day of commerce either.
The only exceptions in the mall are eating establishments. Being exempt from the law, they stay busy serving people whose euros are burning a hole in their pockets. Oh, and there is one retail store open--a small shop stocked entirely with Berlin souvenirs. Under Germany's quirky regulations, it may operate on Sundays because it caters to tourists.
Many Germans defend the closing law as a way of limiting the pernicious reach of consumerism. But don't think locals are immune to the need to shop just because it's Sunday.
In fact, just a mile away, at the Friedrichstrasse train station, customers are lined up 12-deep at the registers, buying the groceries denied them at Potsdamer Platz. It turns out the law has another gap, allowing shops to operate in train stations seven days a week because they allegedly accommodate the needs of travelers.
But the people carrying out bags of groceries don't look as though they plan to take them on a train to Prague or Warsaw. They look like they just couldn't manage to get all their shopping done during the week.
Organized labor likes the law because it grants workers a day of rest. Only some workers, however, get the break. An army of establishments is allowed to do business on Sundays--including restaurants, museums, movie theaters and gas stations.
At the state level, additional peculiarities arise: Video stores are required to close in Baden-Wurttemberg, but not in neighboring Rheinland-Pfalz, so some residents of Mannheim go to next-door Ludwigshafen to rent their DVDs. Carwashes may stay open in some places but not others.
The benefits of outlawing such capitalist acts between consenting adults, to borrow a phrase from the libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick, are not obvious. It creates real inconveniences for anyone who suddenly needs something--and there is no escaping the fact that 14 percent of all unforeseen, urgent needs arise on Sundays.
You may think it would be a relief not to squander your Sunday on shopping. But any relief is counteracted by the increased stress on other days. On Saturdays, when stores must close by 8 p.m., groceries are clogged with Germans making sure they have enough food to sustain life until Monday morning. Instead of being allowed to spread their weekend errands out over two days, they have to cram them all into one.
This is also a weird policy for a country chronically plagued by two ailments--weak consumer spending and high unemployment. Letting stores accommodate buyers on Sunday--or after 8 p.m. other days--certainly couldn't reduce consumption, and it might increase it.
After all, if you have a sudden urge to share a bottle of wine or fly a kite on Sunday afternoon, you probably won't go out and buy it on Monday morning. Some consumer needs are fleeting, and the lost sales are lost forever.
Employees who would rather have Sundays off gain from the status quo. But a lot of Germans don't have to worry about having to work on Sundays because they don't have the privilege of working at all.
Asks Jeff Gedmin, director of the Aspen Institute Berlin, "How can it be that in 2006, with 19 percent unemployment in Berlin, you can't buy a bottle of aspirin on Saturday night?" Liberalizing the law would boost the demand for workers at a time when jobs are pitifully scarce.
In the end, the law exists not because so many Germans don't want to shop on Sundays but because so many of them do. In a modern economy, there's something wrong with a policy that bars shoppers and stores from doing business when they find it mutually agreeable. Maybe it's time to give that approach a rest.
THE EAGLE-TRIBUNE (NORTH ANDOVER, Mass.)
BOSTON — New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc., through its charitable grant foundation, has contributed $1 million to Habitat for Humanity to assist Gulf Coast residents who lost homes to destructive tropical storms last summer.
Habitat for Humanity began work in September pre-building house frames at remote sites for delivery to affected areas in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama.
Construction is now set to start this spring, the organization said.
Boston-based New Balance, which also operates production facilities in Lawrence, Mass., previously donated $1 million of its products to hurricane relief.
By SARAH SABALOS
Staff Writer, The State
COLUMBIA, S.C. - What’s your shopping style?
Do you hit the mall grudgingly twice a year, or visit boutiques daily, like a hunter? Do you seek deep discounts or pricey, one-of-a-kind wearables? And why?
We put these questions to a few retail veterans of the Midlands. Which of their shopping styles do you share?
LeTonya Kelly: Online shopper
Kelly, a 31-year-old programming analyst with a new baby, isn’t able to get to the mall often. Instead, she comparison-shops online.
“That way, I’ll have it narrowed down to where I can get the best value on the sizes and colors I need,” she said. “It saves time and money.”
Kelly’s favorite stores, online and off: Old Navy, TJ Maxx, Babies ’R Us, and Target
Cindy Lupkey: Out-of-town shopper
Lupkey, a 21-year-old public-relations student at USC, likes to make weekend trips to Atlanta with her mom.
“Their stores are just a little bit bigger, and they have Neiman-Marcus,” said Lupkey, who recently hit the Downtown Merchandise Mart and Lenox Mall, and left with lots of accessories.
She also likes the International Mall in Tampa, which has Lucky Brand Jeans, Nordstrom, Louis Vuitton and Coach.
Lupkey looks for: Wholesale prices
Lauren Gray: Reluctant shopper
Gray, a 23-year-old advertising major who will graduate from USC in May, was “dragged on” too many shopping trips when she was little, and now she avoids them as much as possible.
“I don’t do a lot of browsing,” she said. “If there’s something I want, I go and buy it.” Her downfall: Purses and handbags at Handpicked.
Most of Gray’s friends share her aversion to shopping marathons.
“I think people spend less on clothes than they used to,” she said. “Most people shop at Target and Old Navy. Target doesn’t have the same connotation that Wal-Mart does, when you say you bought something there.”
Gray’s shopping tip: “If I go into a store that I tend to spend more in, sometimes I’ll leave my wallet in the car.”
Amber Coker: Clearance rack shopper
Coker, 30, never pays full price for anything except underwear and socks — only because they’re never on sale when she needs them.
“Sometimes I find something spectacular, other times nothing, but it is worth the dig,” said Coker, a frequent shopper at Old Navy, Bath & Body Works and Pier 1 who finds that her retail habits add up to serious savings.
Coker’s tip: Keep an “emergency gift box” prepared for unforeseen gift-giving occasions and the next holiday.
“Housewares clearance racks are great for stocking the box,” she said. “They should be simple gifts, like stationery sets you found for 75 percent off. Buy a few of them and they make great any-occasion gifts for ladies. Candles and candleholders are always on sale, and so are really nice ornaments that you can get 50 (percent) to 75 percent off after the holidays.”
... And a warning: “Shopping clearance style can be dangerous if you don’t add it up before you get to the register. Even $2 each can add up very quickly. Set a limit for yourself before entering the store.”
Crystal Gleim: Karmic shopper
Gleim, 27, has a two-step shopping process:
1. “I see an item that I really feel I have to have — normally, but not always, a clothing item of some sort. If I attempt to obtain that particular item and they don’t have my size or the color I like, then I wasn’t meant to have it and so I move on.”
2. “I see an item I like but decide to think about it or decide to wait until I can afford it. When I am ready to come back for it, if it is there, then I was meant to have it. If not, then it wasn’t meant to be.”
Gleim’s tip: Relax.
Jason Windham: Big-haul shopper
Windham, the 29-year-old co-owner of an interior-design business called A Fresh Approach, gets the urge to shop on Sundays. And he does it right.
“I have to admit I can be selfish when it comes to my shopping and my money,” he said. “I prefer to shop alone. If I see something I like, I don’t have to worry about someone else’s opinion. I can just say, ‘I like it and I am buying it.’”
Wyndham’s favorite brands: Express for Men, Merrell, GBX and Kenneth Cole.
Heath Shealy: Direct-target shopper
Healy’s straightforward approach: “I know what I want and I go and buy what I want, and I don’t really look at all the other stuff.”
A 33-year-old massage therapist and teacher who’s usually in scrubs, Healy usually just wants a new shirt and pair of button-fly 501s at Dillards.
His words to live by: “A T-shirt’s a T-shirt.”
Lois Klemy: Endurance shopper
Klemy, director of campus relations at Columbia College, is always on the prowl for her next great outfit. She shops about three times a week and loves unique accent pieces.
“If I just buy one piece, that could change a whole outfit,” she said. “I’m always looking for something very eye-appealing, very catchy.”
1.“Always shop with a clear head, otherwise you might make a mistake.”
2. “Just because something is in style, doesn’t mean it’s the style for you.”
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Plus I've been tired because I worked from open to close at Big Green today.
I smoke-screened my infamous co-worker today. I was nice like nothing happened but didn't play. She was working over other co-workers to get that Thursday off, but I wouldn't budge. It felt good to mess with her back!
I did field a few calls Saturday: one from my friend Blair, who's attempting to marry his fiancé for the second time this May (she dropped him at the altar last time) and a couple of my regulars, Kevin and Lou. Kevin and Lou didn't have a lot to say, but they kept me from getting back to Blair, whom I hadn't talked to in ages.
Such is my life. Ugh.
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Knotts died Friday night of pulmonary and respiratory complications at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills, said Paul Ward, a spokesman for the cable network TV Land, which airs "The Andy Griffith Show," and another Knotts hit, "Three's Company."
Unspecified health problems had forced him to cancel an appearance in his native Morgantown in August 2005.
The West Virginia-born actor's half-century career included seven TV series and more than 25 films, but it was the Griffith show that brought him TV immortality and five Emmies.
The show ran from 1960-68, and was in the top 10 of the Nielsen ratings each season, including a No. 1 ranking its final year. It is one of only three series in TV history to bow out at the top: The others are "I Love Lucy" and "Seinfeld." The 249 episodes have appeared frequently in reruns and have spawned a large, active network of fan clubs.
As the bug-eyed deputy to Griffith, Knotts carried in his shirt pocket the one bullet he was allowed after shooting himself in the foot. The constant fumbling, a recurring sight gag, was typical of his self-deprecating humor.
Knotts, whose shy, soft-spoken manner was unlike his high-strung characters, once said he was most proud of the Fife character and doesn't mind being remembered that way.
His favorite episodes, he said, were "The Pickle Story," where Aunt Bea makes pickles no one can eat, and "Barney and the Choir," where no one can stop him from singing.
"I can't sing. It makes me sad that I can't sing or dance well enough to be in a musical, but I'm just not talented in that way," he lamented. "It's one of my weaknesses."
Knotts appeared on six other television shows. In 1979, Knotts replaced Norman Fell on "Three's Company," playing the would-be swinger landlord to John Ritter, Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt.
Early in his TV career, he was one of the original cast members of "The Steve Allen Show," the comedy-variety show that ran from 1956-61. He was one of a group of memorable comics backing Allen that included Louis Nye, Tom Poston and Bill "Jose Jimenez" Dana.
Knotts' G-rated films were family fun, not box-office blockbusters. In most, he ends up the hero and gets the girl -- a girl who can see through his nervousness to the heart of gold.
In the part-animated 1964 film "The Incredible Mr. Limpet," Knotts played a meek clerk who turns into a fish after he is rejected by the Navy.
When it was announced in 1998 that Jim Carrey would star in a "Limpet" remake, Knotts responded: "I'm just flattered that someone of Carrey's caliber is remaking something I did. Now, if someone else did Barney Fife, THAT would be different."
In the 1967 film "The Reluctant Astronaut," co-starring Leslie Nielsen, Knotts' father enrolls his wimpy son -- operator of a Kiddieland rocket ride -- in NASA's space program. Knotts poses as a famous astronaut to the joy of his parents and hometown but is eventually exposed for what he really is, a janitor so terrified of heights he refuses to ride an airplane.
In the 1969 film "The Love God?," he was a geeky bird-watcher who is duped into becoming publisher of a naughty men's magazine and then becomes a national sex symbol. Eventually, he comes to his senses, leaves the big city and marries the sweet girl next door.
He was among an army of comedians from Buster Keaton to Jonathan Winters to liven up the 1963 megacomedy "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." Other films include "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" (1966); "The Shakiest Gun in the West," (1968); and a few Disney films such as "The Apple Dumpling Gang," (1974); "Gus," (1976); and "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo," (1977).
In 1998, he had a key role in the back-to-the-past movie "Pleasantville," playing a folksy television repairman whose supercharged remote control sends a teen boy and his sister into a TV sitcom past.
Knotts began his show biz career even before he graduated from high school, performing as a ventriloquist at local clubs and churches. He majored in speech at West Virginia University, then took off for the big city.
"I went to New York cold. On a $100 bill. Bummed a ride," he recalled in a visit to his hometown of Morgantown, where city officials renamed a street for him in 1998.
Within six months, Knotts had taken a job on a radio Western called "Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders," playing a wisecracking, know-it-all handyman. He stayed with it for five years, then came his series TV debut on "The Steve Allen Show."
He married Kay Metz in 1948, the year he graduated from college. The couple had two children before divorcing in 1969. Knotts later married, then divorced Lara Lee Szuchna.
In recent years, he said he had no plans to retire, traveling with theater productions and appearing in print and TV ads for Kodiak pressure treated wood.
The world laughed at Knotts, but it also laughed with him.
He treasured his comedic roles and could point to only one role that wasn't funny, a brief stint on the daytime drama "Search for Tomorrow."
"That's the only serious thing I've done. I don't miss that," Knotts said.
Friday, February 24, 2006
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Some Florida cities would like to throw a dog a bone - or maybe a burger and some fries. Dogs would be able to sit with humans at outdoor restaurant tables in some communities under a measure advancing in the Florida Legislature.
The bill, approved by a House committee Wednesday, would create a three-year test program to allow cities to grant restaurants that want to host dogs special permission to do so under certain conditions.
Rep. Sheri McInvale, an Orlando Republican, filed the bill after some restaurant owners complained because they were threatened with fines for allowing doggy dining. The city supports the proposal.
"We are getting a renaissance downtown," said Kathy Russell, Orlando's director of government relations. "We've got designer restaurants and designer dogs, and (people) would like to have a designer cup of coffee with their designer dog."
Dogs would only be allowed to dine at outside tables under the plan. No restaurant would be required to let the dogs in, and cities would not be required to offer the variance from the law that normally bars canines. The dogs also would have to be on leashes.
But some say giving Fido a seat at the table raises serious questions. The issue of dog bites may be a concern for individual restaurant owners, McInvale said. The bill would require restaurants to have $1 million worth of liability insurance to be eligible to be exempted from the law.
"Everybody's not a dog person, and some people are afraid of dogs," said Rep. Terry Fields, a Democrat.
Tiffany Hickem, who shuttles her 9-month-old shelty Delaney between her home in Delray Beach and Gainesville where Hickem is a student at the University of Florida, would love to take the puppy to restaurants.
It would mean fewer hours Delaney would have to hang out at home all alone.
"Anytime I can take her out and do something with her, even if it's while I'm doing something, it gives her a chance get a little more socialized," Hickem said.
The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association is against the bill because different restaurants will have to follow different laws depending on what city they're in. The restaurant lobby probably won't howl too loudly about the proposal, though.
"Our membership is somewhat split on this," said the FRLA's general counsel, Richard Turner, who, for the record, has a puppy at home.
The bill has one more committee stop to make before it can go to the full House for a vote. A similar measure is awaiting Senate committee hearings. Some lawmakers still have questions - albeit humorous ones.
"Does it mean if we pass this bill, it would eliminate doggy bags?" asked Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami.
Sunny is a good friend, and his department store pictures helped put LiveMalls on the map, so I encourage all of you to check out his new site as well as his older site, North Carolina Malls.
Roanoke's Only Weill is a recent creation by my friend Weill Casey. He was the guy who got the Roanoke forum up and going on UrbanPlanet before circumstances forced him to leave the forum.
His blog is chock full of news and great photographs from all around the Roanoke area. For such a young man, he's an excellent photographer.
Vintage Computer City is the latest site in the Roadgeek Blogring. Created by frequent steve's blog poster and friend Billy Coore, this blog is all about outmoded but lovable electronic technology, which is very appropriate since Billy is the most "old school" teenager I've ever met.
The Kansas City Star
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Sears Holdings Corp. is converting 14 Kmart stores, including five area locations, to smaller versions of its Sears Grand concept.
Stores in Kansas City, North; Lee’s Summit; Lenexa; Liberty; and Merriam will hold grand openings as Sears Grand locations in May. They are expected to remain open during the conversion process.
Sears Grand is a one-stop, home-and-family solution center offering clothing, appliances, lawn and garden supplies, electronics, tools, toys, automotive products and services, sporting goods, apparel, hardware, health and beauty products, greeting cards, dry grocery items, pet food, books and magazines, mattresses, and home and seasonal decor.
The stores will still operate pharmacies.
Sears’ brands such as Kenmore, Craftsman, Lands’ End and DieHard will be featured in the stores, as well as Nike, CoverGirl, General Electric, Levi’s, Sony, Carter’s, Huggies, Apostrophe, KitchenAid and other brands.
“This is fundamentally a Sears store and so it will not at this point have Kmart brands,” said Chris Brathwaite, spokesman for Sears. “But Kmart has been in the pharmacy business, the convenience side, pantry, etc. business a lot longer than we have and they do that very well.”
Brathwaite would not release employment figures for the Kmart stores but said typically a few additional employees are needed to operate the smaller Sears Grand concept.
Other area Kmart stores are continuing to operate under the Kmart format, for now.
Sears selected the Kansas City market for several conversions to identify the value of having several of the stores in a single market “in terms of operating efficiency, synergy and strategic benefits, such as localizing assortments,” Brathwaite said.
The converted area stores are a bit smaller — an average of 105,000 square feet — than new Sears Grand stores, which average about 160,000 square feet. However, while they might not have the depth of products as a new store, they will have all of the same departments, Brathwaite said.
Sears Holdings, parent company of Kmart and Sears, Roebuck and Co., has annual revenues of about $55 billion. The merger of the two companies closed March 24, 2005.
Sears converted 50 Kmart stores to its Sears Essentials concept, which offers typical Sears departments along with convenience items. However, Sears recently said it made more sense to have one name for its off-mall formats, and would now convert those stores to the smaller Sears Grand format. The company also has eight large Sears Grand stores, though none in the Kansas City area.
J.C. Penney has opened its first-ever department store in Providence, Rhode Island. The new store, at Providence Place mall, opened Friday at 10 a.m. with a ribbon-cutting celebration.
Although new to Providence, the 103-year-old retailer has served Rhode Island since 1927. The new store will contribute approximately 120 jobs to the city's economy, the company said.
The J.C. Penney store is replacing the former Lord & Taylor spot at the mall.
They have 5 different colors and I've bought two so far, a French blue and a gray, which match my cheap clearance ties that I wear there too. I want the black and taupe modes as well. The white, I'll leave alone, because a cheap white shirt just doesn't work.
Even on a budget, I outdress everybody there by a long shot.
There was a dispute between me and a co-worker of mine at Big Green that I previously thought was my friend. She tried to use my taking the short tax preparation course as an excuse to steal all but the easiest returns.
We were in the office by ourselves the other day and I was taking in a client that had itemized deductions and some other things. My co-worker asked if I could handle it, and I said yes, but she proceeded to eavesdrop on my interview with the client.
I did okay through most of it, and then I ran into a 1099-G for a tax refund the client received last year from the state. I asked my co-worker for help with the one form and she flew into a rage, accusing me of stealing her clients ("taking money out of her pocket" were her exact words) and being insubordinate to my boss.
For the record, my boss said that I was not allowed to do Schedule C or D forms, but everything else was pretty much fair game.
Anyway, I countered to my co-worker that I had no qualms sitting at my desk and doing nothing if that made her happy, but I was here to help people and that's what I intended to do. I also told her that regardless of what she thought our boss had said that I was operating within the boundaries that our boss had told me. She kept whining, bitching and complaining and acting like I was going to get fired if I didn't do things her way.
We had to cut it off when a client came in, but started after each other when they left. She tried to pretend that she wasn't going to tell our boss about what happened, but sure enough, our boss brought it up to me about midway through the day. My co-worker, who I thought was my friend, lied to me! After she acted like she wasn't mad anymore, looked into my eyes with a sad puppy dog expression, begged my pardon and shook my hand!! That bitch!!!
I didn't want to talk about it to my boss, because I didn't think it should go any further and figured she'd take my co-worker's side, but I made my position known to my boss and she actually sided with me. She told me to be more careful around my co-worker, whom other office assoicates had complained about to her, but said as long as I was operating within the parameters of what I was told by her to do, that I would be fine.
My co-worker and I work together this Saturday. Hopefully there won't be any more drama.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
CHARLOTTE - Homes designed by Martha Stewart and built by KB Home soon will be available in the Charlotte market.
Last year, Stewart's company and the national home builder teamed to create a new subdivision in Cary, which will open next month. That project proved so successful, the two companies announced Wednesday they'll open another in Atlanta this spring; it will be followed by developments in Charlotte, Houston and Las Vegas, and in Florida and California.
Plans call for 1,500 home sites in those cities within the year.
KB spokesman Tim Pittman said the company isn't sure where or when the first homes will be built in Charlotte, but they would be a bit larger and more expensive than those in Cary. The price in that Raleigh suburb ranges from about $180,000 to more than $400,000. "Here, the plan is to start ... in the $400,000 range."
Home buyers will be able to choose from products and design elements in a new "Martha's Choices" line. Categories will include floor coverings, kitchen cabinets, lighting and fixtures, and window treatments.
The Charlotte homes, like those in the Twin Lakes subdivision in Cary, will feature looks inspired by Stewart's personal homes: Lily Pond, Skylands and Katonah.
"We're not talking about a neighborhood of just three models," Pittman said. "It will be a very diverse neighborhood, with features from each of those three houses."
"(The partnership) certainly plays well in the Southeast and in Charlotte," said Fred Vandercook, KB's Charlotte division president. "It's unique; it's upscale."
L.L. Bean Inc. (Freeport, Me.) has announced plans to open retail stores in three new states, along with significant investments in retail and operations at the home of their corporate headquarters and flagship retail store in Freeport.
The first of these stores will open in September, in Burlington, Mass. A new store in Center Valley, near Allentown, Pa., will open in October. And a location in South Windsor, Conn., will follow in summer 2007.
The outdoors lifestyle merchandise company said additional locations in greater Boston are being pursued for openings in 2007 and 2008. All of the stores will be similar in style and size to existing 30,000-square-foot L.L. Bean retail stores in Maryland and New Jersey and will feature apparel and a selection of outdoor gear.
"We have a lot of things in the works," said Ed Howell, L.L. Bean's chief retail officer. "In addition to expanding our retail presence in the Northeast, we are also moving forward with significant new investments at home here in Maine."
The company has acquired property adjoining the L.L. Bean flagship and hunting and fishing stores, giving it additional retail space to expand upon the outdoor theme of its existing retail campus by incorporating green space and natural landscaping, including rocks, streams, waterfalls and outdoor activity areas.
L.L. Bean is also reaffirming its desire to develop a separate four-acre parcel it owns across the street from the newly acquired property. Development of the parcel would provide hundreds of additional parking spots and bring as much as 100,000 square feet of new retail space to the downtown.
"With these announcements, we envision a major transformation for downtown Freeport," said L.L. Bean president and ceo Chris McCormick. "These changes will significantly enhance the overall experience for L.L. Bean customers, and represent tens of millions of dollars of new commercial investment in our home town of Freeport."
L.L. Bean currently has retail stores located in Tysons Corner, Va., Columbia, Md., Marlton, N.J., and West Lebanon, N.H., as well as in Freeport. The company also has 14 factory stores located throughout the Northeast.
By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
"GOOD Night, and Good Luck," like all of the films nominated for best picture this year, purposefully raises a lot of issues — about the politics of journalism, the reach of government into personal lives, the role fear plays in public policy. But watching David Strathairn's Edward R. Murrow and his colleagues at CBS struggle with the implications of taking on Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a more immediate, if not more important, question arises:
Why don't men wear white tailored shirts and ties anymore?
When George Clooney's Fred Friendly strips down to his shirt sleeves and hunches beside Murrow in the dim light of the studio, he all but glows. You can practically hear the sizzle of the starch as the iron pressed it into the cotton, smell the clean hot bleachy steam.
Forget Clooney; women were swooning for the shirt.
In "Capote," similar styles conjured nostalgia for the simple dark suits and A-line dresses of the late '50s/early '60s, before denim ruled the world and spandex was but a gleam in DuPont's eye. And the hair, the Cary Grant patent-leather hair. As Truman Capote, Philip Seymour Hoffman's hair was as sleek as an altar boy's; you could see the tracks left by the teeth of the comb. In "Good Night, and Good Luck," the Brylcreem was so thick, it practically cast halos.
As the "Capote" detective investigating the Clutter murder, Chris Cooper radiated righteous sexy competence from the crown of his hat down to his unfiltered cigarette. So cigarettes are bad for us, but what about hats? Whatever happened to hats? Or ties? Or shoes that don't go from the office to the tennis court to the rock-climbing wall. Remember when people dressed for work? When men carried white handkerchiefs?
And it isn't just the men. Patricia Clarkson and Catherine Keener fill out the screen and their sweaters so perfectly it is difficult to suppress a sob of longing for those pre-Old Navy days when women wore clothes that actually fit them, clothes that were designed for women, as opposed to 14-year-old girls.
Yes, yes, let us certainly discuss the shifting role of journalism in society, or the line between artistry and deception, but can we also think about dressing like grown-ups again?
This may not be precisely the message either set of filmmakers was trying to send, but perhaps not so far off either. Both "Capote" and "Good Night, and Good Luck" deal with responsibility — personal and institutional. Both occur in times when journalism fueled the cultural conversation in a way it rarely does today, when people like Murrow and Capote had a star power now more usually associated with actors or "American Idol" winners. Serious times when, for better or worse, society policed itself more strictly, and that showed in the fashions.
"There was a desire then to be grown-up," said Louise Frogley, who designed the costumes for "Good Night, and Good Luck." "It was considered a good thing. Now everyone wants to be 10. You see guys on skateboards and they're in their late 20s or 30s."
Frogley and her staff worked with extensive archival photographs of Murrow, Friendly and the staff of CBS to re-create the world of the McCarthy era. Many of the suits in the movie were original, but Frogley had to have the shirts made — much of the film is in close-up and a frayed cuff or collar wouldn't do.
Then she had to teach the actors how to wear them.
The cotton shirts were much heavier than the men were used to, and more fitted in the shoulders and neck. The pants were worn high at the waist, which some of the actors, accustomed to low-riders, could not get used to.
"I had to sew suspenders into some so they wouldn't tug their waistlines down," Frogley said.
The hardest thing, she said, was the hats. "The men didn't know how to wear them, didn't know how to put them on or take them off, didn't know what to do with them when they were off. I had to give individual hat classes. They had no idea what to do."
There is no denying that the fashions of the '50s and even the early '60s enforced a social conformity and class system that took the combined efforts of the youth, civil rights and feminist movements to break through. And no one wants to return to a time when women couldn't have their own credit cards and a gay man in Kansas was suspect because he was a gay man in Kansas, but conformity remains, alas, the fashion norm, remade into skateboard wear and hip huggers. So surely it is possible to have lovely button-down shirts without a horrible button-down culture.
"There was a level of formality then," said Kasia Walicka-Maimone, who designed the costumes for "Capote." "It made us more respectful of each other, I think. Now we have this whole level of casualness that shows in how we carry ourselves, how we talk to each other, how we conduct business. We have given up that respect."
Working with director Bennett Miller, she said, it was quickly clear that the palette of "Capote" was to be cold and sparse, "the color of fall turning to winter, of Capote before he became this very flamboyant figure." And despite the silks and feathers he would affect in later years, the writer was, at heart, a Brooks Brothers boy.
"He wore khakis and it was scandalous," she said, "or a turtleneck sweater, but still it was all very classic, very timeless shapes."
After immersing themselves in the styles of more adult-oriented eras, both women watch hopefully for signs of a shift in street fashion.
"I see a resurfacing of formality," said Walicka-Maimone, who lives in Williamsburg, an artists' enclave of Brooklyn. "I went to get coffee the other day and saw a rock 'n' roll type wearing a striped shirt, a dotted tie, dress pants, and he looked fabulous. Maybe there is a response to all this casualness."
"I wouldn't have wanted to be around back then," said Frogley, "particularly in America. But I wouldn't be surprised if we came back to three-quarter skirts. Very few women can wear those low-rider jeans well, so three-quarter skirts would be very nice."
Those, and the bright white it's-all-under-control shirts, please. With a striped silk tie. For a little color.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Cincinnati - Marshall Field’s will become Macy’s on Sept. 9 and 10, 2006, according to Federated Department Stores chief Terry J. Lundgren.
Although the decision to convert all Field’s stores to the Macy’s banners was a controversial one, Lundgren has big plans for the Macy’s chain, saying that he wants to advertise Macy’s in new ways so that it becomes a national icon rather than a traditional department store.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- In case you blinked, you may have missed the advent -- and apparent demise -- of Sears Essentials, a young "off-the-mall" store format by Sears Holdings Corp.
Barely a year after announcing the creation of Sears Essentials, Sears is planning to end its run. Sears will convert the roughly 50 existing Essentials stores into a similar store concept called Sears Grand, Sears spokesman Christian Brathwaite said Tuesday.
Two Tampa Bay area Sears Essentials stores, at 9500 Ninth St. N. in St. Petersburg and 2130 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd. in Clearwater, will adopt the new Sears Grand name and a new store design, he said. Brathwaite couldn't give a timetable for changes, but some conversions could be months in the future. In the meantime, the stores will keep operating as Essentials, Brathwaite said.
Sears decided to eliminate the Sears Essentials brand because it wanted to consolidate operations, Brathwaite said. In recent years, Sears has been trying to expand outside of malls, where it traditionally has built stores.
So it developed two separate formats that operate "off-the-mall": Sears Grand stores, which generally are huge supercenters built from the ground up; and Sears Essentials stores, which were converted Kmart stores. For example, the two Essentials stores in St. Petersburg and Clearwater formerly were Kmart stores.
Sears Grand stores are bigger than Sears Essentials stores, but they generally feature the same assortment of Sears' brands, such as Kenmore appliances and Craftsman tools, along with pharmacies, food pantry items and health and beauty products, Brathwaite said.
Sears decided it didn't need two similar store formats, so it decided to re-brand its off-the-mall stores as Sears Grand, Brathwaite said. During the next few months, Sears will focus on converting 14 Kmart stores (none of which are in Florida) into Sears Grand stores. Later, it will come back and convert the existing 50 Sears Essentials stores into Sears Grand locations, Brathwaite said.
When they are converted to Sears Grand, those former Essentials stores will remain the same size but receive several improvements, including new flooring, lighting, fixtures and signage. They also will have a "store-within-a-store" feel, meaning each merchandise department will feel like a separate store, Brathwaite said.
Although Sears may have wanted to consolidate its operations, Sears Holdings Chairman Edward Lampert may be frowning on the Sears Essentials concept, which at one time was thought to have great potential. After Sears Roebuck and Co. and Kmart Corp. merged last spring, the newly merged company touted Sears Essentials as a great way to renovate and re-brand some Kmart stores. By July, Sears spokeswoman Lisa Gibbons told the Tribune that Sears Holdings planned to convert up to 400 Kmart stores into Sears Essentials stores by the end of 2007.
However, in a letter to Sears Holdings stockholders on Dec. 6, Lampert says Sears Essentials was never the "strategic rationale behind the merger."
Through December, the Sears Essentials stores had "achieved various degrees of success," Lampert wrote.
JCPenney Co. Inc. (Plano, Texas) will open a 15,000-square-foot virtual store in New York's Time Square next month, to launch a new spring ad campaign.
The "JCPenney Experience" will coincide with the Academy Awards television presentation on March 5. Penney has been a sponsor of the show for four years.
The store, at 42nd Street and Broadway, will sell items from the company's spring collections, including its large assortment of private brands. Transactions will be completed at interactive kiosks inside the store. Aside from debuting its spring ad campaign during the awards show, Penney said it also will launch a marketing campaign via broadcast and print advertising and online.
I've been building the sneaker collection a bunch these past few weeks (with no time to photograph, unfortuantely), and then there was the trip to SouthPark last weekend which netted me a pair of two-tone brown Sperry Topsiders, a orange Lacoste polo, and a couple of cheap short sleeved rugbys to match some of the sneakers I've been buying. I told you I was sick. LOL
My Topsiders are pretty conventional-looking, but they had to order them from another store in the Northeast. All the Nordstroms nearby sold out of my size. It's a southern thing, I guess ;-)
The rugbys I got at Finish Line. They have some striped ones for 2/$25 that come in about 6-8 colors. I got a red/blue and a lime/gray, both with white collars. I bought XXLs and they're plenty huge.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
NEW YORK - The union representing 3,500 workers at four Macy's department stores - including the flagship Herald Square location - has voted to authorize a strike if talks with store management fail to resolve a contract dispute.
Sales associates, tailors, stock clerks, gift wrappers and other workers at the Manhattan store and three others in Queens, the Bronx and White Plains voted over the past week to authorize a walkout, union spokeswoman Carolyn Daly said Monday. At issue are health care payments and wage increases, she said.
"We're not asking for the moon. We're asking for basic things that people need," union president Ken Bordieri said.
The union's contract expires on March 3.
Macy's has proposed increasing the portion of health care premiums that workers pay from 50 percent to 60 percent and raising deductibles from $2,500 to $3,000, Daly said.
Macy's employees earn an average of $11 an hour and work roughly 35 hours a week, Daly said.
The four New York-area Macy's stores are among more than 850 department stores operated by Federated Department Stores Inc. Federated, which employees roughly 244,000 people nationwide, also has Bloomingdale's, Famous-Barr, Filene's and Marshall Field's stores.
The Macy's flagship store is known as "the world's largest department store." Macy's also produces the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade.
I hate my jobs. I hate the people I work with especially. I'm having a very bad day. Sorry.
I've been too busy between there and trying to get out a little, that it's basically impossible for me to be electronically social as I usually am.
I'll be alright.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
WOODLAND HILLS, Calif - At home on a warm winter day, Sergio Mendes is a model of jazzy cool as he stands over a black Schimmel concert piano, his hands gliding across the keys.
A broad, toothy grin swallows Mendes's face as the haunting chords of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Surfboard" fill the sprawling house, the one that has bold Brazilian paintings hanging from the walls and Portuguese texts about music and poetry scattered about.
And why not smile? Mendes is making a harmonically complicated composition sound like the easiest thing in the world to play. He's also somehow making Southern California feel like . . . Brazil.
But Mendes quickly interrupts the illusion.
"You know, Dr. Dre lives up the street!" he says. He laughs, then adds this about his rapper-producer of a neighbor: "I haven't met him yet."
Still, this is Sergio Mendes's world now. The pianist and arranger who brought bossa nova to the mainstream in the 1960s -- and who for years was the top-selling Brazilian artist in the United States, if not the world -- suddenly finds himself knocking on strange new doors, with hip-hop-style welcome mats out front.
Forty years after his group, Brasil '66, crashed the charts with "Mas Que Nada" and a full, fairly quiet decade since the release of his last studio project, Mendes is attempting a career resurrection of sorts with the help of some unlikely new friends. His new album, "Timeless," features a hip-hop and R&B guest list that includes John Legend, Justin Timberlake, India.Arie and the Black Eyed Peas. The Peas' leader, Will "will.i.am" Adams, produced the project, which includes a few new songs but plenty of Brazilian classics that have been given a hip-hop makeover complete with samples and drum loops.
Or, as Adams raps (yes, raps ) at one point over Mendes's piano lines: "This new genre, hip-hop samba . . . bossa nova, urban classical."
If that concept does not sound at least somewhat outrageous, then you almost certainly missed the Swinging Sixties, when the smooth, styling sounds of Mendes were heard regularly on U.S. radio, and the young, doe-eyed artist from Niteroi, just across the mouth of Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro, was touring with Frank Sinatra, and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Rap, of course, wasn't even a gleam in its mother's eye then. In the decades since, hip-hop producers from Pharrell Williams to Adams have cited Mendes's music as an influence, and Adams even sampled some of it before inviting Mendes to appear on a Black Eyed Peas album. But still.
"It's a project that on its face seems a little odd and unusual," says Glen Barros, president of Concord Records, the storied jazz label that partnered with Starbucks/Hear Music to release "Timeless." Stylistically, Barros says, the album "doesn't fit into a box. It's a blend of so many different elements and it's not easy to describe. But I think it works really well."
Says Adams, who wasn't yet born when Mendes first began appearing on the Billboard charts: "We didn't make it for a specific group. We just made beautiful music. When we were in the studio, Sergio never said, 'Well, Will, my audience is not going to whatever.' And I didn't say, 'Well, Sergio, the [hip-hop] heads are checking for whatever.' We just did it."
Mendes, who last week turned 65, admits that he wasn't familiar with some of the young artists before he collaborated with them. For instance, when Adams suggested using the New York rapper Q-Tip on a remake of "The Frog," Mendes responded: " Who ?" (His 19-year-old son, Gustavo, had to bring Mendes up to speed. "I'm an old bebopper," he says. "I like to listen to old jazz records.")
Mendes, however, insists that he was excited about the experiment, which was conceived not by some Clive Davis-like figure hoping to engineer a Carlos Santana-style comeback, but by Adams and Mendes themselves after the producer invited the pianist to play on the Black Eyed Peas album "Elephunk."
"I haven't made a record in 10 years because I had no interest," says Mendes, speaking in a sonorous baritone with a lilting accent. "I was touring all over the world with a great band, but I had no motivation to make another album. But I like meeting young people and I like new things. When I met Will, he was really the motivation for me doing this."
The idea, Mendes says, was to introduce Brazilian melodies to a young audience that typically subsists on a diet of hip-hop and contemporary soul. "It's a wonderful encounter with two cultures. It doesn't sound like anything else out there. And at the same time, it has all the simple components of what I think people want to hear. They want to hear great songs and melodies. And, there's a beat they can dance to and a rap they can say the words to. I hope they embrace it."
Satisfied, Mendes claps three times.
He is sitting in his living room now, sipping a frothy espresso drink made by his wife of 33 years, Gracinha Leporace, who sings in Mendes's band. He's wearing a red Polo shirt, pressed and cuffed khakis, black slip-ons and blue socks that match the color of his watchband. His hair has been dyed black and he has a faint goatee. He has a bit of a belly, too, suggesting that Mendes has been living the good life. (Other clues include the Mercedes-Benz parked out front of the well-appointed home in a swanky gated community -- and the house itself.)
"Sergio is a good liver," says Alpert, his old friend.
Forty years ago, Alpert and Jerry Moss signed Mendes and Brasil '66 to A&M Records. Mendes was a classically trained pianist who got turned on to jazz when, at age 13, he heard Dave Brubeck. He'd moved to California in 1964, after a military coup in Brazil, and released several U.S. albums without much success. But with A&M, he struck pay dirt, recording a string of such global hits "Mas Que Nada" (a crossover hit with Portuguese lyrics) and Brazilianized, easy-listening covers of Western pop songs, including Burt Bacharach's "The Look of Love" and the Beatles' "The Fool on the Hill."
"When the bossa-nova craze hit the U.S., I said, 'This is the coolest thing I've ever heard,' " says Ken Smith, who frequently sneaks Mendes's music onto the '50s-centric channel he programs for XM Satellite Radio. "Sergio was really a bridge between what was strictly Brazilian or jazz and mainstream pop acceptance. I fell in love with his music."
Says Alpert: "Sergio walked through the door that Stan Getz had opened with 'Girl From Ipanema.' His music was very engaging and unique. He turned people on to a whole new form of music."
Much, as it turns out, to the artist's surprise. "I became a big success," Mendes says. "It surprised everybody, including myself. But it was a good surprise, having a worldwide-accepted sound. Meeting Herb and Jerry was the best thing that happened to my career." (It worked out well for Alpert, too: He wound up marrying the Brasil '66 singer Lani Hall.)
Mendes continued to enjoy success on and off over the next two decades, before beginning a gradual fade from the spotlight. He toured regularly and even won a Grammy in the early '90s, but the hits weren't there.
His legacy, though, was squarely in place: Last year, Mendes was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Latin Grammys. He half-jokingly says he expects to be invited to the regular Grammys in 2007. As a nominee.
So, will "Timeless" do great things for his profile and popularity, a la Johnny Cash's late-career comeback? Will it be a multi-platinum smash, a la Santana's? Mendes simply shrugs and smiles and notes that he's just happy that his 12- and 19-year old sons now think that their father is cool. He appears otherwise unimpressed by his own place in the pantheon. (To wit: That Lifetime Achievement Award sits on the floor of Mendes's upstairs studio, where the mantel belongs to a rare, unopened bottle of birth-year Bordeaux: the 1941 Chateau Latour.)
"He's a true artist," Alpert says. "He likes to make wonderful music that touches him. I think he feels like this album is a unique concept, and he's satisfied with that. He's not thinking in terms of his popularity or what the album is going to do for his legacy."
Barros, the Concord president, however, has a slightly different view.
"Sergio will be forever famous as a result of the Brasil '66 project," Barros says. "He did great things to bring Brazilian music to American popular culture. But when you have large gaps between records, people tend to forget a little bit.
"We're hoping this is the next phase of his career and will bring him even greater notoriety. He deserves it."
By Jeff MacGregor
America rises in its grandstand seats this weekend to spill a little beer, to throw back its grand old sunburned head and let loose a holler, to shake and bathe in the noise and heat and death-defying mother funk of the Great Sensational; in short, to greet another major date on the calendar of our seasonal sporting obsessions, the Daytona 500.
That coast-to-coast rumble you'll hear come Sunday is NASCAR's Great American Race, and for those of us who ache in the pristine quiet, the immaculate vistas and stately foreign emptiness of the Winter Olympic Games, the 500 will dose us with a native remedy of speed, sex, suds and family values. A deafening riot, in other words, of perfect American excess.
And one small group among us in particular would do well to find a television that afternoon and pay close attention -- to indeed study --this orgy of motorized Americana as it thunders north out of Florida. I refer to the folks in charge of the Democratic Party, whoever and wherever they may actually be. NASCAR has a lot to teach them about the people they aspire to govern, about their wants and needs and dreams. And this go-round, party tacticians need to look up from their spreadsheets and take these lessons to heart.
Because the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, a pop cultural force unmatched for its growth and throw weight over the last five years, has perfected the synthesis of American commerce as politics as theater. With its potent blend of patriotism, mythology, showmanship, sportsmanship and salesmanship, NASCAR has become both a window and a mirror to the state of the nation. That it has done so in the same historical moment as an ascendant and rebranded Republican conservatism is no accident. They seem made for, if not by, one another. But that doesn't mean their ideological bond is necessarily exclusive or everlasting.
Having lived a year inside those ovals and hustled track to track in a motor home, I presume to know the fans a bit, and the drivers and the crewmen, too. I saw them week in and week out -- saw their little evils and mighty loves, their stunning industry and hardscrabble generosity, saw and felt the rude genius and the affable darkness in them. Talked to them, ate their food, drank their homemade, shared their secrets and heard their ambitions spoken in the firelight.
I once asked Richard Petty, NASCAR's eternal king, about politics, and whether there were any Democrats handy. He assured me it was unlikely, looked around the garage and shook his head and chuckled.
All due respect to royalty, I'm not so sure he's still right. With the president's approval rating circling the drain, and a weird sense of imminence in the Washington air, there's an entire constituency in play here. The national approval numbers for this administration have gone soft on hard issues like war, truth, competence and corruption -- from the statehouse to the White House -- and once-comfortable Republicans find themselves vulnerable not just at midterm, but long-term as well. Conservatism is on the bubble and if stock-car racing teaches nothing else, it is that opportunity must be acted upon, the moment and the opening seized.
On the other side of the aisle, the Democrats have been estranged from NASCAR and its 75 million fans since 2004, when each became a punch line for the other. Their falling out over the course of that dismal presidential campaign can be neatly summarized by conflating several quotes from that awkward time: "Who among us doesn't love NASCAR dad and his colorful Confederate flag?" If that didn't drive NASCAR from Democrats, the photos of wind-surfing candidate Kerry, snug in his neoprene, slammed the last door on the spat.
Democrats have lost the knack for reading, and therefore wooing, America. That's the problem, of course. The pits and the infield and the campgrounds and grandstands at any track on any NASCAR weekend are now, for better and worse, greater America itself, bearing all its excesses and grudges and crackpot savvy, its suburban prejudices and intellectual limitations, its wanton appetites and its silent devotions.
No longer a regional pastime for rednecks and reprobates, nor a plausible excuse for egghead condescension, the infield at Talladega, Ala., on race day -- or Fontana, Calif., or Loudon, N.H. -- is a patchwork good-times constituency of our loudest, proudest, smartest, stupidest, drunkest, soberest and mostly whitest middlebrow middle class. When Whitman wrote "I Hear America Singing," these are the folks to whom he was listening. It is a tune for which the Democrats have lately suffered a tin ear.
NASCAR, like country music, has now crossed over into the mainstream, at least in part by shucking its hayseed image and pruning its Southern roots, and by mouthing the rhetorical platitudes of diversity, egalitarianism and inclusion. It invites and draws a much bigger, broader new fan base into its tent. This is the apposite moment for the Democratic leadership to loosen their ties, kick off their shoes and join in the raucous fun. They need to strap their slate of candidates and platform planks into an F-250 long-bed and set out to find the millions of undecideds among stock-car racing's fans.
Trouble is, in the past the Dems have considered NASCAR fans only as a demographic theoretical, a slender wedge on a pie chart. But the only way to really win them over is to rub up against them, to camp in the infield, join the tribe and undergo its rites of passage -- the mortification of the flesh by noise, heat, speed, sensation, karaoke, beer bong and funnel cake. Once Democrats unstuff their shirts, they will be welcomed.
Plenty of our neighbors are looking out there for the same things we all seek in our own ways -- peace and prosperity certainly, even if only in our own families. A sense of community and shared sacrifice, but also the absolute right to be left the hell alone. A sense of moral purpose to the whole shebang, too, even if we butt heads on how best to go about it.
It was the freedom of work and an honest wage that came up again and again on the circuit. There was the night in Grit, Va., at the sod farmer's house. His grown son was a racer, and we were talking about the sacrifice an old man made to get started in such an expensive sport, bleeding out the family savings chasing long-shot dreams on his child's behalf. The lines deepened at the corners of his eyes as he smiled.
"I never much minded it. Work is all we've ever known."
It struck me then, as it does to this day, that the world this man walks in is a simple one. Not easy, mind you, but simple. If you want more, work more. Push against a thing to move it, because this world is a hard and concrete place where the calculus of a man's fate lies at times in his own two hands and where action trumps abstraction.
Democratic leaders, mired in their tactical and rhetorical abstractions, have somehow lost their sense that the world, as it is, remains a place of action and reaction. This is the common-sense world about which NASCAR -- and its sod farmers and mechanics and housewives and teachers and nurses, the people who actually inhabit it and make it work -- can school the Democratic leadership.
And if you think this is pandering or parody, think again. Those 200,000 Americans who will meet beneath Daytona's mothering sun, swelling into those grandstands, all sweat and flesh and readiness, would never gather to hear Joe Biden read a position paper.
Americans respect informed decision, certainly, but they prize decisive action, and NASCAR, and our current administration, are these days its two most efficient bulk providers. That the action is right or just, thought out or worried over, is far less meaningful than the fact that it was gamely undertaken. Bombing the enemy or running the high line at Darlington, chasing terrorists or Chevrolets, the purity and desirability of action is as true in politics as it is on the track.
In NASCAR this means doing what needs doing in any given moment to win a race, or to gain a single rung in the standings at day's end. It might mean easing your fender up on another car and bumping it out of the way. It might mean flat footin' it into a turn too fast because it's your last chance for a break-even payday. Rubbin' and bangin' -- that's racin'. Everyone out there has decisions to make, and you or you do not do what needs doing.
And in these snapshot instants, come and gone before they're even really seen, are found the component parts of race day heroism -- bravery, skill, guile, grit, mud, steel, sacrifice and accomplishment. And such things as these make your reputation. Whether you're a driver or a politician.
By NASCAR's lights, and by America's, too, it is always better to strive and fail than risk nothing. Better a balls-out chowderhead with a wrecked 33rd place car than a harmless stroker who nursed himself home in one clean piece to a gutless top 10 finish. If you want more, risk more, work more. Let the chips then fall across the world.
It is by this sort of physically courageous pragmatism that NASCAR, both the sanctioning body and the people it serves, defines itself. This is the message the Democrats must take to heart. They must note that when action isn't possible, they need to make the mythology of action the message. Wrap the thing, the idea, the man himself in the Stars and Stripes and stand him in front of the car, the carrier, the Alamo. New Orleans doesn't look so bad post-Katrina if you light the debris in azure blue. Such is the transformative magic of marketing.
In NASCAR, the drivers with their names on the marquee -- Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman -- are all painted as either white hats or black hats, faces or heels. Warriors and gladiators and outlaws and buccaneers. They're sold to us in commercials and on billboards and on boxes of breakfast cereal. Who plays which role may vary, even from race to race, but our bone-deep need for the roles themselves never changes. And NASCAR's understanding that we are starved for mythology in this country, hungry for story and for some sort of ancient greatness and the way and means of fable, is complete. There is no sport, no organization of any kind in the country, better tuned to the sizzling wavelength of our narrative needs.
What NASCAR understands, and what is understood by Limbaugh and O'Reilly and their wing men on the right, is that American mythology admits no ambivalence. Whether on the flight deck or on the floor of the House, the administration recognizes far more clearly than its opposition our collective appetite for these simple classics and costume dramas.
Which is one more reason why the Democrats need to relearn the stuff of American political theater, and choose their leading players more carefully. The rebuttal to the State of the Union address just past, given by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, was another impoverished performance. Kaine seems a sufficiently pleasant man, and as former lieutenant to Mark Warner (a man NASCAR-savvy enough to have sponsored a race car in his last campaign, and now himself a fair-haired hopeful with big ambitions for the national stage) should have learned a few things. Sadly for the Democrats, the contents of the rebuttal itself were lost in the very moment of their delivery, because Kaine appeared on television looking like nothing so much as the evening manager at an Ethan Allen showroom closeout. This is the party of a thousand Hollywood directors, designers and stars?
I'm not saying the man needs to be strapped into a bronze breastplate, or hoist onto a horse, but if this is how the Democrats insist on selling themselves; if this is their idea of mythos -- the midweek night shift of peeved middle management -- they'll deserve every shrug and "so what" the buying public gives them.
At the end of the day, there's a fear on the part of 21st century Democrats. They have been made afraid, and they believe that to stand up for oneself is the act of a bully. And that bullies can never be loved. So they retreat instead into the even more unlovable role of the scold.
Since the core values of NASCAR are essentially those of the Republican Party, I suggest again that every Democrat everywhere watch the Daytona 500 when it rolls around, because this year marks the fifth anniversary of the death of its most representative star. He embodied in his way the very things the Democratic Party needs to become -- courageous, tough, decisive, bold. He was a bully, of course, and an artist too, a two-fisted mystic on the track, his toughness somehow grown up out of that red-dirt creativity. In his martyrdom he has become the greatest champion American auto racing has ever known. There has been no harder, more concrete man in any sport anywhere than Dale Earnhardt. He would do, and did, anything to win.
On the morning of the race, Democrats, curious about the spending habits of the American heart, will see an outpouring of pure devotion for the mythic "Intimidator" – a man with a ninth-grade education whose original nickname was "Ironhead."
And to see nearly a quarter-million fans rise silent in their seats to honor him, a man they did not necessarily love or even often like, will be an object lesson to John Kerry or Evan Bayh or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in the absolute necessity of taking action; of fighting on your own behalf to win the simple respect, if not the eternal admiration, of your core constituency. No matter the risk, you either do, or do not do, what needs doing.
Let the day and the race be an occasion for optimism among Democrats. After all, these cars and these drivers and these American stories, so prized by the right, spend the better part of their entire season, year in and year out, as they have for generations, turning only left.
Retail Therapy: Hamrick's
Cave Spring Corners gets a fresh face with a familiar focus
SPECIAL TO THE ROANOKE TIMES
A new retailer is opening soon in the former Kroger space at Cave Spring Corners in Southwest Roanoke County, and it promises to be a breath of fresh air for the Roanoke retail scene. You've got questions, and your Retail Therapist is here to provide answers.
A 50-year-old, South Carolina-based specialty department store chain that will open its 21st retail location in the Roanoke Valley in March. Readers from the southern part of Timesland may be familiar with its stores in Greensboro and Winston-Salem, N.C.
What do they sell?
Hamrick's specializes in family apparel and offers a small selection of home items. Along with popular national brands including Alfred Dunner, Koret, Savane, Lee, Reebok and Keds, Hamrick's also offers an extensive selection of private label merchandise. Additionally, there are high-quality closeout items in the merchandise mix.
Tell me more about the private labels.
Hamrick's Signature items are made by the company exclusively for its stores. They include Links Knitwear, a casual collection with embroideries and appliques on pants, jackets, tops and capri pants; Southern Lady, a traditional sportswear line including both separates and matched coordinates; Nikki, classic sportswear with a touch of flair; and N Touch and Company Collection, fashion-forward sportswear and pieces from the wrinkle-free Travel Easy group.
Is it pricey?
Not at all. The store's buyers scout deals on fashionable clothes, shoes and accessories. Prices are comparable to most local department stores, with the occasional rock-bottom deal.
How fashionable are we talking here?
The selection will not blow die-hard fashionistas away, but its styles are very appropriate for the Roanoke market: Classic, conservative and tasteful. The looks are similar to the ones you'd find in the old Heironimus stores but a little fresher.
What about special sizes?
Big or tall, short or small, Hamrick's fits them all. There are prominent petite and plus-size sections in most Hamrick's stores, and fashions for juniors, young men and big and tall men.
So what else is special about Hamrick's?
Company policies are family-friendly. Hamrick's is closed on Sundays and offers merchandise discounts for senior citizens on Tuesdays.
MORGAN ADAMS, a recent college graduate, decided that her picture on her home page at MySpace.com had lingered a little too long, a full month. To snap a new one she called on the only photographer she thought she could trust: herself.
In her bedroom in Lubbock, Tex., Ms. Adams, 21, tried out a variety of poses — coy, friendly, sultry, goofy — in the kind of performance young people have engaged in privately for generations before a mirror. But Ms. Adams's mirror was a Web cam, and her journey of self-expression, documented in five digital self-portraits, was soon visible to the 56 million registered users of MySpace.
"Everyone's a little narcissistic," Ms. Adams said. "Being able to take pictures of yourself in privacy allows you to do it without inhibitions. Each person takes better pictures of themselves than anyone else can because they know their own bodies, they know their own minds."
The era of cheap, lightweight digital cameras — in cellphones, in computers, in hip pockets, even on key chains — has meant that people who did not consider themselves photography buffs as recently as five years ago are filling ever-larger hard drives with thousands of images from their lives.
And one particular kind of image has especially soared in popularity, particularly among the young: the self-portrait, which has become a kind of folk art for the digital age.
Framing themselves at arm's length, teenagers snap their own pictures and pass the cameras to friends at school or e-mail the images or upload them to the Internet. For a generation raised on a mantra of self-esteem, striking a heroic, sultry or brooding pose and sharing it with the world comes naturally.
"It's a huge phenomenon," said Matt Polazzo, the coordinator of student affairs at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, referring to the compulsive habit of teenagers to snap everything in their lives, especially self-portraits. "Just yesterday I had a girl sitting on the couch in my office," he said. "She took out her cellphone and said, 'Here, I'm going to show you a picture of my best friend,' snapped a picture of herself and showed it to me, all in one fluid motion."
Art historians say that the popularity of the self-portrait is unprecedented in the century-long history of the snapshot. "I think it is probably a new genre of photography," said Guy Stricherz, the author of "Americans in Kodachrome, 1945-65" (Twin Palms, 2002), which includes snapshots culled from 500 American families. Mr. Stricherz said he reviewed more than 100,000 pictures over 17 years in compiling the book but found fewer than 100 self-portraits. These days you can find as many by clicking through a few home pages on MySpace, Friendster or similar social networking sites.
Jeff Gluck, a public relations executive, who lives in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., and his wife, Elizabeth, often find one of their two oldest daughters, ages 10 and 13, taking pictures of themselves with cellphone cameras. They do it in the back seat of the car or on the sofa watching television. When not mugging for their own cameras, the girls experiment with the family camera. "Many times with our regular digital camera I'll go to download photos at the computer, and I'll find six pictures of one of the kids that they obviously took themselves," Mr. Gluck said.
To a certain extent new technology is driving the new self-portraiture. Cellphone cameras and other digital cameras are sold with wide-angle lenses that allow a picture taken at arm's length to remain in focus. Computers are essentially $1,000 darkrooms that permit sophisticated manipulation of images.
But technology alone can't explain the trend. Even in previous generations when cameras were cheap, they were generally reserved for special occasions. "In 1960 a person just wouldn't take a Kodak Brownie picture of themselves," Mr. Stricherz said. "It would have been considered too self-aggrandizing."
Psychologists and others who study teenagers say the digital self-portraiture is an extension of behavior typical of the young, like trying on different identities, which earlier generations might have expressed through clothing and hairstyles. "Most of what I've been seeing is taking place in the bedroom," said Kathryn C. Montgomery, a professor of communication at American University, referring to teenage self-portraits. Dr. Montgomery studies the relation of teenagers to the digital media. "It's a locus of teen life where they are forming their identities, and now it's also a private studio where they can develop who they are.
"What better tool could they have than one that allows them to take pictures of themselves and manipulate them like never before?"
To Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a developmental psychologist, digital self-portraiture is a high-tech way of expressing an impulse among teenagers and young adults that psychologists call "the imaginary audience."
"This is the idea that adolescents think people are more interested in them than they actually are, that people are always looking at them and taking note of what they are doing, even if it is just walking across the school cafeteria," said Dr. Arnett, who is a Fulbright scholar at the University of Copenhagen.
To Dr. Arnett, the role-playing evident in many self-portraits found online is "a form of pretend: the adolescent version of children dressing up." Others speculate that today's young people are different from earlier generations because they are more comfortable with public self-exposure.
"When I was a kid I didn't want my picture taken," said Jim Taylor, a trend consultant at the Harrison Group in Waterbury, Conn. "But these kids are fabulous self-marketers."
He added: "They see celebrities expressing their self-worth and want to join the party. This is a free forum to do so."
"Self-branding is a big deal for kids, and self-produced entertainment is a big deal," Mr. Taylor said. In their pictures, ordinary young women metamorphose into glamour queens or pinup girls, thanks to a few well-rehearsed come-hither poses and mood lighting reminiscent of an old Hollywood studio portrait. Average boys turn themselves into brooding antiheroes by gazing intently into their camera lens in a darkened room, face half buried in shadow.
"There's always a theatrical quality to their shots," Mr. Taylor said. "Kids love melancholy and sadness. There is lots of obvious symbolism about whether they see themselves as an actress, a model, a Christ figure or a Hamlet."
Young people have become so candid in sharing their intimate images online that some parents and lawmakers are concerned. This month the attorney general of Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, promised an investigation into MySpace, spurred by complaints of parents that minors could have access to sexual images on the site or could post suggestive pictures that could make them vulnerable to sexual predators. Members have included pictures of themselves in scanty attire or suggestive poses. For many, MySpace functions as a dating site.
But the operators of the Web site, which is owned by the News Corporation, the media conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch, insist that a third of the work force is devoted to policing the site for inappropriate material. Offending members can be banned from the network, and MySpace says it will contact law enforcement officials in serious cases.
Not everyone who compulsively snaps self-portraits sees it as a journey of self-discovery. Tim Zebal, 23, an audio engineer in San Francisco, posted on MySpace an arresting shot of himself taken at a dramatic angle, wearing a billowing shirt and framed in a baroque gold mirror. "I had a new camera phone and snapped a picture in the mirror of a bar restroom," Mr. Zebal explained in an e-mail message. "I thought it looked cool. That's it."
Amber Davidson, 19, a freshman at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., refreshes her self-portrait on MySpace every couple of weeks and puts a lot of thought into it.
"There's been a big increase in creativity over the past couple of years," she said, referring to the self-portraits on the site. "A lot of people get inspired by what they see in other people's pictures."
HER MySpace home page contains five self-portraits created by pointing the camera toward herself, arm outstretched. She composed each shot so that the arm holding the camera is invisible. In one, Ms. Davidson wears a black-and-white spaghetti-strap dress and peers up winsomely at a camera over her head. It took about 15 tries to get it right, she said. "I don't want people to think I'm sitting there taking all these pictures of myself, even though I kind of am."
Since endless experimentation with digital photography costs little or nothing (you just delete the duds), many young camera owners like Ms. Davidson have practiced their art to the point where they have stumbled across sophisticated portraiture techniques of lighting, composition and camera angle that were once the province of professionals.
Take that shot with the camera held high above the head, so common on MySpace that some members refer to it as "the helicopter shot." It is a fairly sophisticated technique.
"Shooting from higher up stretches the neck muscles, and there is no double chin," said Ken White, the chairman of the fine-art photography department at the Rochester Institute of Technology, adding that it also accentuates the jaw line. "It is a glamorizing view."
In the era of the blog, when many deem the most trivial and personal information fit for public consumption, the self-reference of the new portraiture feels natural. "In a funny way I don't see this as photography anymore," said Fred Ritchin, an associate professor in the photography and imaging department at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. "It's communication. It's all an extension of cellphones, texting and e-mailing."
Many users consider digital self-portraits whimsical and ultimately disposable.
"People want pictures of a new hairstyle, outfit or makeup, and they want to show it to their friends," Tom Anderson, the president of MySpace, said in an e-mail message. But, he added, "I suppose all folk art comes from necessity of some sort."
By Lindsey Nair and Marques G. Harper
The Roanoke Times
ROANOKE, Va. - Not one, but two WSLS (Channel 10) meteorologists -- Marc Lamarre and Jamey Singleton -- have struggled with a heroin addiction in recent months, according to an interview with Singleton that aired on WSLS's late-night newscast Friday.
"Anyone can fall into this," Singleton said. "It's hard, it's a disease and it's been rough."
Singleton said he has undergone therapy for his dependency and feels as if he has conquered it for the most part.
"You never recover, I don't think," he said, "but I've put the beast to sleep, so to speak."
Singleton said the toughest part of his ordeal was finding out that his friend and neighbor, Lamarre, 36, suffered a near-fatal heroin overdose on the evening of Feb. 2. Lamarre is recovering, according to WSLS, but he is no longer employed with the station.
Last week, though, Lamarre spoke to the station by phone and offered a thank-you message for viewers who have supported him.
Lamarre's overdose became public after news broke last week that Gilbert Dennis Hadden, 21, of Detroit, is being held on federal charges of conspiracy to distribute heroin and distribution of heroin. Hadden's attorney, Greg Phillips, confirmed that his client is "a dealer who is involved in a conspiracy where Marc Lamarre was supplied heroin," adding that he believes others were also involved.
According to WSLS, Singleton will testify in the federal case against Hadden and had been working with his attorney to determine how to react once news of his involvement was made public. But WSLS reported Friday that it cannot comment on the investigation itself.
Singleton did not give the weather forecast Friday because he was the subject of a news story on the same broadcast. WSLS news director Shane Moreland said on the air Friday that he wants to put Singleton, who joined the station in 1998, on the air again. But the popular meteorologist may be missing from the show on other occasions as the investigation plays out "so he's not distracted by it and so we're not distracted by it," Moreland said.
"We're taking it day by day," Moreland said in a telephone interview. "He's working with his attorneys and the federal folks."
In the near future, Moreland said viewers might see a temporary face or two delivering the weather along with meteorologist Jeff Haniewich. A possible substitute was still being figured out as of Friday, Moreland said.
WSLS's story stressed that neither Lamarre nor Singleton has been charged with any crime in connection with the case. Heidi Coy, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Roanoke, said Friday that she could neither confirm nor deny Singleton's involvement in the investigation.
According to a federal affidavit filed in Roanoke on Feb. 5, Roanoke Fire-EMS and Roanoke police responded Feb. 2 to an apartment in Southwest Roanoke in response to a reported overdose. There, they found a man with no pulse, but they were able to revive him before taking him to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.
The affidavit states that three confidential sources have cooperated with the Drug Enforcement Administration's investigation of the case.
One source said he or she knew Lamarre had a past addiction to heroin, knew he had purchased heroin from a man and provided a location in Southwest Roanoke where the deals frequently occurred. That same source said he or she and Lamarre had obtained heroin together at that address and that Lamarre had told him or her on Feb. 2 that he wanted to get some heroin.
A second confidential source provided authorities with a detailed description of the dealer and gave them the dealer's cellphone number. The second source agreed to contact the distributor and arrange a meeting, which is where Hadden was arrested.
A third source told authorities that he or she had simply driven Hadden to the site of his arrest and had no knowledge of the drug deal.
In his interview with his employer Friday, Singleton said he was sure that news of his addiction would come as a shock to viewers, but he wanted to "now let the viewers know that I'm human, too, and people make mistakes."
Singleton added that the thought of picking up the habit again does not cross his mind.
"In essence, I feel like I've turned my life around," he said.