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It seems to me that one of the real challenges to the retailing business in the next few years will be coming to terms with a generation of shoppers that is increasingly oriented to the visual. We’ve trained them to be this way, by providing them with flat screen televisions and video games with amazing graphics and computer programs that pop! with images that many of us couldn’t even imagine when we were growing up.

It’s a funny – and telling – moment in one of the new Apple Computer commercials when the guy who is a “PC” scolds the guy who is an “Apple” for being geared to “stimulate the brains of 10 year olds with your iLife jazz,” while the PC is really much better at balancing checkbooks. That is, of course, a bit of advertising hyperbole, but the broader point it makes is a serious one – that more and more people, regardless of age, are responding to imaginative and innovative visual stimuli.

(It isn’t an accident that Apple has made style a cultural imperative. It’s why its computers are so gorgeous to look at, why its iPods have set the standard for MP3 players, and why its stores are retailing playgrounds of the best kind – they actually make money.)

Style is something, I think, that more retailers have to pay more attention to. To engage the new generation of consumers, simply being a box with products may not be enough. Stores will need to stimulate the imagination in all sorts of ways – flat screen televisions that dispense relevant and customized information and entertainment, displays that reach out to the customer rather than expecting the shopper to do all the work, and layouts that are more than just linear aisles and shelves that do nothing to tickle the mind, the heart and the soul.

It is with this in mind that I recommend to you a movie that’s just out on DVD – “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” a documentary directed by Sidney Pollack that looks at the creative impulses that drive one of the world’s foremost architects. Pollack is not a documentarian by profession; he is a mainstream director of popular entertainments such as “The Way We Were,” “Three Days of the Condor” and “Tootsie.” But he’s curious about the nature of creativity, and he structures the movie as a casual but informative trip that we take along with him as he probes gently into Gehry’s psyche. (They’re old friends, so Gehry is trusting – he even allows Pollack to talk to his psychiatrist!)

But just watch Gehry start to design a building with strips of paper and cardboard…it is a fascinating process. And this is a movie that I found to be extraordinarily revealing about the heart and soul of creativity.

In an entirely different vein, I just finished reading an excellent biography by sportswriter Leigh Montville – “The Big Bam: The Life & Times of Babe Ruth.” Entertainingly written as it navigates the ups and downs of George Herman Ruth’s life, the book doesn’t just paint a vivid picture of a complex man and legitimate American icon, but it also offers a fascinating portrait of that era of American history.

It may only be for those who really love baseball; that’s hard for me to tell, because I happen to be one of those people. But there’s a line from the book that speaks volumes:

“If sport has become the national religion, Babe Ruth is the patron saint. He stands at the heart of the game he played, the promise of a warm summer night, a bag of peanuts, and a beer.

And just maybe, the longest ball ever hot out of the park.”

Let me hear an amen.

It may be a character flaw, but I love a good bar. I don’t drink much hard alcohol, preferring wine or beer, and these days less of that than in the past. (I was having dinner at the Zoetrope Café in San Francisco the other evening, and the bartender asked me if I wanted a third glass of Pinot Noir. I told her no, that two made me witty but three just made me sleepy.) Mostly, I like to sit at the bar, have a glass of wine or beer, and eat my dinner…it is comfortable and convivial.

But I’ve found over the years that many of the bars/restaurants I love are in places other than where I live. Like Bin 36 in Chicago, Café Zoetrope in San Francisco, the bar at Emma’s in Seattle. But the places near me were too suburban to be really enticing…probably because I live in the suburbs.

Which itself is a mystery to me. I hate the suburbs. Given my druthers, I’d either live on an island somewhere or in a city…but I’ve spent virtually all my life living in the ‘burbs. But in about six years, when the kids are out of the house, Mrs. Content and I are moving out and moving on. (But don’t tell Mrs. Content Guy….I haven’t told her yet…)

Good news, though. A great little bar/restaurant opened near me just a couple of weeks ago, called Napa & Co. Located in Stamford, Connecticut, it is a neat little space with just a dozen or so tables and a small but lovely menu featuring excellent flatbread pizza with mozzarella and sun dried tomatoes, and a melt-in-your-mouth lamb carpaccio. And the wine list is a revelation – mostly because it changes not just daily, but almost hourly. Napa & Co. brings in limited amounts of unusual wines, and when it runs out, it runs out…and they instantly update the wine list.

It is where I discovered a wonderful wine – a 2005 Definitive Pinot Noir from Sonoma, California – rich and lush and just delicious with almost anything. This is a “Wow!” And so is Napa & Co.

I also tasted another terrific wine just last night – a 2004 Lynmar Pinot Noir from the Russian River area of California, that was rich and delicious with the Dungeness Crab Melt Sandwich that I was eating at Ferry Plaza Seafood in San Francisco.

That’s it for this week…have a wonderful weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

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