business news in context, analysis with attitude

It was a little surprising this week to see that LL Bean – which happens to be one of my favorite designers – is opening the first of five stores in China. It will be the company’s first foray outside the US…unless, of course, you count its 15 stores in Japan.

According to the Forbes story, “CEO Chris McCormick says he believes L.L. Bean's store will benefit from a growing interest among the Chinese in the outdoors and outdoor activities. The 3,000-square-foot store will feature natural light and weathered timbers reminiscent of the company's flagship store in Freeport.”

I’m fascinated by this, especially because I tend to rail from time to time about it doesn’t seem right that global companies keep buying up American retail entities or opening up stores here, but few American retailers seem intent on expanding outside the US. Lately, of course, US companies have had little choice, what with the dwindling value of the dollar.

Still, it is hard to imagine a more American company than LL Bean, and it was good this week – at a time when a lot of people and companies were taking up the fetal position and hoping that all the headlines were just a bad dream – to see such an icon expanding into faraway lands.

Now that the US government apparently will own a substantial part of AIG, does that mean that all of us taxpayers are going to get proxy statements? Just curious.

A couple of weeks ago I criticized the new Microsoft commercials featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld. The first one, which featured the two men in a shoe store, was just confusing. The second one, which had them living with a suburban family in an attempt to get in touch with real people, was just perplexing. And not funny.

Well, now Microsoft apparently has decided to pull the ads in favor of a different campaign. The company contends that this was the plan all along.

If the plan was to produce unhelpful and uninspiring commercials, then they should be very proud of themselves.

As for me…I much prefer the “Mac vs. PC” ads produced for Apple.

Though…I just saw the new “I’m a PC” ad produced for Microsoft, and it is vastly superior, if for no other reason than it is clever and makes an actual point.

Well, here’s a story that brings into question the value of technology.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that a new survey reveals that 35 percent of professionals would pick their PDAs over their spouses if forced to make a choice.

Two things surprise me about these results. One is that a third of people questioned prefer their PDAs to their spouses. The other is that this group of people would actually admit it.

Though it probably is fair to prognosticate that this number is only going to get bigger as the more technologically savvy younger generation gets older and married. (This isn’t necessarily a cultural advance…but we have to face reality.) It points up the marketing challenges that will face retailers and suppliers in coming years, as they cater to customers with intimate relationships with their gadgets.

In addition, and this is somewhat less surprising, the survey reports that “87 percent take their personal digital assistants into their bedrooms, and 84 percent check them just before going to bed and as soon as they wake up.”

To which I can respond with only one word.


The great writer Pete Hamill just told a terrific story on “Morning Joe” that bears repeating, especially in this political silly season.

Back in the sixties, Hamill was working for Newsday, where Bill Moyers, the former press secretary to President Lyndon Johnson, was serving as publisher. Hamill was considering an assignment to Washington, DC, and asked Moyers for advice on how to deal with LBJ.

“Lyndon is pretty simple to figure out,” Moyers said. “If he scratches his nose, he’s telling the truth. If he pulls on his ear, he’s telling the truth. If he is scratching his chin, he’s telling the truth. But if he opens his mouth…”

A story, methinks, that could be applied to a lot of politicians on both sides of the aisle.

Yankee Stadium closes this weekend, to be replaced next year by the new Yankee Stadium just across the street. And while I am a Mets fan, I will shed a tear on Sunday night, because Yankee Stadium is where I saw my first live professional baseball game – Mickey Mantle was in the outfield, and I remember like it as yesterday how green the field seemed…because until that time, I’d only seen a major league baseball game on black-and-white TV.

And next weekend, Shea Stadium closes, so the Mets can move into the new Citi Field next year. Those tears will be shed in person…since Sansolo and I are going to the game on Saturday afternoon, the second-to-last game being played at Shea.

I had the wonderful opportunity this week to drive up to Burlington, Vermont, and spend a few days there before heading back. The sun was shining, the air was clear, and the top was down on the car. In other words, pretty much perfect.

While there, I ate in two wonderful restaurants that you should visit if you ever find yourself in Burlington. One, L’Amante, is a terrific Italian restaurant that serves an amazing grilled calamari and radicchio, pancetta and balsamic vinegar, and delicious lemon risotto cakes that are just wonderful.

Another night, I ate at a small bistro called Smokejack’s, where they served a delicious local tomato, basil and mozzarella flatbread, and one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever eaten – made of local beef, and served with local cheese and bacon-roasted organic potatoes. Yummmm…I’m getting hungry just typing the words.

And I didn’t just eat at these two places…I also tasted some exceptional wines.

While at L’Amante, I enjoyed the 2002 Ca’ntele Salice Salentino Riserva, which was just mouth-filling and luscious.

And at Smokejack’s, I had the absolutely wonderful 2007 Owen Roe Abbot’s Table - which I’m told is 22 percent Sangiovese, 20 percent Merlot, 20 percent Zinfandel, 15 percent Cabernet Franc, seven percent Grenache, six percent Syrah, three percent Petite Sirah, three percent Cinsault, three percent Malbec, and one percent Pinot Noir.

Hell of way to make a living, huh?

BTW…while I was in Burlington, I had a chance to visit the City Market co-op, which is a neat urban store that is brimming with energy. I don't have a lot of experience with co-op stores – there aren’t any in my part of the country – but I have to say that I was impressed by the environment, the selection and the prices…it was the kind of store I’d love to shop in, and it avoided the cookie-cutter character that so many supermarkets seem to adopt.

That’s it for this week. See you Monday.


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