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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, available on iTunes and brought to you this week by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

It has been an interesting week for shoppers to engage in unique dialogues, both with each other and with companies that they feel strongly about.

First, you have all the discussion taking place on the website of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where there is continued local reaction to the possibility that Ukrop’s Super Markets could be sold, either to a competing supermarket chain or a private equity group.

The contributions on the site’s message boards are all over the map. Some people are criticizing the Ukrop family for even considering the sale of the company, which has been a longtime and generous community supporter. Some think it is a matter of money, some believe it is a generational issue. Some argue that whoever or whatever buys the chain, they should stick with the longtime policy of staying closed on Sunday and not selling booze; others feel that such policies are outmoded and make life inconvenient for shoppers. I think I detect greater concern about a private equity firm buying Ukrop’s as opposed to another chain, with worries that a equity group will focus only on the bottom line and not on the corporate culture.

There even are some folks on the paper’s website who seem intent on refighting the Civil War, with wanton attacks on Southerners for being slow and unsophisticated and Northerners for being crass and annoying. Maybe it’s because I spent a few days at Gettysburg last week – a trip, by the way, that I heartily recommend – but some of this didn’t surprise me…a visit to those battlefields and listening to various descriptions made me think that a lot of the antagonism between North and South hasn’t really gone away, and recent news stories have sort of cemented this notion.

At the same time, as already covered this week here on MorningNewsBeat, there has been a lot of debate back and forth via the Internet about the column opposing health care reform that was written for the Wall Street Journal by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey … a column that has thoroughly irritated and perhaps even disenfranchised a number of Whole Foods shoppers who thought the company stood for liberal values like health care reform and have been startled to discover that maybe the company isn’t everything they thought it was. Of course, maybe it never was…maybe they have been projecting their own values on the company all along. But they are disappointed, and it shows.

Now, we’ve had a lot of this back and forth on MorningNewsBeat as well…you’ll see more of it below in “Your Views.” And I have to say that as I read the emails – both the ones that are posted and the ones that didn’t make the cut for reasons of space and time – the good news is that they are making me think about the issues in different ways.

But here’s the really, really good news…

While neither company is likely taking any pleasure in all the public discussion of their decisions and positions, they should feel good that the very debate points to the fact that both Ukrop’s and Whole Foods matter.

The rumored sale of a lot of retailers around the country and the world wouldn’t get their shoppers up in arms the way that the Ukrop’s speculation has. And the public policy opinions of a lot of CEOs would hardly raise an eyebrow in most households, let alone create a call for boycotts.

But that’s what happened here. Both companies matter.

That means that both companies and their leaders actually have a greater responsibility in their work, not just to employees and shareholders, but also to their shoppers…who consider these stores to be part of the fabric of their lives. It means they have to nurture these feelings, not ignore them … even when those feelings are more a projection of other people’s values onto their corporate structure. It doesn’t matter, because it is that projection…that intensity of passion…that makes their businesses special. And hopefully enduring.

It doesn’t mean that everybody is going to love you. And sometimes you simply have to do business the best way you can, even if it means you have to disappoint folks from time to time.

The passion that these shoppers feel for Ukrop’s and Whole Foods is palpable, and the leadership of both companies should feel encouraged that whatever their next steps, it gives them a terrific foundation on which to build.

But they should build carefully, and with a sense of responsibility, respect and even humility.

For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
KC's View: