business news in context, analysis with attitude

Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  In the United States, there have been 5,360,302 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 169,131 deaths and 2,812,603 recoveries.

Globally, there have been 20,827,637 confirmed coronavirus cases, 747,584 fatalities, and 13,723,478 reported recoveries.

•  From the Wall Street Journal:

"The seven-day average of new cases topped the 14-day average in nine states and Washington, D.C., for Aug. 11, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins University data, suggesting that cases were rising in those areas. A month earlier, the seven-day new case average topped the 14-day new case average in 42 states and D.C. … While the data suggests only about a fifth of states are seeing an increase in cases, some are seeing declines in testing. In 16 states, the seven-day moving average of tests per 1,000 people was down from a week ago, according to Johns Hopkins."

•  The New York Times reports that one of the categories that seems to be booming in the pandemic is the mattress business - apparently because as people spend more time at home, they're also spending more time in bed.

The interest seems to be across the board, from high-end mattresses to value offerings to mattresses for RVs and campers.

Talk about timing.  The acceptability of ordering mattresses online, from companies like Casper and Tuft & Needle, certainly plays into this trend.

•  The Wall Street Journal reports that the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the union that represents New York City's public school principals, is asking the city to delay the opening of school until September 10, saying that they cannot be opened safely because "the city hasn’t answered questions on topics ranging from teacher staffing to hand sanitizer."

The story notes that "New York, the largest school district in the U.S. with 1.1 million students, is the only one of the country’s 10 largest school systems still planning for an on-schedule reopening with students attending school in person for at least part of each week. The other large school districts have decided to reopen for online learning only or have pushed back the start of the school year."

•  ABC News reports that a Georgia school district has quarantined more than 900 students and staff members because of possible exposure to the coronavirus since classes resumed last week and will temporarily shut down a hard-hit high school in which a widely shared photo showed dozens of maskless students posing together.

"The quarantine figures from the Cherokee County School District include at least 826 students, according to data the district posted online. Located about 30 miles (60 kilometers) north of Atlanta, the district serves more than 42,000 students and began its new school year on Aug. 3."

If I understand this story correctly, this is the same school where the students who posted the pictures online got in trouble for having done so … the same district where no change has been made to the 'masks optional' policy … in the same state where no changes are being made to the high school football schedule … and in the same state where, as ABC News reports, authorities "posted (the) highest single-day death total yet in the pandemic at 137 fatalities … The state is currently averaging reports of more than 60 deaths each day though people may have died earlier."

The New York Times writes that "Depending on whom you ask, the string of positive tests and isolation orders in Cherokee County either proved the district’s folly for opening schools during the worst American public health crisis in decades, or demonstrated a courageous effort to return to normal."

I know where I come down in that argument.

•  From the New York Times:

"Pennsylvania State University is requiring its students to sign a waiver that absolves the university of liability for exposure to the coronavirus on campus. If they do not accept the terms in the document, which the school calls a compact, the students are denied access to the university’s portal where they sign up for classes … In the waiver, students are required to acknowledge that the university’s safety measures 'may, or may not, be effective in mitigating the spread' of the virus."

Students are said to be protesting the waiver requirement.

I checked.  At Pennsylvania State, in-state tuition is $18,450, and out-of-state tuition is $35,514.  For that kind of money, I might require a little higher accountability on the part of the school.

•  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

"Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller said Wednesday that he is shutting down his TAK Room restaurant at Hudson Yards, one of the highest-profile closings to date due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"The dining spot is a marquee attraction of the $25 billion complex, which was developed by Related Cos. and Oxford Properties Group and runs from 30th to 34th streets and from 10th to 12th avenues in Manhattan. The complex opened last year and has tried to position itself as a prime culinary destination in the city, featuring other restaurants from such acclaimed chefs as David Chang, José Andrés and Michael Lomonaco.

"The pandemic has upended the restaurant and retail picture at the development. In July, Neiman Marcus Group Ltd., the upscale department-store chain, said it was closing its Hudson Yards location, a key component of the complex.

"In announcing the permanent shutdown of the TAK Room and also his Bouchon Bakery at Hudson Yards, Mr. Keller said in a statement that the pandemic has 'devastated the global economy and caused irreparable damage to our business and profession'."

The Journal says that the Hudson Yards owners plan to convert the Neiman Marcus and TAK spaces into offices … which strikes me as a little strange at a time when commercial real estate is in decline and companies are reconsidering the importance and necessity of office space.  Another example…

•  The Seattle Times reports that "in yet another sign of the way COVID-19 is upending business models, REI is walking away from its nearly completed corporate campus in Bellevue and will shift headquarters operations to multiple sites across the Seattle area.

"The Kent-based outdoor retailer said it is in talks to sell the 380,000-square-foot building and 8-acre campus with 'multiple interested parties.' People familiar with the situation say one of those interested parties is Facebook, which has facilities in the same upscale multi-use development, known as the Spring District, where the REI headquarters is being built."

The story goes on:   "When the company returns to offices — the date is unknown — it expects to operate in several sites, including an existing one in Georgetown, as well as new satellite campuses on the Eastside and in South Puget Sound, which REI is scouting for.

"The decision to abandon the nearly completed Spring District campus, which the company had expected to move into this summer, marks a major strategic shift for the outdoor retailer.

"When REI announced plans in 2016 for the new headquarters campus, the project was billed as a way to consolidate operations that are spread across four Seattle-area sites.  But the pandemic has forced REI to rethink not only where its employees work but also how much capital it can afford to sink into a single asset, said Ben Steele, REI’s chief customer officer, who has led the headquarters design."

It seems that indeed, necessity is the mother of invention.  Many companies have discovered that they didn't need people in a central location to be inventive and productive, and so they're turning this new model into a feature as opposed to a temporary glitch.  Like this next story…

•  The New York Times reports that "a tabloid once famous for its bustling, big-city newsroom no longer has a newsroom.

"In a move that was almost unthinkable before the coronavirus pandemic, Tribune Publishing said on Wednesday that The Daily News, once the largest-circulation newspaper in the country, was permanently closing its physical newsroom at 4 New York Plaza in Lower Manhattan. The same day, Tribune, the Chicago newspaper chain that has owned The News since 2017, told employees that it was closing four of its other newspapers’ offices.

"'We have determined that we do not need to reopen this office in order to maintain our current operations,' Toni Martinez, a human resources executive at Tribune Publishing, wrote in an email to the staff that was reviewed by The New York Times.  'With this announcement, we are also beginning to look at strategic opportunities and alternatives for future occupancy.'

"The paper will continue to be published. The company made no promises about a future physical location."

It has been a long time since I worked in a newsroom, but I've always missed it.  One of the coolest moments of my life was when I got a chance to spend time in the old Washington Post newsroom - the same one that was replicated with care in All The President's Men - when I interviewed for a job there.  (I didn't get it.  Obviously.)

What financial and human resources people never will get is how important a newsroom is to a reporter's work.  Though, to be fair, I may be guided in this by nostalgia.

Longtime Daily News columnist Mike Lupica wrote last week, after the passing of Pete Hamill, about how in the old days when he started at the News, Hamill and his fellow columnist Jimmy Breslin worked in offices adjacent to the newsroom.  Hamill's office was clouded by cigarette smoke, he wrote, and Breslin's with cigar smoke.  But, he wrote, "it wasn’t smoke you saw and felt and smelled between them. It was magic."

That's what a great newsroom always was.  Magic.

•  Another sign of the broad cultural impact of the pandemic…

Variety reports that "Diana," a music about the life of the Princess of Wales that was in previews on Broadway before the pandemic shut down all live theater, now will premiere on Netflix next year before its rescheduled opening night on May 25, 2021.

According to the story, "While lights on the main stem have been off, theaters have been trying to offer up more content digitally. Disney Plus recently had a big hit with a taped version of 'Hamilton,' Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show about one of America’s Founding Fathers and the country’s first treasury secretary.

"Netflix has been home to numerous theatrical works before, including 'American Son' with Kerry Washington, 'Springsteen on Broadway' and Nick Kroll and John Mulaney’s 'Oh, Hello.' Ryan Murphy is currently working on a film adaptation of the Tony-nominated musical 'The Prom' for the streaming service. But 'Diana' represents a first in that the show will be available to the public on Netflix before patrons can buy Broadway tickets."


I'm happy that live theater - one of the great joys of my life - will be made more accessible to more people.  I hope that deals like these will serve to support more live theater.  I just hope that we don't get to the point where live theater is replaced by Netflix and its brethren.  Again, I may be partially guided by nostalgia in this, but I spent a lot of time on the stage when I was a much younger man (I actually went to acting school for a short time), and there are few things that compare to the charge of being on the stage in front of a live audience, or the charge of sitting in the audience and witnessing a great performance.