Monday, April 14, 2014

Can We Change The Current Supermarket Model?

I put up a post not long ago that detailed the progression of Kroger stores in the developing Chevy Chase section of town. It mirrors in some ways an article published by Sustainable Food Trust on Apr 1, 2014. Let me look at some of the similarities.

Kroger began life in Cincinnati as a series of markets designed to aide the convenience of homeowners, many of which would need to make multiple stops on daily shopping trips. These “economy” shops carried mainly canned goods, some general staples and rarely any fruits or vegetables. The fresh meats and fish or other farm produce were handled by specialty stores and carried strictly local fare.

To be sure, Kroger was not the only brand of these types of stores since Lexington had its own chain of S. A. Glass stores and to some extent their service areas overlapped. What is significant is the timing of Kroger's arrival and the implementation of zoning in Lexington. It was the “Roaring Twenties.”

Zoning brought with it the progressive concept of isolating commercial interests into “planned” areas rather than allow them to evolve naturally within the normal flow of neighborhood life. The stores themselves found the need to grow in size to accommodate the larger volume, yet less frequent visits of shoppers. Americans, whether they will admit it or not, were socially engineered into believing in the benefits of modern corporate food merchandising and production.

Today, the typical supermarket is filled with more that 47,000 products across a wide range of food, and non food, selections. WalMart, while not known for being a grocery, makes 55% of its total profits from the sale of food. The availability of items 24 / 7 / 365, be they fresh, frozen, canned, processed or microwavable allows us to escape both time and season.

A century ago, people would have known exactly by whom and where their grocery items originated. There was a relationship between the housewife and the butcher, or the greengrocer, where each understood the desires of the other. Such social interactions today are few and far between though many of us are looking for them more often.

How many of us were appalled when we heard of the horse meat scandal or surprised at the size and coverage of the latest beef/vegetable/snack recall? Do any of us really know the supplier of the “better ingredients” in those “better pizzas” from Papa Johns? Did any of us recoil when we learned that the elasticizing agent in Subways bread dough was also used in yoga mats and auto tires?

The increased availability of produce has also led to the socially engineered desire for standardization and uniformity. Breeding in a consistent size and color may enhance the marketability of produce but it also allows for the rejection of entire crops for some farmers, leading to waste levels approaching 50%. Will the rising interest in heirloom varieties stem some of this waste?

Just a little research will reveal that despite the vast number of supermarket products available, a majority of these are produced and controlled by only a handful of industrial food and pharmaceutical companies. The choice that you see is only the choice that they want to see, and usually not much of a choice at all.

That choice, or lack thereof, also impacts our food policies and agricultural practices, driven by the statistics which the corporations collect. How do you want to define a “value meal?” For whom is the value the greatest, you or the supermarket? 
 
Our trust in the supermarket model to provide us with fresh, healthy, transparently produced food, is at an all-time low.” wrote Rebecca Roberts, in her piece and Joanna Blythman wrote “We are sick of being hoodwinked by the smoke-and-mirrors promotions of the big chains.” in The Guardian. How do you feel about it?

Is today's supermarket your only choice for grocery shopping? If so, here are some tools that you can use for better eating experience. Try following the first three of Brazil's 10 new rules for healthy eating:

1 Prepare meals from staple and fresh foods. 
 
Today's supermarket is laid out quite diabolically. All of the cheap processed products are in the center. The really fresh and lightly processed stuff is in the back or along the sides, so fringe shop around the edges. Buy only foods that your grandmother and great-grandmother would recognize. Eat fresh. Try to only buy products with five ingredients or less (ideally ingredients that sound like food and not something you’d find in a science-lab.)

2 Use oils, fats, sugar and salt in moderation.

3 Limit consumption of ready-to-consume food and drink products. 
 
Venture into the center for the items in number 2 only when you need them and try to limit number 3

Lastly, be very critical of the commercial advertisement of food products. They are NOT designed to inform you, either of the nutritional content or the benefit to your health. They are intended to separate you from your money. Take time to reflect on your food choices. Realize the power that each and everyone of us has in voting with our food. Spend to create a better food system and perhaps Kroger will notice.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Suburban Changes, But Nothing New - Again

Following up on the commentary from my last entry about all of the fun new doings in downtown, I thought that I would see what our suburbanite neighbors have to amuse them.

A few weeks ago it as announced that the UK HealthCare folks would occupy the former Dillard's portion of the shuttered Turfland Mall, while the remainder is to be removed. Once again, Lexington will experience a partial redevelopment a property which exemplifies the problems that brought about the EPA Consent Decree. The hundreds of parking spaces here and those retained by the Southland Christian Church on the former Lexington Mall site do precious little to reduce our storm water runoff problem.

At the corner of Lane Allen and Harrodsburg Roads, on a parcel not part of the original Turfland Mall, they are demolishing the former Verizon (General Telephone) building, to be replaced by a new Walgreen's pharmacy. It does not matter that there is a recently built CVS directly across the street or an existing Walgreen's in the former McAlpin's Home store just about 600 yards farther out the road.

This area was, at the time that the mall was constructed, a thriving blend of subdivisions with young families needing a wide range of goods and services. Apparently, now the demographics say that they are aging boomers in need of health care and pharmaceutical assistance. I still believe that a balanced mix of uses directed at the immediate neighborhoods would do everybody good.

Mayor Gray, in his statements praising the UK HealthCare decision said “UK is making health-care services more convenient for Lexington citizens, while bringing new life to Turfland Mall.” But the mall is still dead. Similar comments were also made about the Southland Christian Church and Lexington Mall and until the outlots there become developed, it too will still be dead.

In concept, the mall was never entirely about shopping or retailing, it was supposed to be about interacting with other living human beings. Victor Gruen, the man who originated the mall concept was a sociologist, not a merchant. Gruen was attempting to recreate the feel of the downtown commercial district amongst the spreading neighborhoods of suburbia, with all of its vitality and human connections. Lexington, as in most places, chose to segregate shopping from most other forms of urban vitality so that both the downtowns and the malls died.

One of the prime draws of the malls here in Lexington would have to be the cafeteria style dining places like The Blue Boar, Morrison'sCafeteria and, to a lesser degree, York Steak House. For the elderly, these mall staples were a place to gather socially and even get some exercise. As the shift, from a mix of uses toward strictly retail, neared its completion, the lack of social vibrancy drove off much of the clientele and many chances for impulse buying.

It is hard for me to understand that the rival pharmacy companies can justify being located so closely to each other when all of the stores carry essentially identical product variety and lines. When did the old style drug store advance beyond the “over the counter” first aid remedies, cosmetics and candy counter to the liquor, small hardware and snack groceries of today's big box pharmacy? What sets Rite-Aid apart from CVS or Walgreen's when they all appear so similar in building shape and layout?

At one time it was the local drug store and the neighborhood pharmacist, the image that these big chains want to project about themselves today, that occupied a prime, central spot within a residential cluster. It would have been considered an anchor business along with a barber, small grocer and civic entities like a school, firehouse or church. I may, ideally, have included a local centralized streetcar stop in order to connect with other residential clusters making up an urban area.

Since the mid twentieth century, after living that way for so long, we Americans decided that we could not continue and began to shift our style of living. We can still remember or fantasize about how it was. We can use images of the past to evoke feelings of connectedness with our present. We can repeatedly convince ourselves that our present situation is “so much better that before” while clinging tightly to those mental images of our parents' childhood. What we cannot, will not do, is duplicate the conditions which will allow our future to recreate those fading memories.

Why do our suburbanites cling so tightly to those images, more tightly than the in-town dweller, and yet not do anything that would bring reality to those memories? It may be that those who live within walking distance of downtown, and for some that varies, believe that they currently have such memories – as a reality. To them I say, your lack of action may allow your reality to quickly dissolve into equally fading images, so be vigilant and active in order to retain them.

Across town, Richmond Road has also seen its share of shifting or moving uses. From the major grocery chains moving farther out of town, while gaining up to 50% in floor area each time to the smaller structures designed specifically for fast food retailers, flipping from one chain to another. It is the rarity that any retailer will become so synonymous with the road or a neighborhood out there.

I believe that in no time before the aforementioned shift in our style of living did the primary roads connecting population centers become the hubs of commerce. To be sure, in some regions, many small communities became established and incorporated and, in time, grew to the point that they adjoined each other so as to become a population center. It is only now that those connecting roads are commercial corridors. They do not compare in scale or scope to our recent ones and often serve to unite neighborhoods rather than separate them.

Subdivisions of today bear little resemblance to those of a century ago despite the bucolic street names and the nature related neighborhood monikers. In the past 50 years we have fallen victim to the silver tongued marketing specialists not only in our increasingly dehumanized food supply, but what may be called a similarly dehumanized residence supply. After giving that game a try nearly 20 years ago, I do not want to play that game again. They do not really want what they think that they are buying.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Reasons Why Living Downtown Is Fun

Last week was an interesting week to say the least.

First off, there was the typical fall out over the Look IMAX theater presentation before the Board of Architectural Review. Without making a formal application on the property at the corner of W High St and S Broadway, the developers spoke only get some feedback as to the sentiments of the South Hill Historic District residents. I think that they found out fairly quickly that Lexington is not Dallas and, though we may be a RED state politically, we are nothing like Texas when it comes to preservation.

The problems of working with this location are many. Moving a large, historic home from its original site may save it from destruction but will alter our city's urban fabric in a way much greater than the removal of a few downtown buildings on the CentrePointe block. The earthwork of removing an outcrop of rock, just to allow a parking garage, means blasting in close proximity to numerous 150 year old buildings. That tends to make folks nervous.

A general consensus of people that I talked to felt that the development should go on the other side of Broadway – on the block that is identified as the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District's prime site. Would it not be better to have private money begin the block's redevelopment than expand the $325 million that the taxpayers have yet found a way to pony up? Can the Look project folk not crack the administration's circle of planners to be part of a branded entertainment district?

To continue the topic of blasting out foundations, it was announced that we now have a daily scheduled detonation for the CentrePointe work. There will be traffic stoppage all around the block for 10 minutes while they blast, but beside that most folks will not even notice. For anyone concerned, I watched the foundation work for the Transit Garage, where they blasted twice a day, and felt barely anything.

I found an article titled 12 Strategies That Will Transform Your City’s Downtown, from urbanscale.com. Of the 12 strategies listed we are doing quite well.

We are seriously looking at changing our one-way streets to two-way and we have at least one regularly scheduled public event showcasing downtown merchants, music, and food. These two items were numbers 1 and 2.

Make under-utilized public land available to private developers” came in at #4 and the Rupp project will do that, although it seems that for the past few years some have been looking to private land to create more under-utilized public space on the CentrePointe block. Number six calls for establishing a permanent public market. Not just spaces to allow for the weekly Farmers Market to set up on set days, but a full-time market house like we used to have with Jackson Hall.

Since our local universities are downtown, we can skip to #8 and talk about a streetcar line to an adjacent urban neighborhood. The trolleys seem to be doing an adequate job at present but the permanence of the streetcar is what is intended. Does it strike anybody odd that when we did have streetcars, commercial areas sprang up along them at regular intervals? They helped to create neighborhoods.

An awesome kids playground and the branded entertainment district look to be still some way off, but they are going to take some effort.

The last two strategies of establishing parking maximums for downtown projects and some type of bike or car sharing programs are so foreign to Lexington residents that I will not hold my breath. Any strategy that results in more transportation choices available within a downtown is a good thing and the trolleys may be proving that. Certainly any effort that also provides indirect marketing and branding services for downtown is a valuable one.

Then I hear talk of a proposed rezoning along Newtown Pike between Third and Fourth for a fairly dense development of market rate housing and retail. If all of the rumors are true then what I said about Blue Stallion choosing a very good location looks prophetic. The combination of Transylvania University and BCTC building along Fourth St., the change from one-way to two-way (sound familiar?) by the state DOT and some pioneering retail can begin to make this area really surge. Other than Fourth St was any public money used here?

Look also for rezoning to expand the drinking and dining choices in the Second and Jefferson St area ( I wonder if it will have a fowl theme too) and maybe the Apiary will take flight this summer. Yes, there is more stuff coming.

And lastly, we return to the “downtown cinema wars” where Kirkorian allowed the Look theater group to show their hand, to which he promptly trumped it with a signed agreement for the property where we all knew that it should go. No rezoning, no BOAR, existing parking facilities and the ability to begin this summer - game over.

What will happen in the next few weeks?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

When Will Lexington Cool Off Its Auto Love Affair?

In April of last year it was reported that European car sales were continuing their slide to a 20-year low. 

“The car boom in Germany has come to an end,” said Hans-Peter Wodniok, an analyst at Fairesearch GmbH & Co. “People have stopped buying cars as consumers are much less confident of the future. It was said that the western European passenger-car market was on track last year to hit levels last seen in 1993. This was also about the time that some folks were trying to convince me that our car driving habits were being adopted by the Europeans.

If things have not improved since then, I ask you, just what are the Europeans doing instead of buying cars? The Germans have a long history of being ardent automobile enthusiasts and some of the finest driving machines have been produced by the Germans, but if they are not buying cars to drive, what are they doing?

Germany has become the world's biggest user of one-way car sharing plans. That is where people can find a vehicle using their smart-phone, drive it across town and leave it there without having to return it to a central base, much like the bike sharing programs being started in Washington DC and New York.

In America, we have other alternatives to auto ownership which are emerging. A ride-sharing company called Zipcar and a ride-booking service named Uber Technologies are beginning to appeal to a new generation of drivers, or in many cases riders. Many more young people just aren't pursuing drivers' licenses these days.

In 1983, 87.3 percent of 19-year-olds in the U.S. held a drivers license, by 2010 it had fallen to 69.5%. Automobile ownership, which once equated to a “rite of passage” has dropped to the point that almost one in 10 households don't have a car.

Some of this shift comes from changing attitudes on oil consumption for environmental, political and economic reasons. A new survey from Intel has found that 44 percent of people would prefer to live in a city with automated "driverless" cars than to have some car makers' high-cost product.

The transportation mode which ushered in an era of personal mobility in the last century may now no longer the most convenient conveyance. "The key question is: Do you sell cars or do you sell mobility?" said Tim Ryan, New York-based vice chairman of markets and strategy for consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers. 

Although Germany's new vehicle registrations fell below 3 million last year, continuing a two-decade decline, Chinese consumers continue to have a voracious appetite for automobiles, as more of the country's 1.3 billion people climb the economic ladder. China, in 2009, surpassed the U.S. as the world's largest auto market while struggling with urban gridlock and growing pollution that has created a brown haze over many large cities. In Shanghai, new license plates are auctioned off for an average of $13,400 per tag to slow auto sales and cut pollution..

So, somewhere between the German automotive market and culture and the Chinese market and desires is the U.S., wavering between falling miles traveled per person and a recovering auto economy. The sad fact is that the recovery may be losing steam before rebounding fully. Ford and GM are expecting a basically flat 2014, with low single-digit growth in revenue. Their Oriental competitors may actually see a slight decline.

Will our Millenials follow the lead of their counterparts in Europe and embrace the car-sharing and transit oriented lifestyle? Many indicators say that they will, especially in America's major cities. It will not be easy since many states and communities are still working under antiquated Public Services Commission rules. Pittsburgh's mayor is now asking that the Pennsylvania PSC allow for car-sharing in his city.

The for-hire ride market has been raising tensions between cities or states and the changing Millenial attitudes. The auto industry may also be applying some pressure since it is estimated that for every car that is part of a vehicle-sharing program, the auto industry misses out on 32 sales. Perhaps based on their two decade experience, Germany's powerful auto industry now is betting big on the car sharing idea and not just for short trips within cities.

America's century-long love affair with the car is cooling and young people are three times more likely than older generations to abandon their vehicle if costs increase. Some in our community will rush toward the new technology and many will stay with the old stand-by modes. The question remains as to how do we plan for the results of this trend and how soon will its effects reach Lexington?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

When This “New Era” Of Retailing Arrives

The next era in retail is coming and it may well involve fewer and smaller stores. The days of the “big box” stores look to have a diminishing luster to them. Sears has closed nearly 300 stores since 2010 and that includes their flagship store in Chicago this coming April. J. C. Penney's, Macy's and Target are all reducing stores and personnel and this is just the beginning. 
 
There is an indication that there is a shift in the retail environment and it's one that will continue. According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, 44 percent of annual store closings announced since 2010 have occurred in the first quarter. Will this year's closings indicate or confirm the emergence of a new trend?
The Internet and online shopping is the usually identified as the reason for fewer and fewer visits to the local mall. This past holiday season saw a 12% increase online and around 15% decrease in mall foot traffic, so is the mall concept dying? 
 
"Any time you stop building a product, that's usually the best indication that the customer doesn't want it anymore," said Rick Caruso. You do know that there has not been a new indoor mall built in America since 2006. 
 
That's not to say there aren't a number of ways to grow new retail business. Retailers just need a new approach. An approach that looks to the lifestyle of its customers. More than three quarters of retail transactions are still made at brick-and- mortar locations, but how was your last in-store experience? Did it involve anything more than you and a transaction device, which may or may not have been attended to by a cogent individual? Retail is far more than just a pure transaction

Experts say that shopping needs to be “an experience”. That experience is what builds a connection between consumers and a retailer's brand. Many of us aging “boomers” can still recall the shopping experiences of old most fondly. Retailers need to lose the boring physical store experiences .

Technology

Some large retailers are exploring the technology to track shoppers within the store itself. There are apps which will send tailored offers to smart phones as shoppers reach a certain section of the store; recommending items based on past purchases; or allowing shoppers to program an automated shopping list. Is there a line between helpful and creepy, and when does one cross it? 
 
What are the key factors that determine how much information a shopper is willing to share? 52 percent of shoppers are willing to share information with retailers if they get a discount on their next purchase and shoppers are more willing to share information with high-end stores. Just remember that Nieman Marcus has had their digital network hacked lately. When will shopper rethink their privacy concerns?

Perhaps the best approach to growing retail is to simply get back to the basics, give the better service and attention to detail. In short, put the customer first. I, myself, have quit patronizing stores which put the self-checkout as a prima facie of customer service.

Relocation

Wal-Mart, one of those big-box discount retailers, is in need of a bricks-and-mortar makeover – or so some analysts have suggested. The world's largest retailer gave a disappointing full-year forecast, based upon its recent lackluster sales and the expected sharp cuts in food stamp benefits or higher payroll taxes that will hit the disposable income of its core customers. Cold weather and a reduction in food stamp benefits can't the only reasons.

Analysts have also called for Wal-Mart to move its stores closer to major population centers, shrink the square footage of its superstores and shutter about 100 under-performing U.S. locations. "It appears increasingly uneconomic for the customer to drive 20 to 30 miles, or even 20 to 30 minutes, round trip to a supercenter to save a marginal amount on consumable goods.

Apparently Wal-Mart has listened. They have recently said that they are doubling the number of smaller new stores originally planned to open this year. The smaller stores will allow the retailer to reach new customers, particularly in urban areas. This may also appeal to shoppers who want to pick up groceries and other staples mid-week, as they need not go out to the super-centers. Comparable sales at the smaller stores rose 5 percent last quarter, compared to an overall 0.4 percent drop in the United States. Wal-Mart now plans to open between 270 and 300 small stores this fiscal year and is spending an extra $600 million to do so.

One in five Wal-Mart shoppers relies on food stamps and by some accounts, that may also apply to their employees. Last year's cuts to benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have been particularly painful for Wal-Mart, both in their bottom line and in the public relations field. How ironic it is that Wal-Mart helped create the low-wage economy. The big box development model -- built on cheap land on the edge of the community with taxpayers subsidizing your hard costs of transportation and infrastructure.

As Edward McMahon  put it so clearly, “The two things that have kept Wal-Mart out of cities were its inflexibility on design issues and opposition from labor unions and civic activists who oppose the company because of its low wages and negative impact on existing local businesses. Now that it appears that Wal-Mart is willing (when pushed by local government) to adapt its stores to the urban environment, it is likely only a matter of time before the retail giant moves into cities all over the country and cities that want good design are going to have to demand it.

On December 4, 2013 Wal-Mart opened its first two stores in Washington, DC and the new stores illustrate the lengths to which brick and mortar retailers will go to get into rapidly growing urban markets. Having the world’s largest retailer interested in locating in the city where we’ve lost almost every other department store over the last four decades — that is a good thing.

Target, Whole Foods, Safeway, Giant, and other chains are also breaking the old rules. Smaller buildings, stores in multi-story buildings or in mixed use developments. The Euclid Kroger, for all of their hype, is not breaking new ground.

In some ways, the idea of national chains opening big new urban stores is a return to the way things once were. In 1960, we called it department store. Today we call it a Walmart.
Edward McMahon

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Wondering In A Winter Walking Land

Once again this winter I have taken to looking at the impediments imposed upon the residents of Aylesford and Chevy Chase. This area has been characterized as being one of the most walkable parts of our community. That is true, except when “ole man Winter” comes to stay.

I read a comment on Facebook from a friend, which spoke to her normal daily commute to work in Chevy Chase after a heavy snowfall. The short, five – six block walk featured one, lone, shoveled walkway and that was done by a church. Yes, there were sub-freezing temperatures and a coating of ice but people got out and walked just the same.

I also received a tweet exposing a downtown surface parking lot for having plowed the lot but leaving sidewalks full of snow to traverse for the remainder of the trip to work or shop. By local ordinance, the property owner or their local agent/tenant is responsible for clearing the public sidewalk within 4 hours of the end of snowfall. In Lexington, that is rarely done.

On my daily way home from work I usually pass through the University campus and they have done a admirable job around the main buildings and the like. On some of their lesser properties, not so good but better than the business folks who make their profits on the student residents. For all of the apartment owner who rent to these kids and don't make the sidewalks safe for them to get to class and back, I say shame on you.

And don't think that the regular merchants and property owners along Euclid Ave are exempt from the shame. The embattled Kroger Corporation should take a look at its Chevy Chase location. The parking lot was cleared and paths made toward the front door, but they are responsible all the way to the street and the sidewalk there was untouched. Even though they acknowledged that a large percentage of their customers from the neighborhood approach by foot, Kroger has done nothing to make their property safer for them. As they move the new building closer to the streets, will they continue to ignore the pedestrian along the Marquis portion in particular?

Many of the retailers in Chevy Chase shopping center did, eventually, do a decent job of clearing the snow and ice. The same cannot be said of the homeowners in Ashland Park where still there are long stretches of uncleared sidewalks, yet plenty of plowed driveways are plainly seen. I also noticed that ice damaged trees were attended to but not the sidewalks

Why is it that this area, home to many of Lexington's elite(and don't tell them that they are not), feels the need to disregard non-drivers? The doctors, lawyers and even highly placed city officials should know their responsibilities and the consequences of not performing them, and that may be the problem. There are NO consequences enforced.

The fines for not following the required civic duties of homeowners and residents are NOT being assessed. Why do we have them if they are not enforced? Why do they not carry as much weight as our simple vehicle infractions of running a stop sign or failure to yield? Perhaps the Council could spend as much time and effort debating this as the did the handicap parking issue, with a similar result of raising fines to not be collected.

I have only detailed a short 2 or 3 mile stretch of roadway and I am sure that many of you can elaborate on others. Walkable areas like the Southland Dr neighborhoods or parts of the north end all have the same problem. I just think that we should be doing something about it. The groundhog says that we still have 6 weeks of winter, so we are not done yet. And there is always next year still to come.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Retailers See Some Changes Ahead, What Will We Do?

Rick Caruso is a member of the National Retail Federation, a group which has been holding an annual convention for 103 years. This past week they have been meeting in New York City, with an expected draw of 30,000 attendees, their largest ever, during its four day run.

Rick Caruso is also the founder of Caruso Affiliates, a development company that owns some of the most profitable shopping centers in the world, including The Grove in Los Angeles. I would assume that Mr. Caruso knows something about the field of retail trade, so when he speaks – maybe, just maybe – I should listen.

Caruso, a proponent for open air centers that mimic urban shopping streets, says that “Within 10 to 15 years the typical U.S. mall, unless completely reinvented, will be a 60-year-or-so aberration that no longer meets the public's needs, the retailers' needs or the community's needs." He thinks retailers need to seek out centers and shopping districts that create community and meeting places similar to marketplaces that have thrived for centuries.

Why should the retail world mimic what has sprouted up and evolved naturally in culture all over the globe. Retail has always followed the population's movements and has never led them, yet today seems to dictate that one do their shopping by automobile. If retail is urged to replicate the urban shopping street, then it should be done as realistically as possible and as close to the customers as possible. That would mean – in the neighborhood – not on the edge of one.

The unofficial theme of this year's conference appears to be “Get ready for big changes”. The retail world could change well more over the next five years than it has in the past 50. Much of it due to changes in technology and online/mobile shopping. While the recent security breaches were not mentioned, the successes or failures in combating them will factor in those changes.

Surveys are reported to show that 69% of CEO's in the largest retail chains are highly confident in better sales growth, yet they were not as aware of the dramatic changes occurring currently as they should be. Perhaps many more of them need to go on “Undercover Boss” and not just visit a selected few of their stores.

How will these retailers be affected by the shopping habits of Millennials, who want stores close enough to walk from home? What if Google and automakers take great strides in perfecting the self driving car, to the point of not needing to park it – just call for it when you need to be picked up? Imagine that store catered to the whims of the neighborhood customers like they used to, what do you see?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Eastern Kentucky's Agricultural Box

Last week, in an op-ed to the local paper, Bill Best wrote “When articles are written about Appalachia, the most frequently left-out words are "gardening" and "agriculture." Yet Eastern Kentucky was once self-sufficient in food production and could easily be again.” As true as that wording is, it is difficult to conceive that most people don't think that way at all. 

I have never thought of Eastern Kentucky as a hot bed of food production but the hill folk, from the settlers on forward had to feed themselves some way. I can also relate first hand that there are many fine cooks who have made their way out of the hills. Eastern Kentuckians have survived of much more that coal jobs.

There has been a lot of talks lately about what could or should be done to aide in the relief of the region's economic problems, but they all seem to center on incentives or developments which are generally better suited to urbanized areas. A large industrial park or an outlet mall style shopping center need both population density and transportation access to be successful. These are items that the area lacks.

While progress has been made in reclaiming many a strip mine site and the coal companies conducting “mountain top removal” are required to put things back to as “natural” as they can, preparing the land for agricultural production is not on anybody's radar. Neither the coal company's nor the local's, since Eastern Kentucky is not a “farming” area.

Best points out, correctly, that the necessary skill sets are not being handed down from the grandparents, who eked out a living on poor land, or the parents, many of whom could not wait to leave the area, or the education community, which is preparing our youth for global competition. The idea that having a place to call home and having it be able to sustain its residents simply escapes many of us these days.

If east coast investors were the foundation of the coal companies that caused such damage, could it be farm investors that will begin the turn around? A Lexington based company, American Farm Investors, has been purchasing farm properties in Central Kentucky, then utilizing Kentucky farmers and selling grain to Kentucky end-users. What would prevent a similar group of investors from making agricultural land out of reclaimed land?

It may be time to redefine the box that is the concept of Eastern Kentucky agriculture.

Friday, December 6, 2013

When Marketing Can Sacrifice Public Safety

I was talking to an infrequent reader the other day and she told me that the subjects of my quiz photos are often too difficult for her. I really do understand this but I just want to get some dialogue going. In the last quiz we can clearly see the beginnings of Todds Trace Apartments and the final interchange of New Circle Road being built in the late '60s.
It was on this same interchange ramp that I commented to Mrs. Sweeper, while we were out running errands, that the renovation of the apartments was looking quite good. Having watched the work on the old Sonnet Cove, now Lakewood Park, I know how much it has helped the neighborhood. I have posted earlier about how the Southland Christian Church should have taken this location and begun the transformation of the area not only physically, but spiritually. Alas, that did not happen.
Over the years, I have known friends and acquaintances who have lived in the varying iterations of the complex. From Todds Trace to Appletree and Saddlebrook (or as it became called, Saddle-dump) on down to its Pennington Place demise. The apartments and the neighborhood have not aged well. In my opinion, few of the developments done during the late '60s through mid-to-late '70s have fared well at all, if any.
Still, the renovation work does look good and Mrs. Sweeper and I have been discussing moving, now that our guys have graduated high school, entered college and we don't need to be within walking distance of Henry Clay. It was suggested that I take a look at the 300 At The Circle since the location is still close to work and the transit lines. Maybe we could stay there until we found a better house.
The web site  is beautiful, but most marketing web sites are well done to get you to look closer. What caught my eye was the mailing address of the apartments, 300 Quinton Ct. Could that be right? Quinton Court was the name given to the section of the Todds Road that had to be truncated when the KYDOT began upgrading Richmond Road nearly 30 years ago. Quinton Ct is a short cul-de-sac which basically serves one office building and back side entry of a restaurant.
I was also quite confused since the office building, on the east side of the road, is addressed as 120 Quinton and the apartments, on the other side of the street, is labeled as 300. I didn't think that it was possible to have even numbers on opposite sides of the same street. It certainly does not follow any type of local or national norm.
In 1902 the City of Lexington implemented a new addressing scheme which, among other things, established that even numbers be located on the South and East sides of streets and thoroughfares. Odd number would be on the North and West. It is simpler to do on a grid, or a modified grid, pattern of streets which was typical at the time. On curvilinear streets, it all stems from its beginning point and its general, overall direction. Roads like New Circle will play pure havoc with that rule.
During the past decade or so, Lexington has systemically attempted to correct any anomalies which may have developed between the former city and county governments and some just plain quirkiness out of the past. The stated intent was to aid the Enhanced 911 emergency response times. 300 Quinton Ct looks to be a new quirk.
Once again looking to the website, the page which directs you to apply and choose your desired apartment shows all of the access driveways connecting to Codell Dr and no possible access from Quinton Ct. The main entry to the clubhouse and pool area appears to be a security check point and come in off of Codell Dr. It is entirely possible that an access point can be created on the court, but that does not appear to be their intention. A quick look at the PVA site reveals an account for 109 Quinton Ct which correlates to the “Future Development” portion of their site plan. There appears to be NO official record of a 300 Quinton Ct in Fayette County records.
But wait, again the Internet to the rescue, on the page showing the location of the development is a link to Google Maps and the app to get directions. Google Maps does have 300 Quinton Ct but the source their data from many places. It is also ironic that Google will give you the Streetview of the area but the photos are nearly 2 years old and this property is not very appealing in those images.
It should be fairly obvious to all that the intent of this development's address is to remove any identity connection to Codell Dr as that street name carries much baggage. We have seen this in other sections of town in the past. In an effort to change the perceptions of possible tenants, Jennifer Ct was renamed to Eastwyck Ct and then renamed again to Meade Ct about 20 years ago. I don't think that the general impressions of that area have changed all that much. Making real change in a neighborhood takes much more than some slick marketing moves and I think that the church had the better shot at real change.
It may be that this is just a slick marketing ploy but the weak effort displayed by the website falls far short of the mark. If I have to do some sort of mental gymnastics to find the front door, be I a pizza delivery person or a visitor from out-of-town, then the thought of having a logical, standardized system is out the window. Will this also be necessary of first responders to the point of making it an issue of public safety?
I think I will have to tell Mrs. Sweeper that, as nice as it looks, to seek some other place. I think that she will agree.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Has CommerceLex Looked At This From Past Trips?

Lexington is repeatedly compared and contrasted with Madison, Wisconsin. Both are big, small towns with major universities. Both are also cities without an interstate highway slicing through town. In both cases it was a conscious decision to leave the interstate out.

What is different is that the local officials in Madison realized that their residents and visitors still needed to have local access. Madison's city planners began to plan for (and implement) a much more multi-modal transportation network. Those investments are still paying off.

When the attitudes about transportation and urban living shifted, as they have over the past decade, there was not a mad scramble get a solution in place. There were several options already available. Not so in Lexington, the attitudes are changing but the viable options are not there. 

The average Madison city resident drove 18 percent fewer miles in 2011 than in 2006 — from 8,900 miles down to 7,300. It would be nice to know the comparable statistic for the Lexington area. Bus ridership is up and I do see many more cyclists than I used to, but just imagine if we had the foresight that they displayed in Madison.