Archive for the ‘Economy’ Category

Service of Insecurity Triggers: Healthcare, Economy and 45’s Strategy

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

Photo: goodguy.com

Photo: goodguy.com

There’s a lot to make a person feel on edge these days. Just to mention a few issues:

In healthcare:

  • Will Congress change the rules so that health insurance companies can charge what they like—as big pharma can—with the consequence that coverage will no longer be an option for millions including many who’ve traditionally been able to afford it?
  • Is insuring preexisting conditions really back on the chopping
    Photo: ourgeneration.org

    Photo: ourgeneration.org

    block in spite of 45s promises that it isn’t? I thought we’d settled that issue to a resounding national sigh of relief, but apparently not.

The economy:

  • GDP grew in the first quarter at its slowest pace in three years with a self-proclaimed business genius at the helm, [0.7 percent].
  • Who is going to make up the slack when corporations and the 1 percent get discounts on their taxes?
  • Photo: zambiainvest.com

    Photo: zambiainvest.com

    The retail industry is in shambles. There are many reasons for the latter: popularity of e-tailing/online shopping, increased purchases on mobile phones, etc. This is America, land of the chronic consumer and these retailers, too, have their oars in virtual waters. Troublesome also as so many jobs are involved.

45s strategy to make daily headlines at all costs doesn’t help. To achieve this he is mercurial, says and does outrageous things, takes an unorthodox stance for the fun of it and damn the torpedoes. It works–he’s front page news. His followers aren’t bothered but the approach, in addition to the anxiety-provoking real triggers, is making me uneasy. Am I alone? What antidotes do you recommend?

Photo: totalmortgage.com

Photo: totalmortgage.com

Service of Retail: A Bellwether of the Economy’s Health, Impact of Shifts in Purchasing Habits or What?

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

empty store in manhattan

On a recent weekday we walked down First Avenue from 70th to 53rd Street in Manhattan and were alarmed by the number of empty spaces where stores, restaurants, nail salons and other business once thrived in a neighborhood swarming with people.  The worst was an entire block with rental signs in all the street level windows.

The Mt. Kisco Daily Voice reported last week that the Poughkeepsie Kmart branch is one of 78 to close around the country in May. I’ve driven by it a few times a month for years. The times I dropped in I found that the supposed value priced store offered cheap fashion and home fashion with no flair and commodities at far from discount prices which, in part, may account for this news.

On to another retail scene. “Upscale Shopping Centers Nudge Out Down-Market Malls: Some retailers are closing stores in weaker-performing locations to focus on Web sales and more luxury spots,” was a Wall Street Journal headline for Suzanne Kapner’s article. She wrote “Once-solid regional ‘B’ malls that thrived for years are losing shoppers and tenants to the ‘A’ malls—those with sales per square foot in excess of $500, according to Green Street Advisors.

“The research firm estimates that about 44% of total U.S. mall value, which is based on sales, size empty store 2 ave 1and quality among other measures, resides with the top 100 properties, out of about 1,000 malls.” Kapner continued: “Mall owners disagree about whether the Internet is their main problem. They point to demographic changes that redirected population and income growth away from malls built years ago, along with a real estate glut that has left the U.S. with 24 square feet of retail space per person, compared with 15 for Canada, 10 for Australia and 5 for the U.K., according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.”

A few days later, also in The Wall Street Journal, Kapner wrote “Glut Plagues Department Stores,” where she reported that hundreds will close “to regain the productivity they had a decade ago.” Green Street Advisors was again her source. Some 800 are expected to close representing “a fifth of all anchor space in U.S. malls.”

The developers will figure out what to do with these properties and customers will find other places to buy what they need but what about all the employees–how will they make a living?

I wonder if these retail signals representing mom and pop enterprises to major brands reflect shifts in purchasing habits or a canary in the economic coalmine–or both? Politicians and their followers looking for easy answers and quick fixes will blame increased minimum wage laws and the greater cost of health insurance for employees under Obamacare. Others will fault the closings on the massive shift of disposable income from the middle class to the extremely rich, which has occurred over the last 35 years. What do you think?

empty store 2 ave 2

Service of Trade Magazines: A Gift to Businesses

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

NY Now

Earlier this week I visited a small segment of what was the International Gift Show—called NY Now these days, “tradeshow for the home, lifestyle and gift market”—highlights of which I’ve covered in past posts. I thought I’d form an impression of whether or not same sex marriage has impacted this industry’s products, color and design, but I stopped taking notes when I learned that there wasn’t a NY Now catalog to be had in the Javits Center: They’d run out–a first. OK, so everyone else studies their tablets. I miss my printed catalog, a wonderful resource.

Instead, I brought back to the office a stack of trade magazines. I’ve always had a weak spot for paper Card by egg pressgoods and Stationery Trends’ summer 2015 issue, the first one I opened, didn’t disappoint. I appreciated the hand of the cover, the stock on which it was printed, the layouts and many of the graphics of the featured cards such as one by Egg Press, “you’re my cup of tea,” photo at right, chosen to illustrate the article, “A Kinder, Gentler Navy.”

From the other issues I learned a lot about what is going on at retail, the economy and why.

Warren Shoulberg, [photo right, below], is one of the best writers, thinkers and speakers in the industry. In his opinion piece in HFN’s August 15 issue, the magazine’s editorial director covered retails’ rediscovery of outlets. After reviewing outlet history, he reported that today TJX is “outperforming virtually every other retailer in America.” [It owns TJMaxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods.] He warned that the format isn’t foolproof and mentioned the now defunct Loehman’s, Filene’s Basement and Conway. [I don’t know Conway, but to be fair the first two had long runs.] 

Photo: tallyhofarm.co.uk

Photo: tallyhofarm.co.uk

Shoulberg wrote, “what drives this channel is the pursuit of the bargain, not necessarily the bargain itself.” To make his point, Macy’s shoppers, he observed, can enjoy similar deep dish discounts if they add up all available coupons and promotions.

In his commentary in Home & Textiles Today, Shoulberg, who is editorial director here as well, explained why the home textiles and furnishings Warren Shoulbergbusinesses are faltering: fewer new households. And why is that? College grads “and other 20-somethings are increasingly moving back into—or never leaving in the first place—their parents’ homes.” Shoulberg cites Pew Research Center findings that this situation is the worst “in recent memory” including the Great Recession. This reason, he wrote, has more impact on sales of these categories than housing starts or any other. He suggested that “If the kids are back home, that’s where the industry needs to be, too.”

He doesn’t have enough to do so Shoulberg’s also a contributing columnist at Gifts and Decorative Accessories where he advised that industry to become, like others, i.e. “more highly concentrated.” He continued, “But maybe, just maybe, there are economies of scale when companies get together and join forces.” Business-wise he’s right, but I long for a burgeoning 21st Century Arts & Crafts Movement, which the most exciting and creative aspects of this industry represent. Professionally and personally there are few places I enjoy visiting more than a wonderful craft fair—and the NY Gift Show—I mean NY Now.

In her LDB Interior Textiles editorial, Wanda Jankowski reports on a major shift in attitude regarding consumer spending in this country: Since 2008, the editor-in-chief wrote, “US consumers have learned to defer product gratification and accept that they can have something they want only if they figure out how to pay for it.” Good for us, not so good for retail.

In Nicole Leinbach Reyhle’s article, “What You Need to Know Now About The Upcoming EMV Changes,” in Museums & More, I learned that credit card fraud in the U.S. is around $8.6 billion/year and that experts expect it to increase to $10 billion this year. EMV, according to Google, “is a technical standard for smart payment cards and for payment terminals and automated teller machines which accept them.” Not good, though valuable, news.

What trade or specialty magazines—online or printed—do you follow? In making business or personal financial decisions do you take seriously the impact of the trends and developments such trade pundits share? Do you think what they write about their industries has significance well beyond them?

 

 

New York Stock Exchange, photo en.wikipedia.org

New York Stock Exchange, photo en.wikipedia.org

 

 

Service of a Disconnect

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

disconnect 2

On Friday, on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Scott Horsley ran snippets of President Obama’s speech on the economy that he gave last week at Northwestern University.

In “Obama’s Approval Rating Dragged Down by Economic Disconnect” Horsley also listed a bunch of the President’s claims of improvement since he took office: Corporate profits are up, unemployment is down; companies have created 10 million new jobs; there’s rising energy production here and, according to the President, lowering health care costs. [A savings, perhaps but at what cost. A friend’s dad was dismissed from the hospital long before he should have been, no doubt to keep their stats whistle clean, and was returned by ambulance a few days later. But I digress.]

empty walletWhat caught my attention was Horsley’s brief interview with Bard College economist Pavlina R. Tcherneva. She determined that while the economy may be growing, paychecks are not.

Most enlightening was her review of income gains in this country from the 1950s, when 90 percent of workers collected 80 percent of gains to the 1980s, only 20 percent to 2009-2012, where all income gains went to the top 10 percent. Worker’s real income actually shrank.

I had fun fiddling with a cost of living calculator that I found online. I chose to compare 2000 with 2014 to calculate the value of $100 this year with 14 years ago. As of August, 2014 it’s $137.21. That’s a chunk of a difference if your income has stayed the same or is less.

The results of Tcherneva’s historical review helps explain why the President’s approval rating for his impact on the economy was 35 percent on August 21, according to a Gallup poll and why I keep hearing disastrous news of layoffs and fruitless job searches that don’t match the President’s cheery [pre-election] outlook.

Do you agree that there’s a disconnect between “everything’s rosy and getting better,” and reality? Can you share other disconnects?

everything's rosy

Service of the Counterintuitive Part I

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Photo: lifehack.org

Photo: lifehack.org

I’ve collected examples of situations that caused me to wonder. I found so many that I broke the list into two posts.

Starving the Victims

basket of rollsA friend told me about a 20-course dinner that cost $350 pp. The only reason that she and the other participants didn’t leave hungry was because they asked for baskets of additional rolls that had accompanied one of the microscopic, uber-trendy dishes. She described the portions as the size of bottle caps. This was in the US. Another friend who eats like a sparrow left a similar restaurant in London feeling hungry after finishing a pricey appetizer and entree.

Where’s the Sport?

Ask Google to “define game” and the first you see is: “a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.”

So what’s with this horrendous knockout game that Wikipedia notes is “one of many names given by American news media to assaults in which, purportedly, one or more assailants attempt to knock out an unsuspecting victim, often with a single sucker punch, all for the amusement of the attacker(s) and their accomplice(s).”

Police think that a recent victim of this game was a pregnant woman–in her seventh month–who was knocked unconscious and to the ground after her assailant hit her in the head, according to coverage in The Daily News. Doctors say both she and the baby are OK.

Conflicting Reports

empty storefrontI read everywhere how the economy has improved, the stock market is flourishing, salaries and employment are up and yet I continue to see newly empty storefronts and increasing numbers of beggars in a city that we’re told is doing better than other places. In addition, I read reports by companies that cater to the middle class, such as Macy’s, that are lowering their outlook for the year’s sales. For what reason? Because of the “sluggish demand plaguing the broader retail industry,” according to Suzanne Kapner and Shelly Banjo in The Wall Street Journal.

I don’t like feeling stuffed when I leave a restaurant, but what about the trend to pay a fortune to leave hungry? What horrible mind came up with the knockout game where the sport is picking on a defenseless person and what about the people who play? So what’s true about the economy—is it as great as some say or not?

up and down indicator

Service of Stress II

Monday, January 27th, 2014

 

office elevator with people

In just one elevator ride from the 11th to the ground floor in my office building last Thursday I witnessed two examples of extreme stress. I fear these scenes are replicated around the country.

When I entered the elevator a young woman was on her phone saying, “I thought you were children waiting for pickuppicking up the children. I’m too far away to get them. I told you. What? What? Oh no,” and she snapped off the connection. I first noticed her because she was immaculately dressed and coiffed.

After I left the building I again heard her as she spoke, this time fighting tears. She was behind me. “We’d discussed this,” she said. “I, at least, am trying to look for a job. You are busy doing other things. Why did you call me back?”

I’ll never know the outcome—whether someone picked up the children on time; whether she’ll get the job she hoped for; whether the person she was speaking with would act more responsibly in future so as to lighten her load and reduce her sress.

The other instance began a few floors down from 11 when a man entered wearing nothing but a sweater. It was 20 degrees up from 9 in the morning but still not sweater weather. I said, “Guess you’re running out for a snack,” and he replied, “No, for a smoke.” 

being yelled at workI told him I’m nobody to warn him about smoking, as I’m an ex-smoker, but….He said in a low voice, “I gave up smoking for 10 years. I just started again.” My response, “I could start again—by the second one I’d be hooked. But it’s so expensive.” He said, “It’s the office—those lawyers. They yell at me all day, ‘Do this; Get that—now!’” I said “You can’t let them kill you.”

We were on the ground floor.

The economy is doing well for some–I know plenty of people who are thriving–but obviously the news still isn’t as bright for others. These two people looked earnest and serious. I wish I could help them. Have you noticed such palpable, dignified stress around you?

stress

 

Service of Buying on Principle

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

nestegg

The other week, NYC introduced its “Taxi of Tomorrow” and public advocate Bill de Blasio [Photo right, below] howled. I heard him talk about the city’s choice of foreign partner on the radio and on his website he noted that the billion dollar contract for “the exclusive right to manufacture New York’s taxis” is going to a business that operates in Iran. It’s one of a dozen car companies on de Blasio’s “Iran Watch List” that “targets businesses that operate in Iran and undermine economic sanctions.”

bill-de-blasioThe website quotes de Blasio: “You cannot do business with the people of New York City with one hand, and prop up the dangerous regime in Tehran with the other. For our billion dollars, taxpayers and taxi riders deserve a guarantee that ____ will stop selling its vehicles to Iran.” I put the space in the quote although de Blasio identifies the company on his blog.

When I’ve met investment advisors, they’ve asked me if there are any companies or industries I wouldn’t want to support. It’s a good question for many reasons. Some might forget and inadvertantly invest in–and be accused of insider trading–stock in a company the firm they work for advises. Cigarette or arms manufacturers might be on the “no” list for others.

made-in-usaThere’s a side issue to de Blasio’s point that’s worth a mention even if off-topic. I identified the car manufacturer to a friend who observed: “Why didn’t the city pick an American brand?” As I began to write I also remembered a buy American initiative where participating manufacturers hung the red, white and blue “Made in America” tag with logo on clothing, appliances and other products. Would this be unfitting today?

In wartime, many won’t buy anything made by their enemy. Some have longer memories than others and children often keep up their parents’ boycotts. Is such a consideration anti-business and therefore inappropriate in a tight economy? Or do we have no enemies?

Are there things you won’t invest in, buy, attend or support on principle, or is such thinking so yesterday?

picket-line

Service of Financial Rating Agencies

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

credit-score

The Standard & Poor’s downgrade of US debt sent shivers down spines. Frank Paine [known previously on this blog as Zachary], a retired Federal Reserve Examiner and international commercial banking officer, describes the world of financial rating agencies. He covers where and how they started, how they are used to analyze other industries and governments and he shares his opinion of how useful their conclusions are. 

He wrote:

An old friend who knows my background, and who is himself a retired international banker, recently asked me: “As a credit guy, what is your take on S & P’s downgrade?” He continued, “My initial reaction was positive, but what does it mean if, in fairness, they have to downgrade everybody else except Switzerland?” 

With a wonderful sense of irony, he followed this question with “Hope all is well.”  [He was referring to something else, but his choice of words and timing was wonderful!]

switzerlandWhat a great question!  There are a lot of interesting angles to this issue.  To start with, I’m not even sure about Switzerland, but doesn’t that raise the question of what use the ratings are if every country is rated the same?  They are useless if we can’t use them to distinguish varying levels of credit risk.

My understanding is that the system for rating publicly issued securities came into being quite some decades ago in large measure as a function of insurance company regulation.  The public policy issue was the companies’ solvency for paying claims (liability companies) or benefits (life companies).  It was thought that citizens buying policies were not capable of understanding the level of risk in insurance company balance sheets, and therefore there should be a way of measuring and communicating that level of risk that would not require “buyers to beware.” A corollary to this notion was that insurance companies should not be risk takers.

insurance1Over the years, regulators (and others) found that these ratings could have other useful applications, such as, for example, measuring the degree of risk in commercial banks’ bond portfolios. And indeed, many “players” in the finance industry found that it was easier and cheaper to measure their risk by depending on the ratings.  Even commercial banks, once places that were expected to do their own credit analysis, found (lazily) that they could outsource their credit risk management.  Instead of duplicating the agencies’ analytical work, they could simply borrow it, saving their own analysis for business that was not publicly traded.  In recent years, the agencies have developed a system for rating securities that are not publicly traded.  I am not an expert on this, but I gather that they have developed statistically based models that they feel are acceptable proxies for the publicly traded situation.   

But how does all this work when considering sovereign risks?  What statistical basis can one find for assessing the credit risk of sovereign states?  We know that they occasionally go into default, but do they go bankrupt?  Bankruptcy is a legal status, not a financial status.  To what court do you take a sovereign defaulter to get it to acknowledge bankruptcy?  None, of course…they don’t declare bankruptcy.  They default perhaps, or terms get adjusted, sometimes “haircuts” get applied, interest rates get reduced, and so forth, but they never declare bankruptcy.

Let’s take this a step further. With corporate business, there is a huge database of financial performance.  Using multiple discriminant analysis, one can even define the probability that specified factors will affect the probability of default and bankruptcy.  Can one duplicate this for sovereign states?  I would say “no,” because the database is simply not big enough.  And I think this is where the agencies slipped, basically because they put too much faith in their own models, and assumed that they could identify the factors leading to default, and then apply relevant probabilities.  The probabilities were highly flawed.

world-mapSo, how should one consider sovereign risk?  Sovereign risks are inherently political, and so the ratings must reflect political analysis, something that financial analysts are notoriously not very good at.  Heaven knows that political factors are what determine whether or how a country will go into default-the present state of things in the EEU provides an excellent example.

I believe that it is an error to think that rating systems designed for the management of corporate risk can be applied to sovereign risk.  Sovereign risks should have their own, separate rating system, based on political factors rather than financial factors.  Whether this can in fact be achieved is questionable, but the attempt might be worth the effort.  It probably should be done by separate agencies, thus avoiding possible conflicts of interest.

So, to summarize, all is not well.  This field needs a lot of work.

If Frank Paine is correct–that a country’s financial strength and stability should be looked at by a rating agency specializing in the analysis of sovereign states, not in financial institutions and corporations–was  the S & P downgrade more of a public relations slap than an accurate analysis? Do you think that most people have an idea that the economy is in deep dish distress without confirmation by a rating agency? Do you fear that we are on the brink of panic? Will the Wall Street protesters have any affect in redressing our problems?

wall-street-protestors

Service of Pet Peeves II

Monday, July 18th, 2011

grrrrrr

I posted 11 pet peeves a year ago May and thought I’d exhausted my list but obviously, I left out a few. It feels so good to write about what annoys! So here are a dozen more.

 **I don’t like to be flimflammed and that’s how I feel when the stock market goes up on a day with dire financial and political news: Moody’s threatened to reduce this country’s credit rating which would cost us all a tremendous amount of money; there were terrorist killings in Mumbai; gridlock caused by childish political posturing continued unabated on Capitol Hill with debt ceiling deadlines looming; Spain, Greece, Ireland and Italy were patching up the tatters of their economic quilts with little result.

I am not satisfied with the reason given for this up tick: That nine of 11 corporations reported fabulous second quarter earnings that day [more about this below]. To ignore what’s going on outside is like envisioning a woman dressed for a ball, perfect hair and gown but the house has just been pushed to a precipice by a tornado. When she opens the door, instead of stepping out to the walk, she falls into an abyss. 

light-bulb1 **Repetition of misinformation to strike out at an adversary works because people would rather not be bothered by facts. President Obama did not sign the bill eliminating inefficient incandescent light bulbs in favor of  the energy efficient kind-President Bush did–and yet conservatives repeatedly use this as the glaring example of how government increasingly encroaches on our private lives. Maybe it does, but if you are going to blame President Obama, pick another example please.

Isn’t the more important story here–and another peeve–that this bill was the perfect excuse for corporations like General Electric to close US plants that made incandescent light bulbs therefore putting hundreds out of work last year when the timing couldn’t be worse? By moving manufacturing to China, they lowered the cost of making the bulbs. And they can charge more for the energy efficient kind. Along with loopholes that allow GE to dodge taxes, it explains why some of the corporations in the peeve above are doing so well, but at what cost to the economy and to us, to everyone but their stockholders and management? 

links **I am fussy about who I link to or befriend so it’s annoying when someone asks me to join their network on LinkedIn or Facebook and they don’t remind me how I know them. They lazily click the option that shoots out an email message like “Maisey Dokes has indicated you are a Friend: I’d like to add you to my professional network.” It would take a second to add something like “We’re both on the sponsorship committee,” or “I met you at the event at Hearst.” If I see someone on the street who has no reason to remember me, I say, “Hello, Frieda, Jeanne Byington. How are you?”  Or I might introduce myself to someone and say, “You work with my friend Nancie Steinberg. She tells me we have a lot in common.” Trying to link or befriend me is no different.

 **It drives me nuts when people don’t use their car’s right or left turn signal. There are certain congested places where it’s essential and it’s very selfish when a driver doesn’t or waits to the very last minute. I can’t enter traffic if I don’t know if their car is going straight ahead. If it’s turning into the store’s parking area that I’m exiting, I could drive out. Being self-centered not only holds me up but all the cars now lined up behind me.

curve-in-road**On the subject of cars, there are idiotic road signs that make me wonder if the person who installed them has a brain. We pass a little town on Route 82 in Dutchess County where we’re asked to drive at 45mph. The “resume speed” sign comes right before a hairpin turn where if you went 55mph, goodness knows where you’d land.

 **I resent it when someone infringes on my time by creating a false deadline so it affects how I triage my time to meet it. How do I know? They ask for information, a report, photos or copy by a certain date but when I submit what’s due, I get a bounce back email telling me that they are out of the office at a conference or on vacation and will get back with me next week.

dont-waste**Waste drives me nuts. I get the feeling that there are stacks of boondoggles we will never hear about. If we could eliminate them, we could leave critical programs intact.  According to ABC News: “A $1.2 million federal highway program that sent employees on a 17-day globe-trotting journey to photograph different billboards was suspended Tuesday — an announcement that came after ABC News alerted the U.S. Department of Transportation that it planned to air a report on the program.” In addition: “The initiative, known as the International Scan Program, has been sending federal and state transportation employees to popular foreign tourist destinations for the past decade with the goal of studying how other countries handle the challenges of running major highway networks.” Each trip cost $300,000.

 **If you work in a medical facility, please always be pleasant. It makes a difference. And pay attention to what you say especially if your job is repetitive. I picked up some x-rays from a radiology place where the desk staff is used to saying, “Sign this and sit down and wait for your name to be called.”

So when the administrator asked me to sign for the x-rays she said, “Sign this and sit down.” I replied, “But I planned to leave now,”  confirming that there wasn’t something else for me to do while there. Not realizing that she’d told me to sit down she got testy and nasty in her dismissal.

 **I agree with a friend who says that it should be a felony to use the word awesome.

muffin-top **Average looking or shapeless people shouldn’t wear super trendy clothes. I cringe looking at them as I do when hearing a terrible comedian or a speaker try an unfunny joke. Some women on magazine and newspaper style pages are over-gussied with legs akimbo on skyscraper shoes that make them take awkward poses so as not to crash–so unnecessary. And those low-scooped, too-tight t-shirts over rings of fat are puzzles. T-shirts and tops come in a range of sizes or don’t some people realize it?

**Tired of reading about the annoying Valley girl sing song? The deliberate high speed chatter/swallowed words affectation that some young people use, especially when copied by older people so as to appear to be young, registers high on my list of peeves.

 **I will boycott media that pays Casey Anthony one cent for an interview. I don’t think the press should pay for news to begin with.

Do let loose on your pet peeves! You’ll feel better getting them off your chest–promise!

I'm All Ears

I'm All Ears

Service of the Pulse of Christmas 2010

Monday, December 20th, 2010

christmasscene

Here are some observations of this holiday season:

**I passed by a silent Salvation Army bell ringer yesterday and looked to see why he was quiet and if he was OK. He was texting.

inline**An officemate, Bambe Levine, told me about her happy experience at J. Crew. She went to return some boots last week and had 20 minutes to spend before her lunch date. Her heart sank when she saw a line that, in spite of a generous number of cashiers, promised to take at least 40. She asked a manager if she might leave the boots and return to wait in line after lunch. The manager said to her, “Let me take care of it,” and did so immediately.

**Meanwhile, I tried for several days to buy a gift at a boutique in Grand Central Station. Can’t go into too much detail as 1) the recipient reads these posts and 2) I don’t bash brands here. The staff was pleasant yet clueless. I hung around for over half an hour waiting for one to bring the size I requested from basement storage. Nobody seemed to realize that people have other things to do. Eventually, I told the cashier that I had to get back to the office and she suggested I return after work, which I did. The item wasn’t upstairs yet. She promised the basement retrieval man would call me. He never did. I gave it another try on Friday and this cashier couldn’t have been nicer, more apologetic, and she repeated how responsible the man is both before and after she found the gift in the back room. To sweeten my mood [my face wasn’t happy when I had to wait at the back of the line to pay], she gave me her employee discount.

**Unforgiving sticky price labels continue to plague gifts I buy. The hairdryer trick to dry the adhesive so I can scrape off the price works although it takes forever; burns my fingers and gets glue on the appliance. This year, the heat melted some of the packaging which is annoying. Simple solutions: Barcodes on sticky labels combined with prices clearly marked on store shelves just as they are in grocery stores.

**Garish, tasteless trees are the style in office lobbies this year-minus gifts for children that have been there for as long as I can remember. What a sad turn of events. Some tinsel is better than nothing. It could be June in the lobby of my office building where there’s not the tiniest nod to the season. Menorah lights and a simple wreath–I know just the place–would cheer.

xmas2010wreathsmall2**An anemone greenhouse/tree farm outside Rhinebeck, NY has traditionally sold beautifully decorated wreaths. Normally, if you don’t go early in the season, they sell out. We dropped by yesterday on a whim. They still had quite a selection, and the wreaths were slightly discounted.

**ABC TV covered the Santa letters program in “Sad Santa Letters Tell of Economic Woes, USPS Says. New York’s Operation Santa Chief Says More Letters This Year Asking for Coats, Food.” Pete Fontana, who directs the USPS New York Operation Santa, said: “Though many considered last year to be the toughest financially since the economic downturn, it appears that more people are struggling this year, both from the letters and the decreased amount of volunteers who sign up to fulfill some of the writers’ wishes.” There’s a website of participating post offices if you want to pick up a letter and fulfill the wishes of some of the neediest writers. Wouldn’t it be great to win the lottery in time to pick up all those letters and fulfill the wishes?

 Any changes–good and bad–or observations to share about this holiday season?

santaletter

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