New and Old #136
Friday roundup and commentary
This is a beautiful essay, and also a fascinating little window into the actual business of grocery stores:
Mr. Williams, who died in 2020 at the age of 82, made it clear at the outset that he would fire you for any one of several transgressions. The first was stealing. If I wanted a Twinkie during our break, he told me the day he hired me, I would have to pay for it; if he found out that I’d filched so much as a 10-cent package of Nabs, he’d let me go without remorse. Once I’d been trained to order stock, another cardinal sin would be to run out of staple items before a holiday. If there was no Duncan Hines Butter Golden on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, customers could buy the Betty Crocker version or even bake a different kind of cake. But if I ran out of, say, cooking oil, he’d put me on notice, and the next time it happened, I’d be looking for other employment. Ditto for over-ordering nonessential items and letting them expire. Last but by no means least: every item on every shelf had to be fronted. He would walk my aisle first thing every morning, and he expected to see two solid walls of readable labels, everything right side up, no visible gaps anywhere. He said he would not tolerate sloppiness, that our customers deserved better.
What looks like a maybe over-exacting boss turns out to be someone who deeply cares about his customers, who are largely black and working class. The boss understands how much it matters for the grocery store to be clean, pleasant, and well-stocked when you’re swinging by at the end of a long work day.
Read the whole thing.
One of the key dynamics in today’s economy is the overfed middleman, whether Google, Ticketmaster, Vizient, Amazon, pipeline giants, or any other mediator that controls an industry. This week, a major antitrust decision came down, and it’s one targeting key middlemen in our housing markets. Specifically, a jury found that the National Association of Realtors, the main lobby for real estate agents, has engaged in a multi-billion dollar conspiracy to inflate the cost of broker commissions, which has distorted our housing markets.
I have no idea how much of the price inflation in housing has to do with the business of real-estate transactions versus the supply shortfall; I expect not too much, but there’s no question the consumer comes last.
Stoller doesn’t say the role of realtor should just go away, either; his problem is with the cartel-ish behavior of NAR. This is an interesting piece. A lot of urbanists and housing advocates have limited knowledge of the business side of real estate, so I think it’s important to read stuff like this.
Credit pandemic boredom (Skelly hit the market in the summer of 2020); Skelly’s unusually impressive size; or maybe the fact that skeletons are, quite literally, bare bones enough to work with nearly any style of home or decorative display. Whatever the case, Skelly’s star has thoroughly blasted through the usual limitations of plastic pumpkins, Styrofoam grave markers and other All Hallows adornments. He makes year-round appearances at bar mitzvahs, graduations and, with the right seasonal flair, holidays such as Christmas and the Fourth of July.
The problem for his handlers back at Home Depot: Skelly has achieved such dizzying levels of celebrity that they can’t find an act to follow him.
Interesting; I would have sworn they’d been selling these things for at least 20 years, and I feel like I’ve heard people use “12-foot skeletons” as a byword for overzealous front-yard décor. Maybe not. Memory is a funny thing.
Acquiring multiple Skellies is hardly out of the norm. When the 12-foot skeletons first came on the market in 2020, Donna Kerr, a D.C.-area real estate agent and Halloween fanatic, knew she had to invest. “I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s have an army. So I bought 10 of them and, and six of them have been permanently installed in my front yard since then,” Kerr says.
She lends the other four to her daughter’s school during spooky season, or puts them to work as props in her real estate listings. Nothing shows off a generous ceiling height quite like staging a home with a 12-foot skeleton inside, she explains.
The retail-business angle here is interesting. I never thought about these things as unique products, really. They all bleed—so to speak—together for me.
I feel like I read this in a science-fiction story once:
An artificial intelligence company, whose founder Forbes included in a 30 Under 30 list recently, promises to use machine learning to convert clients’ 2D illustrations into 3D models. In reality the company, called Kaedim, uses human artists for “quality control.” According to two sources with knowledge of the process interviewed by 404 Media, at one point, Kaedim often used human artists to make the models. One of the sources said workers at one point produced the 3D design wholecloth themselves without the help of machine learning at all.
There’s a more abstract and kind of spooky point here: the internet has a physical substrate. You can’t transcend the real world.
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