Grocery stores are about to shrink, according to the New York Times.
The opening of smaller stores upends a long-running trend in the grocery business: building ever-larger stores in the belief that consumers want choice above all. While the largest traditional grocery stores tend to be about 85,000 square feet, some cavernous warehouse-style stores and supercenters are two or three times that size.
Statistics compiled by the Food Marketing Institute show that the average size of a grocery store dipped slightly in 2007 -- to a median of 47,500 square feet -- after 20 years of steady growth.
Next week, one of these smaller groceries opens in Plymouth, Mass., says the Boston Globe:
According to the Market's managing director, Michael Szathmary, the Market is part of a larger trend that has taken hold across the country; the trend is a response to consumers who feel put off by "the impersonal nature of mega stores."
Perhaps -- if you're old enough -- you recognize what's going on here: the '50s, and a return to the "experience" of customer service.
What's next? Will someone pump the gasoline for you at the gas station (after checking the oil, of course)? Movie theater popcorn that's actually made in the theater (and not dumped out of a bag)?(7 Comments)
Who gets more earmarks -- Alaska or Minnesota?
Minnesota, and it's not close, according to a database of 2008 earmarks from the Office of Management and Budget. In fact, Minnesota this year is second only to California in earmark money.
Alaska has been in the earmark news because of Sarah Palin's insistence that she was against the Bridge to Nowhere after she was for it.
Alaska has 119 earmarks so far in 2008, more than Minnesota's 96. But Minnesota's total pork -- if you buy the notion that earmarks are pork -- is $362 million, compared with Alaska's $155 million.
$195 million of that was the new I-35W bridge. Another $7 million or so was various highway projects.
$1.8 million was directed to the Army Corps of Engineers in Stillwater. One of the sponsors of that project? Rep. Michele Bachmann. "I have taken a bipartisan pledge to not seek any earmarks this year and am working with like-minded Republicans and Democrats to reform this system which has become little more than a political favor factory at taxpayer expense," Rep. Bachmann says on her Web site.
But unlike Minnesota, the biggest share of Alaska's "pork" is in health and human services programs, including patient care services and mental health programs.
There is the occasional questionable program for which Alaska received money -- the robotic astrobiology program, for example -- but it was sponsored by a California politician.
Another sends $2 million for improvements to the Akutan Airport.
This is the Akutan Airport, according to a search of Picasa photo collections:
Although Sen. John McCain says -- correctly -- that he's never accepted an earmark, Arizona still gets money via earmarks -- $65 million so far this year for such projects as diabetes research, "web-based exhibits" for a museum, and the Tucson basin drainage project. All come by way of Arizona's other senator -- John Kyl (a Republican) -- and the state's evenly-split congressional delegation.
Still, the fact that Gov. Tim Pawlenty's state is the second-biggest recipient of earmarks could -- one imagines -- have made for Palin-like scrutiny had McCain chosen Pawlenty as his running mate. "When he stood up to special interests, and fought against earmarks and pork-barrel spending in Congress, John McCain put our country first!" Pawlenty declared when he spoke to the Republican National Convention last week, raising the possibility that those officials who accepted the money didn't.(11 Comments)
The new I-35W bridge opens next week and after a pause to remember the victims of the calamity, and tip a hat or two to the people who built the new bridge in record time, it will be time to look back and ask this question: Did the state really have to throw a boatload of money at the project to get it built so fast?
After the shock of the collapsed bridge subsided, the initial reaction was that losing a major interstate bridge through the heart of the state's largest city would be a nightmare. Traffic would come to a standstill.
There were many heroes in the aftermath of bridge collapse, but some of them have gone unheralded: the engineers and transportation planners who figured out a system that ultimately would make the absence of the bridge an inconvenience to most people. (See the traffic map)
Here were the keys:
Much of the increased service was paid for with an emergency federal grant, so the service increases will stay until the end of the year. Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons told me this afternoon he expects ridership to hold steady even after the bridge reopens, partly because of the increase in gasoline prices.
Hindsight is 20-20 and few people (if any) were predicting that things would be so relatively smooth during the I-35W bridge's absence.
So little more than a month after the tragedy, state officials awarded a contract for a new bridge to a firm that wasn't the low bidder on the project. They desperately wanted a bridge completed fast, to avoid the nightmare scenario that, as it turned out, never developed.
The project was originally estimated to cost $200-$250 million. It ended up pushing $400 million. The company building the bridge gets $200,000 a day for every day the bridge is finished before December 24, with a limit of 100 days' of payments. That's $20 million. If the bridge opens next Tuesday, as expected, it will open 100 days early.
The firm also got another $7 million for not asking for any more money to complete the bridge.
The losing bidders for the bridge project, also got hundreds of thousands of dollars in walk-away money, to encourage them to bid for the project on short notice.
There was, of course, a cost associated with the collapse on the traveling public. The state estimated it would cost motorists $400,000 a day. Although the delays were not what officials had expected, the bonus payments were calculated by dividing that number in half. Nonetheless, officials are still quoting the $400,000 figure.
Similarly, a truckers association had estimated it would cost $125,000 in lost time and extra fuel. On the other hand, it forced delivery operations to be even more efficient, which may have an added benefit once the new bridge opens.
Could the bridge have been built for less? The losing bidders say it could have. Could motorists have put up with the current situation for months more? Sure.
But who knew?(5 Comments)