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Opinion: Financial Literacy Critical as World Goes Cashless

November 7, 2018 Crime, Featured, Politics/Policy, Retail Comments Off on Opinion: Financial Literacy Critical as World Goes Cashless
Shake Shack is one of the places mentioned as going/being cashless. Since we use plastic I have no clue if they accept cash or not.

The recent non-scientific Sunday Poll was about cashless businesses — establishments where you need plastic (debit/credit) to purchase goods/services. I current live essentially a cashless life — save for one $2 PowerBall ticket per month. After having paid off mountains of credit card debt the 2nd time I vowed to never have credit cards again. Then, in 2012, I sold my car. For a few years prior I didn’t use bills & coins, just my debit card. Once I sold my car I knew I needed a dreaded credit card again to be able to rent a card at times.

My parents, both now deceased, were raised in Oklahoma during the Great Depression/Dust Bowl. They tried very hard to instill good money management habits in me. I listed…then did all the wrong things over and over. I was never a fan of cash, though I still remember going with my dad as a kid when he bought a used van from an individual. They haggled on the price and when they agreed on a number my dad pulls out his wallet from the bib in his work overalls. He then proceeded to count out the $5,o00-$6,000 amount in $100 bills. Today people would think they were counterfeit, but it was like 1981 and people were more trusting. The seller had a shocked look on his face because my dad never looked like he had much to his name — but he usually had a few thousand in cash on him. I rarely have more than $5 on me.

Since my stroke and father’s passing in 2008, and selling my car & meeting my husband in 2012, I’ve applied all the financial advice my parents gave me. I do things differently than they did, however. We pay for everything we can on credit cards. This allows me to do a monthly cash flow spreadsheet for the next month. I know when each payment is due and when we each get paid. By paying off all cards on the due date we don’t pay any interest. In fact, we basically borrow a couple of thousand dollars each month interest free.

I know a person who received a small amount from social security every month. The government stopped mailing checks long ago, and she can’t manage a checking account with or without a debit card. She got her benefits through a checking cashing place that charged high fees to receive her money electronically and convert it into cash for her. For those like her  they can receive benefits on a government debit card — no checking account required.  Still, it’s hard for people who’re used to carrying cash to adjust to non-cash on a debit-only or checking account. I’ve been trying to educate my brother-in-law for a few years now.

Which brings me to cashless businesses. I got on this topic because of the homeless asking me for change. I barely have a $5, and certainly don’t have any coins. I recognize it’s unlikely they realize the world is going cashless. Think of all the things that require plastic: renting scooters/bikes, parking apps, transit fare machines?, Redbox/Netflix.  There are non-attended gas stations, like the one at Broadway & Chouteau, that only accepts credit cards.

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I worked retail for about 6 years when I was in high school & college, thankfully never encountered a robbery. For a few years I was one of the people that went to the registers at Toys “R” Us to remove excess cash during the holidays.

Last week one local retail clerk wasn’t so lucky.

An armed robber opened fire inside a Dollar General store in St. Louis Thursday afternoon, hitting and killing a store clerk, police said. (Post-Dispatch)

Going cashless can reduce crime.

In Sweden, which is leading the race toward a cashless society, negative attitudes toward the decline in cash usage has increased as the country progresses toward a cashless society. Although cash is still used extensively in several countries, such as Austria and Germany, the use of physical cash is diminishing across the board.

Even the U.S., where cash accounts for one-third of all purchases, the use of cash is declining. But at the same time, the amount of cash being issued is growing. Forty years ago there was approximately $80 billion of cash in circulation. Today, this number has increased nearly 20 times, to roughly $1.5 trillion in circulation. In the same period, the amount of $100 bills has increased from 25 percent in the mid-1970s to around 80 percent today.

The obvious explanation is inflation. However, the increase has exceeded inflation — with a good margin. According to economist and author Kenneth Rogoff, the world is drowning in cash, and it is making us poorer and less safe. He argues in his book The Curse of Cash that this phenomenon is not an American phenomenon, but also the case for every other widely used currency — and the primary explanation is that cash is the preferred means of value exchange in the black-market economy. His solution? Phase out the larger bills. (Techcrunch)

Of course cash is also the currency for legal medical & recreational marijuana — because retailers can’t get back accounts because of outdated federal drug laws.

I don’t want cash-only people to be excluded from society, but increasingly being cash-only means they’re not part of the mainstream. I want to help find ways to ease them into new habits. So do the credit card companies. They make their money from fees charged on every transaction. Those of us with excellent credit scores can get rewards cards to offset fees but most don’t qualify for these cards.

This is a long way of saying I have no clue about banning cashless businesses. Would have zero impact on my life either way, but would keep many from being excluded. In the non-scientific poll most didn’t think we should ban cashless businesses:

Q: Agree or disagree: St. Louis should ban cashless businesses & discounts for paying with cash

  • Strongly agree: 2 [8%]
  • Agree: 2 [8%]
  • Somewhat agree: 3 [12%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 1 [4%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 3 [12%]
  • Disagree: 6 [24%]
  • Strongly disagree: 7 [28%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 1 [4%]

As more commerce moves online/apps the number of legal cash transactions will decline. As cash transactions decline and store robberies increase, we’ll see more businesses make the decision to go cashless.  Now is the time to increase financial literacy to help others adjust.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers Split On Schnucks’ Purchase Of 19 Shop ‘n Save Locations

September 26, 2018 Big Box, Featured, Retail, STL Region Comments Off on Readers Split On Schnucks’ Purchase Of 19 Shop ‘n Save Locations

Shop ‘n Save’s parent company, Minneapolis-based SuperValu, is selling/closing all locations — St. Louis & Springfield IL. This has been known for months, from July:

Supervalu is exiting the food retail business via a deal to sell itself to United Natural Foods Inc. for $2.9 billion.

The news comes on the same day that Supervalu announced its Q1 2019 earnings.

UNFI said it will sell off Supervalu’s retail business, which comprises 3,000 stores. The company has spent more than two years executing a transformation plan aimed at returning to its wholesale roots. (Retail Leader)

From February 2016:

United Natural Foods, a primary distributor for Whole Foods, distributes natural, organic and specialty food to a variety of grocery and natural product stores. It works with brands including Clif Bar, Annie’s, Bob’s Red Mill and Horizon Organic. The Providence, R.I. -based company also reported preliminary second quarter results Monday that fell below analyst expectations, as competition in the organic and natural food space continues to grow. (USA Today)

Shop ‘n Save has been headquartered in Kirkwood for years, but has been owned by out of state interests for more than a quarter century:

Shop ’n Save was founded in 1979 as a grocery store in Belleville, Illinois, near St. Louis, Missouri. The chain now includes 33 stores in the St. Louis metropolitan area, and 3 additional stores in Springfield, Illinois.

In 1983, the retail chain was acquired by Wetterau, Inc. Nine years later, in 1992, Wetterau was acquired by SuperValu, and Shop ’n Save has been a subsidiary of SuperValu since. (Wikipedia)

Wetterau was based in the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood. The Wetterau family has a long history in St. Louis:

George Wetterau moved to St. Louis in 1867 at the age of 17 to join his brother in a small retail grocery business. In 1868, he began working for J. F. Lauman & company, a local wholesale grocery company and he bought the company a year later, with a partner, Frank Goebel. They formed Goebel and Wetterau Grocery Company with their wholesale office located at 712 South Second Street. In 1899, the two dissolved their partnership and George formed G. H. Wetterau & Sons Grocer Company. In 1923, Otto Wetterau, one of his sons, took over the company. He changed the name to Wetterau Grocer Company and took advantage of new forms of transportation and warehouse equipment to expand rapidly. He was one of the first to provide wholesale warehousing of produce. During the Depression, when many grocery stores went out of business, Wetterau became affiliated with the Independent Grocer’s Alliance (IGA). In 1953, Theodore C. Wetterau succeeded his brother Otto as president and added other independent supermarket chains to the organization. The company then became involved in non-food items, added a bakery division, printing division, trucking division and developed its own finance, insurance and construction companies. Wetterau was supplying food to stores in 29 states, when in 1993, Minneapolis, Minnesota-based SUPERVALU, Inc. acquired it to become the nation´s largest food wholesaler. At this time Ted Wetterau, Theodore’s son was president. Before the deal, Supervalu was the second-largest distributor and Wetterau ranked third. Ted Wetterau and his sons, Mark and Conrad then started Wetterau Associates, a holding company in Brentwood to buy and manage food-related companies. (St. Louis)

As a result of the consolidation in both the wholesale & retail grocery markets, Shop ‘n Save locations here and elsewhere will be sold or closed. Unless some other grocery chain enters the St. Louis market, others will pick up market share lost when Shop ‘n Save closes. The biggest gain will be St. Louis-based Schnucks Markets — they’re buying 19 suburban Shop ‘n Save locations. This Summer Schnucks bought the Maplewood Shop ‘n Save on Manchester, quickly reopening it as a Schnucks.

This Sho ‘n Save at 4660 Chippewa is not among the locations bought by Schnucks, it’ll close by the end of 2018 if a buyer doesn’t come forward soon.

Here are other grocery stores with at least a few locations:

  • Save-A-Lot, once also owned by Wetterau/Supervalu is now owned by Toronto-based Onex Corporation — a private equity firm.
  • Lucky’s Markets, still pretty new to the St. Louis market, is based in Boulder Colorado. A large investor is Cincinnati-based Kroeger.
  • Whole Foods is owned by Amazon.
  • Our old Food 4 Less locations became Ruler Foods locations a few years ago, Ruler is owned by Kroeger.
  • ALDI is a German company. The business was split into two separate groups in 1960, that later became Aldi Nord, headquartered in Essen, and Aldi Süd, headquartered in Mülheim. The latter is the group that operates ALDI stores in the U.S.
  • Trader Joe’s is owned by a private family trust associated with Aldi Nord (not the Aldi that operates ALDI in the U.S.).
  • Fields Foods has one location right now, but will soon open others in Dogtown and Downtown West.
  • Privately-owned local grocer Straub’s Markets has 4 locations.  Straub’s had a short-lived 5th location in suburban Ellisville, but in closed in October 2009.
  • Dierbergs Markets, also locally/privately owned, has 25 stores in Missouri & Illinois.

Readers were split on the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: Adding 19 Shop ‘n Save locations will make Schnucks too dominant in the St. Louis regional grocery market.

  • Strongly agree 4 [11.76%]
  • Agree 5 [14.71%]
  • Somewhat agree 5 [14.71%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 4 [11.76%]
  • Somewhat disagree 3 [8.82%]
  • Disagree 8 [23.53%]
  • Strongly disagree 5 [14.71%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

The agree votes total 41.18% with the disagree side totaling 47.06%.  I voted for “slightly disagree” because while I’m not big fan of Schnucks (their development arm, DESCO, is awful about ADA accessibility) but I know that being the biggest grocery store in the region will keep outside chains in a subordinate role. My hometown of Oklahoma City is now dominated by Walmart’s Neighborhood Market chain of stand-alone grocery stores. Local chains have been reduced to rubble.

Having strong locally-owned grocery store chains, even flawed ones, is better than being at the mercy of non-local corporate interests. Just hoping the Schnucks family doesn’t decide to cash out at some point.

— Steve Patterson

 

Alley Retail Can Work…In The Right Conditions

September 24, 2018 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Retail Comments Off on Alley Retail Can Work…In The Right Conditions

Alleys are one thing that attracted me to St. Louis in 1990, we didn’t have them in the 1960s suburban subdivision where I grew up in Oklahoma City. Interestingly, my grandparents each had alleys behind their homes in the small Western Oklahoma towns of Weatherford & Clinton. I spent a lot of time in the alleys behind their houses. Everywhere I’ve lived in St. Louis has had an alley, though for the last decade the alley has technically been St. Charles Street.

In April 2012 I posted about the streets that are really alleys parallel to Washington Ave.; St. Charles Street to the South & Lucas Ave to the North.  A year later New Brewery Improves Alley-Like Lucas Ave.

A recent “Where am I?” photo on Facebook raised interesting issues about alleys, and led me to ban someone from commenting on the page. Let me explain.

I posted the photo to the right on Facebook (blog’s cover image) with the caption “Where am I?” There were right & wrong guesses as to the location — it’s off of Locust St. between 10th-11th. One of the comments was “A sketchy alley about to get mugged by a homeless guy with a shank.  Also next to the Urban Shark.” Yes, Urban Shark is attached to the Bike Station on the left. No, not at any risk of getting mugged, but many think that way about alleys.

One person commented we need to turn alleys into pedestrian-focused retail like other cities have done, citing San Francisco & New Orleans. I recall experiencing one in Vancouver years ago — great space. However, I replied that retailing has struggled downtown even on well-populated streets like Washington Ave. Later I asked him to name just one alley downtown that would make a good candidate for retail. He, we’ll call him GB, said I was bashing St. Louis and he’s seen it work well in other cities. I’ll post more on our interaction in the future, right now I want to stick to GB’s assertion we should enliven our alleys.

Our alleys, like in many cities, were planned as ways to keep unsightly business like trash disposal out of view from primary streets. Also, most of downtown’s alleys have been privatized. Certainly those who own to the rights to formerly public alleys could try to market an alley as a pedestrian-friendly retail & restaurant hub, though ownership is often split down the middle between property owners on each side.

Yes, this has worked well in other cities. So why not downtown St. Louis? First, this has been used in areas lacking vacant street-facing retail spaces.  When retail vacancy is near zero rents go up. By expanding into alleys building owners can make retail spaces in unused/unleased portions of buildings. The rents received isn’t what they get out front but it helps the bottom line. Retailers get spaces that are more affordable in their business model.

If we look at the immediate area around the alley I posted we can see lots of available storefront space. Lots.

The corner space on the building to the East is vacant. Same for the corner space on the building to the West.
Diagonally across 10th & Locust from the above, the corner of The Syndicate remains vacant.
Stefano’s former space at 504 N 10th has been vacant for 3+ years.

The South side of Washington Ave between 10th & 11th recent became fully occupied, but the North side has lots of vacancies.

The Dorsa building was renovated more than a decade ago but ground floor retail remains vacant.
The other storefront in the Dorsa is also vacant. Years ago the St. Louis convention people made the windows look nice at least.
Two months from now will mark 3 years since The Dubliner closed, the space remains vacant.
One bright spot is someone will soon be reopening Bella’s Frozen Yogurt at 1021 Washington Ave. Yay! Click the image to open their Facebook page in a new tab.

I’ve tried to think of an alley in Downtown or Downtown West that might be a good candidate. Laclede’s Landing — can’t think of one, North of the Arch/Ead’s Bridge, has done ok with an alley or two to gain access to buildings. The best local example I can think of is the Maryland Plaza alley in the Central West End.

The property owner(s) did a great job welcoming you to the back of the buildings.
A restaurant patio occupies the West end of the “alley” behind the buildings. This photo was taken on a hot Thursday afternoon, I’d imagine it’s hard to get a table here at certain times.
Looking East toward York Ave., we see a living wall to disguise the parking garage on the right.
Approaching York Ave.

This example was never a public service alley, but it does show how a small sliver of property behind a building can become an asset rather than a liability. Former service alleys can be given this same treatment, the results are often amazing.

Still doesn’t make it a good idea for downtown St. Louis. It might, if you can think of the right location.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Will Schnucks Be Too Dominant After Buying 19 Shop ‘n Save Locations?

September 23, 2018 Featured, Local Business, Retail, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Will Schnucks Be Too Dominant After Buying 19 Shop ‘n Save Locations?
Please vote below

Our local grocery scene continues to change, from last week:

Shop ‘n Save is checking out of the grocery-store business in the St. Louis region.

Schnucks Markets is purchasing 19 area Shop ‘n Save groceries owned by parent company SuperValu and will rebrand them as Schnucks stores. The remaining 17 Shop ‘n Save locations will close if SuperValu is unable to find a buyer by the end of the year.

The acquisition will boost the number of Schnucks grocery stores by 20 percent. Fifteen of the stores include pharmacies, which will also be purchased and run by Schnucks. (St. Louis Public Radio)

I was here in 1995 when Schnucks bought National Supermarkets from Canadian-based Loblaws, earlier grocery stores were before I arrived:

A previous merger in 1970 had seen Schnucks acquire the Bettendorf-Rapp chain of grocery stores—temporarily forming the Schnucks-Bettendorf’s chain (a joke was that an initially proposed name for the merged company was “Schnuckendorfs”) until the latter half of the combined name was dropped a couple of years later—just as Bettendorf’s had swallowed up the Rapp chain of stores to form Bettendorf-Rapp’s in the 1960s. Schnucks underwent a major expansion in 1995 when it purchased from Loblaws the National Supermarkets chain, also based in St. Louis.

Schnucks’ growth in the St. Louis area was bolstered by the local abandonment of two major supermarket chains: A&P in the 1970s, and Kroger in 1986. (Wikipedia)

This week’s poll is about Schnucks buying 19 Shop ‘n Save stores:

This poll will close at 8pm tonight.

— Steve Patterson

 

Our First Visit to Mau Haus Cat Cafe & Lounge

April 13, 2018 Featured, Local Business, Retail, St. Louis County Comments Off on Our First Visit to Mau Haus Cat Cafe & Lounge

Last weekend David and I were going to be in Maplewood, so we decided to visit Mau Haus — a cat cafe & lounge. We have some food & beverage while spending an hour in a room with 18 cats and about 15 strangers. It was a wonderful time, we’re ready to go back. You’re probably asking yourself what a cat cafe is…

A cat cafe is a combination of all things good; cats, coffee, and a relaxing cafe environment. You can relax and pet cats, and it’s great socialization for them too! The cats are adoptable, which means if you fall in love, you can apply to take them home!

A cat cafe is perfect for cat lovers who need a feline fix. Whether you can’t have cats at home, or you’ve already got some and are looking for more, we’ve always got great cats here!

We partner with Stray Haven Rescue for all adoptable cats at the cafe. All cats are up to date on shots, spayed / neutered, and microchipped. Learn more about their mission and how you can get involved here. (Mau Haus contact page)

The space is a typical urban corner storefront. Because they don’t wan the cats to get out the old main entrance is now an emergency exit only. The side entry is the only public entry — and it’s wheelchair accessible. There are no cats in the ordering section or kitchen. After you’ve signed the waiver, ordered, and space is available you go through the double door vestibule into the main area.

Inside Mau Haus the cats can climb on many areas designed just for them
This is Loreli — one of two resident cats. Click image to see the adoptable cats and Loreli’s brother Taylor — he’s huge!
The bookcase wall lacks books but it does have steps and holes for the cats
While she were there one cat climbed way up top by the front window
David takung a pic of one cat that jumped up on our table.
Crates near the entrance had new adoptable cats getting acclimated ro other cats, humans, etc.

Mau Haus is located at 3101 Sutton Blvd in Maplewood.  Note that reservations are recommended:

Reservations to spend time in the cafe are highly encouraged. We do allow walk-ins, but it’s likely that you will have to wait for a spot to open up. There is a minimum spend or donation of $5 for all walk ins. A reservation ensures that there will be a spot waiting for you!

There is a $10 per person reservation fee that gets you an hour in the lounge. It helps us cover the cost of maintaining the cat lounge and caring for the cats. As a bonus, you will get a free beverage (per person) and 20% off any food or additional beverages purchased. (Man Haus reservations page)

Just being in this space with strangers and lots of friendly cats was very relaxing, we’re looking forward to going again. We told our neighbor down the hall when we saw them at the elevator. Her first question was “does it smell?” No, the entire place smells like any cafe and the place was just as clean.

— Steve Patterson

 

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