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Hot Air

Petition Pushes B-foods Board

Anybody want to lay odds that Bloomingfoods will be nothing more than a fondly-recalled part of this town’s history within five years? That’s no sucker’s play. “Natural” and organic mega-grocers Lucky’s Market and Whole Foods Market are coming to town and B-foods already is feeling the pinch.

In addition to grappling with the potential unionization of its workforce and the need to shutter its underperforming Kirkwood Avenue store, the Bloomingfoods co-op is running for its life at this time.

Blame it on the vagaries of the trendy “natural” foods market or the phase of the moon if you wish. Some, though, are blaming the co-op’s Board of Directors. In fact, a petition page has been set up, demanding that the Board, well, do something. Acc’d’g to the petition, the Board has been sitting on its hands through what is described as the current  “crisis.”

One Pencil source says that because B-foods had been the only “natural” and organic grocer in town for decades, its Board has come to suffer from “extreme hubris.”

[The Pencil will not disclose the identities of many of its sources for Bloomingfoods stories because they are employees and may not wish to put their jobs at risk.]

This person explains: “Our Board has never had to do anything. They don’t have the will [or] knowledge to act.”

The petition asks the Board to “Reach out to our national association, [National Co+op Grocers (NCG)], and request an emergency peer review/audit.” The NCG, apparently, can send in volunteer General Managers from other member grocers to pore over B-foods’ books, interview management and employees, and assess things like merchandising, buying, and pricing. The vol GMs then would file a report with recommendations for a course of action.

Should the Board take the petition-signers’ advice and apply for a NCG review, they’d better hurry. Even Kroger has upped its commitment to “natural” and organic foods of late. In fact, the east side Kroger Theme Park’s organics section is as big as any of Bloomingfoods’ entire locations. Kroger has gone all-in on “naturals” and organics. Its overall sales in that category for 2014 reached to between $3-4 billion. Kroger’s organic house brand, Simple Truth®, accounted for a billion dollars in sales last year.

Mainstream customers here who have shied away from crunchy grocers like Bloomingfoods are embracing the trend at their preferred neighborhood Kroger. And while many Bloomingfoods customers are driven to remain loyal for moral and ethical reasons, many others who simply want “clean” foods likely will get their grub at Kroger rather than make the trip to B-foods.

A quick lesson in label designations: I put “natural” in quotation marks because there is no legal or regulatory definition of the term. Many consumers define “natural” foods as those without chemical additives, ignoring the scientific fact that things like water (H2O) or table salt (NaCl) are themselves chemicals. Organics, on the other hand, are strictly controlled by the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program. The growing, processing, packaging, handling, and merchandising of certified organic foods all must meet the NOP’s rigid standards.


The USDA’s Official Organic Program Logo

BTW: much of the NOP body of regulations was written, essentially, by Whole Foods Market. The Organic Foods Production Act was passed into law by Congress in 1990, calling for regulations covering organic farming practices and the publication of lists of allowed and forbidden ingredients. The NOP took effect in 2000. During that ten-year period, Whole Foods was essentially the only game in town — or, more accurately, the nation — when it came to organic retailing.

Anyway, business and food store co-op expert, Keith Taylor of Indiana University’s Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, set up the petition. You can hear him explain the situ. tomorrow afternoon on WFHB. As soon as I get more info on the time and show, I’ll pass it on.

Time Flies

Make sure to catch this piece on photographer Jeff Wolin’s fascinating study of Bloomington’s citizens. Wolin snapped pix of Pigeon Hill  folk back in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Then he did it again with many from the same cast of characters some 20 years later. Pigeon Hill is a small stretch of shotgun houses northwest of downtown Bloomington, on the other side of Rogers Street. Suffice it to say professors and doctors do not live there.

Tempus fugit, babies, and that maxim has been brought home dramatically through Wolin’s lens. Here’s a taste:

Images/Jeffrey A.  Wolin

A young fellow named Timmie in the neighborhood, 1991, and Timothy in 2012 at Wabash Valley prison — Images by Jeffrey A. Wolin

See more of Wolin’s pix at Pictura Galley, on the Square, through May 30th.

Who Runs This Town?

Perhaps one of the lawyers or pols who read these almost-daily screeches can clear something up. Yesterday I spoke with someone purportedly in the know. This person said that as far back as the Frank McCloskey administration here in this thriving, throbbing megalopolis, there was an understanding that real estate developers have held an absolute upper hand in any negotiations with the city.

That is, if a developer and construction company partnership came along and proposed to erect a mixed-use hotel, grocery store, and opium den at the corner of, say, Indiana and Kirkwood avenues, well, then within a year or two there would stand at that intersection just such a structure — let’s call it The Blooming-den Suites. And no matter how many citizens would object to a grocery store standing there, or how many city council members would rant and rave about the loss of a row of forsythia bushes at that location, the real estate partnership would get its way.

Developers and construction cos., this person observed, were — and are — as powerful as gods. Their will, in other words, be done.

In fact, this person swore, Frank McCloskey gathered the city’s planning commissioners one day in his office and said:

I won’t tell you what to do but I will say this — when a big development plan comes in, no matter how much it violates our dearly-held “character” or flouts our zoning guidelines, if we nix it, then that developer will sue our pants off. And we don’t have enough money to pay for those legal fees even if we win.

Hmm. This is one of those stories that sounds really good. The world is rife with avaricious money and concrete men who are dead-set on ruining our quaint small town. And the valiant, embattled mayor, realizing the deck is stacked, sadly explains the facts-of-life to his people.

These facts of life, my source attested, are in play today even more than they were back in Frank McCloskey’s day.

So, is there anyone out there with the guts to admit this or the credibility to deny it?


Hot Air

The Amazon Reign

[I wrote this Monday and sat on it. Since then every news peddler on Earth has beaten the bejesus out of me on it but so what? Here it is, updated.]

I’ve got a couple of horses in this race, considering I work at Bloomington’s last independent bookseller, the Book Corner, and I’m a book author. When it comes to buying a book on Amazon or copping it at our humble establishment, you know which way I’ll nudge you.

Mind you, I’m not four-square against things like online retail or e-books. I buy eyeglass frames, shoes, undies, and — yes — books via my MacBook. In fact, I’ve even published an e-book. I don’t make a big deal about it, though, because it wasn’t very good. Nevertheless, I’ll e-publish again.

But Amazon? Bah.

The world’s largest online retailer — on which everything up to but excluding the air that you breathe (and don’t hold your breath that that won’t change soon) is for sale — is waging a very public, very bloody war with one of the world’s largest book publishing outfits, the Paris-based Hachette. The two gargantuan companies are battling over who gets to set the price for the books you want to buy through Amazon.

Meanwhile, all but a precious few authors continue to count their pennies and eat at least one meal of ramen noodles a week.


A Typical Author’s Midnight Snack

The book racket operates thusly: Let’s say the the Godly Press is putting out the latest bestseller, My White Heaven, the story of some bratty kid who claims he died and went to heaven while in surgery, survived the ordeal, told his preacher dad about it, and now the old man is making the rounds telling us Obamacare is a fascist plot and sodomy is being taught in our public schools. Godly Press sets the price for the book at, say, $16.95. The book is then offered through a national distributor like Ingram which offers little guys like the Book Corner a 40 percent discount. So, we pay $10.17 for each copy of the book.

We, then, can charge you the full suggested retail price for the book and make a tidy $6.78 for every copy sold. Or we can offer it at a retail discount, say 1o percent, meaning you can buy the book from us for $15.26. We used to offer nice little discounts like that at the Book Corner but then the attractive and charming staff threatened owner, Margaret, with bodily harm if she didn’t bump our yearly wages up over the six-figure mark. Now the Book Corner has discontinued its discounts and we booksellers dine on filet mignon and caviar nightly.

BTW: big retailers like Barnes & Noble and national grocery chains get much, much, much sweeter deals from Ingram and the publishers themselves, ergo their ability to offer 25 percent discounts and more on big bestsellers.

Anyway, the publisher sets the price but allows the retailer to charge whatever she or he wishes.

Oh, and another thing: the less distributors and publishers charge for wholesale product, the more the vast majority of authors suffer in terms of royalties. A penny may be an insult, but a half cent is an atrocity.

And that’s how things used to work in the e-retail racket. Hachette and other publishing houses would set prices for e-books and then Amazon would discount that figure as it saw fit. Only Amazon claimed it couldn’t bear to live anymore if forced to sell books at such low prices.

So now Amazon wants to be able to set prices even higher than the publisher’s suggested figure, ergo making the online retailer tons more dough while still snowing the consumer with 25 percent discounts. Amazon is so dead set on this course that it’s shunting Hachette’s books aside because the publishing house refuses to play along. In fact, Amazon has even gone so far as to advise customers to go somewhere else to buy Hachette books.

That’s serious, babies.

Amazon Corp. HQ

Amazon’s Proposed Corporate Campus Biosphere In Seattle

Acc’d’g to the Guardian US, millionaire Hachette authors like Stephen Colbert and James Patterson are screaming to high heaven at Amazon to be reasonable. Of course, the more Amazon charges for books, the more Colbert and Patterson make. Those guys are going to sell no matter what their books cost. If Amazon gets its way, though, lesser-known scribes will suffer even more than they do already because — let’s face it — who’s going to pay $18 for an e-book by Michael G. Glab?

Hell, I doubt anyone in my own family would pay that much for a book written by me. I would’t pay that much for a book written by me!

Anyway, the other day the LA Times ran a nice rundown of who’s who and what’s what in this pissing match. And the Guardian continues its coverage of the contretemps with the news that the two august firms are now badmouthing each other publicly.

When all is said and done, even after Amazon nukes all of Paris in order to destroy the rump state that is home to Hachette, 99 percent of the authors you know and love will be collecting their coins in a jar against the inevitability of one of those income-less months. So I don’t give a damn who wins.

If you do, and want Amazon to triumph, here’s a petition entitled Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages.

Run Him Out Of Town

Speaking of dough, if you want to kick in to the Mike Cagle kitty, he’s got a gofundme site up now. One of B-town’s most pop. bachelors, Cagle has given the raspberry to his former employer, Cook Medical, and will be setting off for the the Portland’s Lewis & Clark College to study law.

He’s hoping you’ll find it in your heart to pitch in so he can afford to move his yacht, his matching Bentleys, and his solid gold bathroom fixtures to Oregon where he’ll live the life of a poverty-stricken student for a few years.

I figger, Why not? The dude wants to practice do-goody-good law and, heaven knows, we need more shingles like that around these parts. Plus, contributors will get a piece of Cagle art for their largesse. C. has been a crackerjack cartoonist for lo these many years although he expects to lay the pen and the brush down while he hits the books.

Cagle Art

Cagle Scratch



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