Archive for February, 2007

Feb
28

Will Whole Foods close my Wild Oats?

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All over Boulder the question on everyone’s lips this past week was "Will my Wild Oats store stay open?"

I imagine the same question is being asked wherever Wild Oats operates, but with Boulder the birthplace of this natural foods grocer, the company’s merger into Whole Foods is particularly on people’s minds.

Wild Oats has four stores in Boulder, while Whole Foods has only one. And two more Wild Oats operate just down the U.S. 36 Corridor toward Denver, with a new store in Superior and another in Westminster. Wild Oats also has its headquarters here, having just moved into a new facility in Boulder’s outdoor, pedestrian-friendly Twenty Ninth Street shopping district.

Boulder is deserving of its moniker "the Silicon Valley of the natural foods industry," with such industry leaders as Celestial Seasonings, White Wave, Horizon Organic Dairy and a new lineup of natural and organic foods startups being encouraged by both city government and business leaders. A new organization, Naturally Boulder, is trying to futher the city’s reputation as a great place for natural foods entrepreneurs.

So it’s a tough pill for Boulder to swallow to lose not only a corporate headquarters, but a company that for so long has been part of its natural foods roots.

The question still remains, and probably won’t be answered until the $565 million deal is approved, on how many Wild Oats stores here will be closed and how many of its corporate employees as well as store managers and staff will lose their jobs.

Like everyone else around town, I have my own guess, and it fits pretty closely with a casual survey the Boulder County Business Report did in interviews with several natural "notables" including White Wave founder Steve Demos, Wild Oats founder Mike Gilliland (now opening a new natural foods grocery company called Sunflower Markets and Steve Hoffman, who heads Compass Natural Marketing, a marketing agency focused on the natural foods industry. 

In general, the guesswork goes like this: the original Wild Oats store on Broadway, first called Alfalfa’s, will remain open especially since it’s the closest to the University of Colorado campus and frequented by both students and Hill residents. Smaller, older Wild Oats stores in south Boulder and north Boulder may be on the block.

Wild Oats grocery near its corporate headquarters, still under construction, was touted to be a "model" store where the company would experiment with new layouts, products and ideas. But Whole Foods already considered the site as Twenty Ninth Street suited anchors, and decided instead to expand its present store just a few blocks away in Crossroad Commons. Most pundits are betting it will stick to that strategy.

Other nearby stores, especially the new, larger Wild Oats in Superior, look to be a better fit with the Whole Foods concept of becoming a market leader.   Whole Foods’ present Boulder store is said to be one of its best-performing locations in its entire chain, so why mess with a proven winner?

North of Boulder, Wild Oats was expected to be the first large natural foods store to enter the growing population and business center of Longmont. Whole Foods probably won’t let that opportunity escape.

Boulder loves its Whole Foods, but it wil sorely miss Wild Oats. Other local large grocers, including Safeway and King Soopers, have both added larger natural foods sections so competition here has increased. Good for shoppers, and good for the natural foods companies that now have more grocery shelf space for their products.

CEO John Mackey has his own Whole Foods blog on his company’s Web site, but the last post was made in November, and surprisingly he has not yet commented on the company’s biggest deal to date. No doubt, he’s been a little busy.

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Categories : Business
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Boulder entrepreneur Terry Gold, CEO of voice-recognition company Gold Systems, has a U-Tube video playing on his blog that he created with a Web cam running in his Toyota FJ Cruiser. It’s definitely worth checking out.

He’s caught the attention of some other regular techie bloggers, who have wondered how in the heck he even got a live cam running in his car anyway. His video, he explains at terrygold.com, was created by capturing, saving and simultaneously posting to his blog photos on his drive over to Kansas. (It reminds me of a few bird hunting trips, except I never made it to the world’s largest prairie dog.) It was all done in real-time, Terry explains, since his FJ is now equipped with a Kyocera KR1 Broadband EVDO Router with WiFi. Did I get that right?

Terry has a little more information on his site about what he calls his FJ Cruiser Car Computer project. I’ve been meaning to give Terry a call, but now I’m absolutely going to talk him into a ride somewhere so I can see this setup for myself. His site includes a cam shot called "Live (at times) from the FJ Cam," but it’s been stuck on the same image for the past week that I’ve checked. Maybe I just need to go over and help him give a good swift kick. That usually works on my computers.

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Categories : Web/Tech
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This is one of those only-in-Boulder stories.

This week Boulder city fathers will debate whether to muzzle city officials from what they can say or not say online, in forums like MySpace and I presume their online blogs. It’s a waste of time for the council to take this on, but apparently they’ve not read the First Amendment lately.

It all started whenRob Smoke — yes his name is Smoke — posted in MySpace, saying “Im tired, I’m hungry, I’m horny, I’m stoned … and I am a city official.” Smoke serves on the city’s Human Relations Commission.

This all comes at a time when the same council is trying to figure out what to do with fellow city councilman Richard Polk, who was picked up by police for erratic driving and caught with a pipe and a small baggie of pot. He eventually entered a guilty plea to reckless driving.

Smoke, who at one time worked for radio station KGNU, used to be part of a media panel with me on a now defunct local show called Boulder TV, and we were generally amused by where Smoke would sometimes take the on-air discussion. Of course none of us would have ever been on the show if the producers had handed us a piece of paper telling us what we could or could not say.

Let’s go over that First Amendment wording one more time: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech …”

OK, now I get it. Congress is clearly not Boulder City Council. City council would be wise to pass on the effort by Deputy Mayor Suzy Ageton and City Councilwoman Robin Bohannan to create rules preventing our freedom of speech. Smoke’s comments did absolutely no harm to anyone except perhaps the public’s perception of him.

Any rules to stiffle what a person can say or not say in a public forum like MySpace — if challenged in court — would probably only cost the city more money to defend their losing cause.

Categories : Current Affairs
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Feb
11

Very fine Texas barbecue

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Every now and then it’s a good idea to get out of Boulder, drive to Denver and discover a new restaurant.

For some barbecue that you need all the napkns they give you, I highly recommend M&D’s Bar-B-Q and Fish Palace, mouth-watering Texas-style barbecue in a family atmosphere. I went in for a sandwich on a Saturday, but as platters of ribs, chicken and fried fish went by me, I chose the pork ribs, with sides of mac and cheese, cole slaw and their homemade lemonade. I ate too much, but I was too happy to care.

Located in Denver’s Whittier neighborhood at 2004 E. 28th St., M&D’s is one of those genuine, family-operated restaurants. The family barbecue recipe was brought in by Mack and Daisy Shead, and the tangy sauce comes in three degrees of delicious.

I promise you, this is a place worth finding.

Bbq_3

Categories : Food and Drink
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Feb
07

Public companies take back what they said

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Why is that time and time again, as top officials of major public companies address stock analysts, they are always so surprised at what the media reports about their comments?

I will tell you. Either these very highly paid executives are the slyest cats around, and simply want to test the public waters with reaction to possible plans, or they just have no real notion on what the media believes is news. Personally, I think it’s usually the second. They get bad PR advice, or they just forget that everything they say is watched intently by the business press.

Two recent business stories locally certainly caught the attention of many local employees.

First, in January management of E.W. Scripps, owner of the Rocky Mountain News and part owner now of the Daily Camera in Boulder, hinted publicly at a meeting with analysts that it might rethink its business mix and even get out of the newspaper business. The news sent the stock to a 52-week high — investors thought it was a darn good idea. Stick with the Internet and cable TV. Newspapers are doomed.

Not true at all, Scripps CEO Ken Lowe had to tell Wall Street a few weeks later. “We’re always weighing strategic options,” he said, but that does not include selling off newspapers.

A huge collective breath of relief from the newsrooms here in Boulder and Denver.

Then out of the blue at a meeting with Lehman Bros., Ball Corp. CFO Raymond Seabrook once agains drops the not-so-secret news that Ball eventually might want to sell or spin off its Ball Aerospace subsidiary, which employs about 2,500, mainly here in Boulder. He hedges his bets, however, by saying this might be happening in three or four years, once Ball continues to grow the company to $1 billion in sales.

Talking to Ball on the day the news broke, the company tells the Boulder County Business Report this is all old hat. It can’t understand why the Denver Post even bothered to report it. As far back as 1994, Ball hired outside help to look at “strategic” options for its aerospace subsidiary.

Another collective breath of relief from the scientists at Ball Aerospace.

But if they really didn’t mean it, why do they say it? Can these execs really be so clueless that they expect the media to ignore the words “might sell” or the infamous “explore our options.” When I hear a company is considering “strategic options,” I figure it’s less than 6 months before we’re writing how the company was sold.

Do they just like to watch their stock shoot up and down like a rocket unable to get in orbit? Are CFOs tickled by seeing their company’s stock charts spiking like their teenager’s hair?

Why would Ball talk about doing something three or four years in the future if it’s not really just trying to get the word out to companies like Boeing or Lockheed that it might just — if the price is right — be willing to sell its aerospace business. Ball Aerospace already made serious layoffs in 2006 due to a slowdown in space and defense spending. Does that sound like a company gearing up to boost its space business revenues?

For your answer, go to Ball Corp. web page. Watch the constantly changing number of the number of “containers made this year.” See any space ships taking off on the page?

Categories : Business
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Feb
01

Water bill goes through the roof

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With about 2 feet of snow in my front yard and an icey glacier covering my street since Christmas, I was shocked to see my Boulder water bill shoot through the roof!

My water bill for January, the first under a new Boulder scheme to raise water rates under the guise of a household water “budget” to encourage conservation, rose nearly 48 percent from January 2006.

If my bill is an example of what other residents will see when they open their new statement, the city utilities department better be prepared for a meltdown of their phone system from angry residents.

The city has decided we should all now have a water “budget,” in a year where no doubt heavy snows will fill Colorado reservoirs and spring runoff will probably be better described as flooding.

I live with my girlfriend in a simple ranch home with no kids. I’m pretty certain I was not watering my frozen lawn at all this winter. However, I exceeded my water budget of 9,000 gallons, sending me into much higher rates of $2.50 and $5 for my over-allotment. The basic rate for your first 6,000 gallons is $1.88.

Who came up with these numbers anyway? We didn’t have visitors for Christmas — you know, the kind that like to take those long hot showers? We fill our dishwasher up until it’s packed so we only turn it on maybe first a day. And our laundry for two people can’t be that unusual.

We will confess to a few warm baths through those zero degree nights, but as much as we’ve thought about it, we never bought a hot tub. Pity the poor people who soak in outdoor tubs, filling them up with hundreds of gallons and sending them into over-allotment hell.

If this rate increase follows through for the entire year, I will be writing checks for a total increase of $400 or more to the city. Is it possible all that extra money could be used to send a single snowplow down my street? I doubt it.

So not only are residents going to be socked with higher bills for heat in this freezing winter, we’re now getting stuck with a water billing system socking it to our wallets again.

I am a believer in conservation and recycling. Our front yard won a neighborhood award a while back for its Xeriscape garden design. I have a little grass in my back yard for my dog to lay around on, but we keep the timer on the watering system set very low.

I’m hoping someone just got the numbers wrong here. And like hundreds, maybe thousands of residents, I’ll be giving a little ringie-dingie to Ned Williams at the city’s utilities office to see what is up.

There is a few more days left for public comment. My guess is there will be lots of comment coming now. Maybe even a flood!

Categories : Uncategorized
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