Monday, February 20, 2017

Is Hobby Lobby coming to Rolla?

I've heard before that Hobby Lobby was coming to Rolla. I remember a few years ago, it was supposedly going in at the old Forum Plaza shopping center, in what was once the JCPenney store, followed by a Goody's store and finally, I think, a furniture store. That building has been torn down and a new, larger supermarket is there -- not a Hobby Lobby.
Early last week, I heard  from a pretty good source that Hobby Lobby was buying, or has bought, or is thinking about buying, the Kmart building. As I'm sure you've heard, Kmart is closing stores across the country.

I think this time, there is credence in the source's tip.

I don't have sufficient credible sourcing to submit a story to the editor of the local paper, but this being my personal blog, I don't feel I must have documentation. This is just a conversation between us. I'm just passing along what I heard, and you can make your own decision.

At the open house the city held last week about the blasting that will be going on for about four months to prepare the ground for the Westside Marketplace, I asked the developer about Hobby Lobby and why it was not going into that new shopping center.

He said Hobby Lobby likes to go into existing structures. "You mean like our Kmart building?" I said. He said, "That would be the kind of building they would look for, and I think your Kmart is either closed or going to be closed, so, yes, that would be a possibility."

He did not have any inside inforrmation about the veracity of the news tip I had received, but his description of the "fit" for the company and the soon-to-be-empty building added credence, as far as I was concerned.

Then just a little while ago, my wife said a friend told her that when she (the friend) went shopping at Kmart today, the check-out girl said, "Well, this place is going to become a Hobby Lobby."

That did it for me. Check-out girls know more than managers about business. I figured as soon as I heard it that the die is cast and we are going to have a Hobby Lobby in Rolla by late summer, early fall, definitely in time for Christmas shopping.

I'm not too thrilled by that. Hobby Lobby will harm at least two locally owned businesses that I can think of, maybe three, maybe even four or five.

But the push in Rolla is for chain-owned stores, not locally owned stores. That's the trend not only here, but in every Ozarks town, it seems. Rolla is a shadow of its former self, in terms of locally owned businesses that give a community character. But, I will also say that I work for a big-box chain store during the day, and I love it. Obviously, then, I am double-minded on this issue.

All I can offer is this: If we are going to get a Hobby Lobby, please continue to do business with the locally owned stores where your neighbors have invested in the commuunity, and pay taxes to support local services.




Saturday, February 18, 2017

Local university chancellor looking for a new and better job

So far, the news that Missouri University of Science & Technology chancellor Cheryl Schrader has been looking for a job has not been in the local paper, the Rolla Daily News.
She is one of three final candidates for the job as president of Wright State University in Ohio.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch posted this to its website back on Feb. 9: Missouri S&T chancellor named finalist for university president post in Ohio.
The Dayton, Ohio, Daily News posted this to its website back on Feb. 7: Wright State names third, final presidential candidate to visit campus.
On Feb. 10, the Dayton website printed brief bios of the three candidates for the job: Wright State could choose next president next week. In that report, I learned for the first time that Chancellor Schrader had been arrested (though never charged) for driving under the influence back in 2009 in Idaho. That's a serious charge, but the authorities didn't think enough of it to follow up, and her performance since has been exemplary, so I don't judge her on it.
I do wonder, though, why she wants to leave S&T. I have always heard that S&T is second only to MIT in engineering education. Even though a president's position is higher than a chancellor's position, it seems to me that she is taking a step down in campus prestige. I guess she knows what she is doing better than I.

Japanese investors buy our town's newspaper

Our town's newspaper is now owned by some rich Japanese.
According to news reports out there in cyberspace, SoftBank, a Tokyo investment company, has bought Fortress Investment Group, a New York private equity firm.
Fortress Investment Group owns Gatehouse Media, which is also called New Media Investment Group (a name that showed up after Gatehouse went bankrupt a few years ago). Gatehouse/New Media Investment Group owns the Rolla Daily News, the Waynesville/St. Robert Daily Guide and the Camdenton Lake Sun. It also owned the St. James Leader Journal, but it closed that paper in 2016.
Here's how the Boston Herald website covered the story: Massachusetts papers in 3.3B deal.
If you open up that link, you'll see how Boston University journalism professor Lou Ureneck assessed the situation for the newpapers:
The value of Gatehouse is a tiny, tiny fraction of the values (of) these companies. My sense is that it’s going to be more of the same: extremely lean news budgets and an emphasis on improving profit margins by reducing the number of reporters and editors.
I would be shocked if there was any reinvestment in these organizations as a consequence of this ownership change. … If Fortress remains in the driver’s seat with Gatehouse Media, we’ll see this continued policy of squeeze, squeeze, squeeze.
Maybe this is why my hours—I work as a part-time local government reporter for the Rolla Daily News—were cut from 20 to 14 per week this week.
As with everything nowadays, this financial transaction has been linked to President Donald Trump by the bigwig, fancy-pants news media. Here's a report on the Boston Business Journals website, Japanese firm to buy Gatehouse parent company for 3.3 billion.
What a hoot!
I came to work full-time for the Rolla Daily News way back in the previous century on Aug. 1, 1984. My title at that time was "assistant city editor" and I worked for Stephen E. Sowers, who was the combination city editor and managing editor. He was in charge of the news/editorial side of the paper. His two brothers handled advertising and business. They and their mother owned the paper, which was started by Edward Sowers, the patriarch of the family. Mr. Sowers had passed away a couple of years before I went to work at the paper.
Then a couple or three years later the Sowers family sold the paper to American Publishing Co., which was part of a Canadian operation called Hollinger, which was owned by Conrad Black, a rich British lord or baron or some other kind of hobknobber.
Over the years, the company changed from American Publishing to Liberty Group Publishing to Gatehouse. Through all of those names, the company has been kind of a dairy operation, I think, more about milking cash from the herd of cash cows across the country than with reporting news.
Back in the days of the Sowers family ownership, some townspeople (not all, of course) complained about the family, especially my boss, Steve. The complainers said the community newspaper needed a new owner. They got a series of new owners, so I hope the townspeople are happy. I suspect, though, that a lot of the old-timers are wishing for the days of Steve and the Sowers family.
When I left my full-time job at the paper in December 2004, I wrote my final column and thanked Steve and the Sowers family. I referred to the then-current owners as a bunch of piss ants. I went back to work part-time in September 2010 and am still hanging on at 14 hours a week. I'll keep my opinions about all this to myself, though you are free to draw your own inferences.