Situs Newswatch 7/24/2017

Hey, Alexa: “Please Save Sears”
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
A funny thing happened on the way to potential bankruptcy — Sears shares are trading higher on news it is joining with the company that may have done the most to hurt it: Amazon.The department store chain announced plans on Thursday to sell Kenmore-branded appliances on The products will also be compatible with Amazon’s Alexa platform, Sears said.Shares of Sears’ stock were climbing more than 25 percent at one point in trading before the market’s open following this news.

“The launch of Kenmore products on will significantly expand the distribution and availability of the Kenmore brand in the U.S.,” Sears CEO Eddie Lampert said in a statement.

Sears said a new “Kenmore Smart” skill for Amazon Alexa will allow customers to control their appliances — changing the temperature on an air conditioner without leaving the sofa, for example.

“We’ve been saying all along that retail is NOT dead, but has to change with the times,” says Situs RERC President Ken Riggs. “This move to Alexa and Amazon for Sears is clearly one step in the right direction toward innovation for the legacy retailer, and is likely to have a positive impact on shopping malls and commercial real estate overall. The Apple Store, upscale restaurants and movie theaters with power-reclining chairs are helping malls to rebuild and reposition. We encourage more of this sort of innovation and we will continue to see old-line retailers adopting the Amazon way.”

Just last month, Sears opened a store — the first of its kind for the company — that sells only mattresses and appliances. Plans are also underway to open additional freestanding Sears stores dedicated to these two categories — what Sears has called “two of its strongest.”

What Happened When Walmart Left Town
When Walmart left town, it didn’t linger over the goodbyes. It slashed the prices on all its products, stripped the shelves bare, and vanished, leaving behind only the ghostly shadow of its famous brand name and gold star logo on the front wall of a deserted shell.

The departure was so quick that telltale signs remain of the getaway, like smoldering ashes in the fireplaces of an evacuated town. Notices still taped to the glass entranceway record with tombstone-like precision the exact moment that the super-center was shuttered: “Store closed at 7pm, Thursday 28 January 2016.”

Ten years. That’s all the time it took for the store to rise up in a clearing of the lush forest of West Virginia’s coal country and then disappear again, as though it had never been there.

But for the people of McDowell County – proud country folk laboring under the burdens of high unemployment, low income and endemic ill health – even such a fleeting visit to this rural backwater by the world’s largest retailer had a profound impact. Both in the arrival, and in the hasty leaving.

Wanda Church was present for both of these book-ends of the Walmart story – one of a few workers who helped set up the store in October 2005 and then gut it 10 years, three months and two days later. She remembers the feeling of excitement and expectation as they stocked the super-center for the very first time, turning it in just 20 days from an empty building into a teeming cathedral of retail.It’s a story that could be applied to small towns and rural areas right across the US. This is the statement of communities that have had the communal bled out of them.

Filling the void, as well as helping to create it, came a sparkling new phenomenon: a big box, 103,000 square feet of windowless air, where you could catch up with friends, trade guns, shop to your heart’s content and even take a hike, all within a concrete gash carved out of one of the world’s most breathtakingly beautiful ancient forests.

And now that too is gone.

read more: The Guardian

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Would Be Privatized Under Proposed House Budget

House Republicans want to privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as part of their 2018 budget proposal.

GOP members of the House of Representatives unveiled their 2018 budget. Dubbed “Building a Better America” and authored by Budget Chairman Diane Black (R-Tenn.). The plan calls for more than $200 billion in cuts to mandatory spending programs and sets the path for tax reform. It also calls for the privatization of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and assumes provisions of the House bill that would repeal Dodd-Frank.

Speaking at the FHLBanks Director Conference, The Collingwood Group Chairman Tim Rood said, “I applaud lawmakers for continuing to press for bipartisan housing reform legislation. However, the FHFA has been driving reform at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for almost nine years. Mel Watt, Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, has put Congress and Treasury on notice that he has the authority and will to address the next big reform issue – the net-worth sweep by Treasury and paper-thin capital levels of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”

To be sure, privatizing Fannie and Freddie is not a novel idea.

Steven Mnuchin said in November soon after he was tapped as Treasury Secretary he thinks the two government-backed mortgage-finance companies should be privatized. During his Senate confirmation hearing in January, he appeared to soften his stance. In May testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, he said “we need to fix Fannie and Freddie.”

Existing Home Sales Numbers for July will be released at 10 a.m. ET today; The Collingwood Group Managing Director Tom Booker crunches the data for NBC Radio.

The Times They are a Changin’ — Is YOUR Business Ready?
As D.C. races to catch the self-driving car … drones and autonomous vehicles are among the technologies running way ahead of the appetite and ability of a dysfunctional federal government to regulate them.

This collision of technology and regulation is one of the new realities for Washington.

Soon, drones will be dropping off packages, robots will make and deliver pizzas, and cars without drivers will cart us around time while we watch “Thrones” on our HBO in-car TV app.

California highway officials plan to start laying down thicker lane lines (from 4 inches to 6) that’ll be easier for self-driving cars to follow.

In a belated effort to catch up, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee this morning will hold an unheralded but consequential hearing on a bill designed to both regulate and encourage the deployment of driverless cars (“highly automated vehicles,” to Congress).

Rep. Debbie Dingell — a Michigan Democrat whose district includes Ford HQ in Dearborn, plus auto plants, suppliers and R&D labs — says this is a rare bipartisan issue where you can protect consumers but also encourage innovation.

“Like it or not, this is coming,” she said. “It’s exploding faster than we can promulgate regulations.”

The Highly Automated Vehicle Testing and Deployment Act of 2017 would govern how to safely test the driving technologies that manufacturers have been developing, and covers cybersecurity and how to deploy the vehicles.

Why it matters: Government, especially one divided and gridlocked, is incapable of setting the rules and parameters for technologies that will transform our lives along these big trends. This is the rare bill that both parties support and could easily be signed into law by President Trump this year — unless zero-sum politics intervenes.

read more:

I’ll Drink to That
Property developers trying to create buzz for open-air shopping districts are lobbying regulators to relax rules to allow patrons to walk around streets and parks with alcoholic beverages.

As landlords hustle to get customers into their properties, they are looking to tap into demand for food-and-drink experiences. The hope: that lively atmospheres will encourage patrons to linger and shop.

Three years ago, Atlanta-based developer Vantage Realty Partners LLC proposed an open-container ordinance in Duluth, Ga., where it developed a retail and entertainment complex called Parsons Alley in a historic district downtown. The ordinance passed this year.

“Every restaurant and retailer loved it. It increases their sales. Their customers don’t have to stay confined in their premises and can walk to the town green or fountain with a drink,” said Chris Carter, co-founder of Vantage Realty.

Of the 45,000 square feet of space at Parsons Alley, roughly 70% is leased or sold and the firm is picking tenants for the remaining space.

The retail sector is slumping as internet shopping eats into revenue. Retail landlords are trying a variety of tactics to boost foot traffic at their properties, from adding restaurants and entertainment venues to creating open-air districts downtown.

City councils and zoning boards from Georgia to Alabama to Texas to Iowa in recent months have proved amenable to changing land-use and public-drinking ordinances to boost activity in once-bustling shopping districts.

“I don’t know why alcohol is so important, but if you have a brew in hand and walk around, you’d enjoy it more, especially when there’s good weather and live music,” said Marc Moen, partner and owner of property developer Moen Group, a builder and operator of condominiums, retail, office and hotel buildings in the downtown area of Iowa City, which passed an open-container measure in May.

Last October, the board of commissioners of Forsyth County, Ga., permitted businesses in certain development districts to serve alcoholic beverages in to-go cups, with certain limits.

County officials understood the challenges in the retail environment, said Patrick Leonard, principal at RocaPoint Partners, which is building a $370 million, 135-acre mixed-use project in Forsyth County called Halcyon that would include plenty of lawn space.

“It seems to be a trend for retail property to help get people outside,” said Mr. Leonard, adding that the looser open-container regulations “absolutely helped us lease retail space.”

Iowa City’s ordinance permits patrons to carry open containers on sidewalks and streets between licensed premises. That allowed the Iowa City Downtown District business association to apply for a temporary license for a downtown block party, which took place in June.

“It’s an area that attracts all ages, little kids, grandparents, working adults and college students. Residents love being around activity and young people,” said Mr. Moen, who supported the open-container ordinance.

In the downtown block party last month, cups were sold to partygoers who had to patronize bars and restaurants in the district to be served. The organizers also arranged for Uber pickup and drop-off points and parking garages nearby that offered free overnight parking.

read more: Wall St Journal

These Bridezillas Have a Legitimate Excuse
They turned into “Bridezillas,” the reason: Alfred Angelo abruptly closed its more than 60 wedding dress stores on Wednesday, leaving brides racing to figure out if they would get the gowns they had already ordered after the company filed for bankruptcy.

The closings added an element of panic to a wedding process often filled with stress, and brides and bridesmaids shared their exasperation on Twitter and Facebook. They rushed to figure out the status of their orders, and store employees were left trying to explain the situation.

Cyndi Whitten of Houston, whose daughter had ordered a $1,500 gown from Alfred Angelo for her wedding in October, said: “This has turned into the most difficult and stressful part of the whole thing. You just wanted to sit there and burst into tears because your daughter’s easy part of the wedding isn’t so easy.”

In a letter to customers obtained by The New York Times, Ms. Redmond wrote that the company would “encourage” the bankruptcy trustee to “finish and fulfill as many orders as possible.”

“The company regrets that this action will have dramatic impact on you,” Ms. Redmond wrote in the letter.

Despite the uproar after the store closings, Alfred Angelo has said nothing about the situation publicly. Some customers realized that the company had shut down after finding signs posted on locked store doors.

A private company based in Delray Beach, Fla., Alfred Angelo sold its dresses at 1,400 other retailers, in addition to operating its own stores, according to its website. Like other bridal companies, it has faced pressure from bridal fashion start-ups and traditional retailers pushing low prices. In its bankruptcy filing, the company said it had no more than $50,000 in assets, but more than $50 million in liabilities.

Competitors were rushing to capitalize on the company’s demise. David’s Bridal offered discounts to Alfred Angelo customers if they can show a receipt from the store, as well as free rushed alterations.

read more: NY Times

Have a prosperous day ahead, and watch out for the “bridezillas”!

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