The Figaro: Everyone Knew Her As ‘Nancy’

The New York Times: “The tiny Nissan Figaro has an almost cartoonish design that is guaranteed to stand out. To an American living in Britain, who regularly spots pristine Figaros, it would appear to be a highly popular model that was made recently. Every part of that guess is wrong: The Figaro is rather old, built for the 1991 model year, and there never were large numbers anywhere. Nissan never even exported it from Japan.”

“Britain never had dominant carmakers like Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. Instead, for generations, it had a profusion of small-to-medium manufacturers. Those carmakers produced a much wider array of designs than their American counterparts, a good number of them quirky, small, underpowered, none too practical — and beloved by their many admirers … An increasingly competitive and global market had less room for eccentric cars, British or not, or for models that sell only a few thousand.”

“Owners join Figaro clubs and Facebook groups, give their cars names, often buy more than one per family, and sometimes pay over 10,000 pounds, or $12,500 — more than the car cost new … It has an unusual ‘fixed profile’ convertible roof — the middle folds down, but the sides stay put … Nissan built the Figaro in pale shades of aqua, green, gray and taupe … More than 3,000 of the cars are registered as being in active use in Britain, but numbers are no longer rising, and the pipeline has slowed to a trickle. ‘There’s only so many, and they’ve been around awhile,’ said Peter Pattemore, who drives a Figaro (named Jimmy), as does his wife, Sandra (hers is Sally). ‘But we’re going to keep them as long we can’.”

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Books & Brews: A Community on Tap

The New York Times: “The first thing one notices about Books & Brews is that it’s off the beaten path, tucked into an unassuming strip mall in a cluster of industrial-supply stores and a sprawling outpost of The Home Depot near 96th Street on the far north side of Indianapolis. The second thing you may notice upon entering the shop is how inviting it feels, with its bright, bookshelf-lined walls, clusters of sturdy wooden tables and racks of board games — and that’s before you get to the back of the store with a craft-beer taproom, small stage and even more packed bookshelves.”

Founder Jason Wuerfel comments: “The fundamental flaw of the bookstore is that it’s designed to be quiet and not let people connect to each other. When you encourage people to walk around, and you have books and board games and music that breathes life into spaces, you naturally provide the framework for social engagement.”

The books for sale all around the store are mostly used, taken by donation and sold for $3 each … Ten percent of used-book sales are given to Indy Reads, an area organization that promotes literacy … As for the brews, the company has its own line of craft beers, sporting playful names like Shogun Soba Ale and Charlie and the Chocolate Stout … The Books & Brews mother ship is not alone anymore. Wuerfel expanded and franchised the business over the past few years to eight other locations (so far) around central Indiana and now partners with Flat12 Bierwerks to produce his beer.”

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Wannamaker’s Temple: Retail as Religion

The Wall Street Journal: The John Wanamaker Department Store was one of America’s first great temples of consumption … In “Wanamaker’s Temple,” Nicole C. Kirk argues that Wanamaker’s was more than a successful business enterprise, it was also a successful ministry. She notes that John Wanamaker, a Presbyterian, was as committed to evangelism and the social gospel as he was to selling silks and satins. As she writes: “Wanamaker saw his retail empire not as separate from religion but as an instrument of it, as a means for achieving moral reform in business, in the city, and in individuals’ lives.”

“Born into a working-class South Philadelphia family in 1838, Wanamaker began his career as a clerk in a men’s clothing store owned by a friend of his grandfather’s. By accident, he walked into a prayer meeting and heard a hat maker explaining that religion was part of his trade. Wanamaker was soon swept up in the Businessmen’s Revival, a Protestant prayer movement.”

?The store was filled with innovations: electric arc lamps, elevators, pneumatic tubes to move money and receipts. And it was infused with Wanamaker’s religiosity. In full-age newspaper ads, six days a week, he assured potential customers of his high-quality merchandise, his honest treatment of customers and his fairness to employees. ‘It was more than image making, although it was that as well,’ Ms. Kirk writes. ‘Wanamaker saw it as a part of his business mission—to make business a Christian enterprise and profitable’.”

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Motorcycles Try ‘Post-Heritage’ Designs


The New York Times: A surfer-meets-biker festival in Biarritz, France, was an unlikely backdrop for America’s oldest motorcycle maker to showcase its latest handiwork. But that is where, in June, Indian Motorcycle made the announcement that a one-off design concept, inspired by county-fairgrounds racing machines, would become a production model.”

“Indian, based in Minnesota, is not alone among motorcycle makers in taking a daring, and perhaps unexpected, leap with its designs. Ducati, based in Italy, has hit pay dirt with its out-of-character Scrambler, introduced in 2015 … which expanded the company’s portfolio beyond muscular sport machines … Likewise, Husqvarna Motorcycles, a Swedish motocross legend now resettled in Austria, has branched out with a range of lithe, futuristically styled bikes. Even Royal Enfield, a British expat built in India, is moving beyond its frozen-in-time single-cylinder models.”

“Breakthrough models like the Scrambler are not necessarily the result of market research, Ducati’s chief executive, Claudio Domenicali, said, emphasizing that the Scrambler is a ‘post-heritage’ statement rather than retro.” He comments: “When we try to follow the competition, we’re not successful, so we look at what’s available and we invent products.”

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How Patagonia Patches Together Loyalty

The Washington Post: “’If it’s broke, fix it!’ is a Patagonia company motto, and the company takes the motto seriously. It has operated a recycling and repair program, Worn Wear, in various permutations since 2005. In its Reno, Nev., service center, Patagonia operates the country’s largest outdoor gear-repair shop. During the 2017 fiscal year, it made 50,295 clothing repairs.”

“Fourteen employees are deployed to replace zippers, which accounted for 30,000 of last year’s repairs … Stores send up to 600 items a week. Others are mailed directly by customers. The company receives items that have been chewed by dogs (dogs have a thing about the plastic snaps at the back of ball caps, it turns out), faded by sunlight, burned by campfires and ripped by sharp rocks or sticks. Even after years of wear, garments get fixed, no questions asked. Items have been returned that are nearly a half-century old, dating to the infancy of the company founded by Yvon Chouinard in the mid-1970s.”

“Patagonia also has a small fleet of repair rigs that travel to dozens of college campuses and ski resorts, advertising these excursions much like band tours. Patagonia staffers offer to make free repairs (even to non-Patagonia items) and teach students and skiers how to make their own fixes. In addition to putting on learn-to-sew clinics, staffers organize events where students learn how to repair an item and then get to keep it for free. They also promote campus clothing swaps … If items returned by customers are too damaged to be resold, they are designated for reuse. Patagonia works with several entrepreneurs who ‘upcycle’ old garments into purses, scarves or other items.”

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Social Media & The Old College Try

The New York Times: “As students return to campuses, they’re constantly checking their Instagram, Snapchat and other social media accounts — so companies are turning to many of them to promote products right alongside photos of family, friends and the new puppy. For busy students, it is an easy, low-pressure way to make extra money or get free products. For marketers, it is a simple way to reach young people — a supplement to their other social media efforts, including hiring full-time promoters.”

“Though there are no comprehensive data for how many college students promote brands online, interviews with university officials, marketing consultants, brand representatives and students make it clear that the social media platform is big business on campus. Many of the deals are for Instagram posts, but some brands also have students posting on other services, like Twitter and Facebook.”

“On the Victoria’s Secret website, you can search for the names of its representatives at 100 campuses, in schools from Columbia University to Grand Valley State University. At Virginia Tech, as many as 1,000 of the 30,000 undergrads are being paid to promote products as varied as mascara and storage bins … Under Federal Trade Commission rules, people using their personal social media accounts to advertise products are supposed to disclose on their accounts the brands they represent … But these guidelines are often ignored. In April 2017, the trade commission sent more than 90 letters to influencers and brands reminding them of the guidelines.”

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FAO Flagship To Return to NYC

The Wall Street Journal: “A dominant presence in Midtown Manhattan for decades before its closure in 2015, FAO Schwarz is coming to life again with a new, 20,000-square-foot Rockefeller Center location, set to open in November. ThreeSixty Group Inc., a California-based firm, acquired the retail brand from Toys ‘R’ Us in October 2016 for an undisclosed price … But in an era when bricks-and-mortar retailers struggle to stay competitive as consumers increasingly go online for their shopping needs, FAO is making its Rockefeller Center location as much about the experience as the buying.”

“That means the store won’t just be staffed with traditional sales clerks, but also product demonstrators, magicians and men and women playing various costumed roles, including toy soldiers … the company is going so far as to hold auditions, rather than just the standard interviews, for retail staff.”

“Ultimately, ThreeSixty Brands may not be looking to make a profit on the Rockefeller Center store so much as use it to promote the FAO name, said Jed Wexler, a retail expert who runs 818 Agency, a New York firm. ‘It feels like an advertising play,’ he said. In any case, the New York store, which will be considered the FAO flagship, is part of a larger push. ThreeSixty Brands is also launching a smaller store at LaGuardia Airport this fall and one in China in 2019.”

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Applestone ‘Butchers’ The Vending Machine

Quartz: “It’s midnight and you need a steak. What do you do? If you live near Stone Ridge or Accord, New York, you just head to the nearest Applestone Meat Co. 24-hour butcher shop. You won’t find a bleary-eyed staff of overnight shifters working though. A row of vending machines, organized by type of meat—beef, pork, lamb, sausages, and ground meat—stand ready, stocked with steaks, chops, and burgers-to-be.”

“Applestone … envisioned the system as way to reach more customers, and make the shopping process more seamless. It’s more for busy families, less about the ability to get grass-fed burgers in the middle of the night—though that would be an excellent use of them, as well … That said, anyone who wants a smile with their ribeye can purchase meat from a customer service window at the Stone Ridge store from 11am to 6pm daily. Customer service, it turns out, isn’t totally dead.”

“Vending machines are a national obsession in Japan, where they sell pretty much everything imaginable, and ramen dispensers popped up in San Francisco earlier this year. And the French have oyster vending machines.”

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Wigle Room: ‘Terroirist’ Whiskey

The New York Times: Wigle Whiskey is “a craft distillery with a reputation for off-the-wall experimentation. On a recent afternoon, Meredith Meyer Grelli, one of its owners, showed off its latest offering: three small flasks of rye whiskey, identical save for the words Saskatchewan, Minnesota or Pennsylvania — the sources of the grain used to make it.”

“Other than the grains, each whiskey is made the same way. And yet each tastes subtly different: The Saskatchewan whiskey is smooth and nutty, the Minnesota a bit earthy, the Pennsylvania fiery and fruity. Initial chemical analysis, Ms. Grelli said, supports those impressions: The Pennsylvania rye, for example, had elevated levels of ethyl acetate, which imparts flavors like pear and bananas. Those differences, Ms. Grelli said, indicate that spirits like whiskey can have something that the distilling world has long dismissed: a sense of place, drawn from the soil and climate where the grains grow and the whiskey is made — in other words, terroir.”

“Wigle’s whiskey trio, called the Terroir Project, goes on sale this fall in select markets and is among the first in a wave of place-specific spirits — whiskey, vodka, rum and others — coming out over the next few years. The producers range from small, regional distillers to global names like Belvedere, the Polish vodka owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. The new spirits are part of an international movement by distillers, plant breeders and academic researchers to return distilling to what they see as its locally grounded, agricultural roots.”

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Puy du Fou: Something to ‘Crow’ About

The New York Times: “Puy du Fou, a historical theme park in the Loire region about four hours from Paris, has trained six crows to pick up cigarette butts and bits of trash and dump them in a box … The theme park’s owners would rather have humans properly dispose of their own candy wrappers and cigarettes. The crows are part of an educational campaign to prompt the ecologically minded to take their rubbish with them. ‘We want to educate people not to throw their garbage on the ground,’ said Nicolas de Villiers, the president of Puy du Fou.”

“Christophe Gaborit, who manages the theme park’s Academy of Falconry, trained the six rooks, which are members of the crow family and were raised at Puy du Fou, the second-largest theme park in France. (Disneyland Paris is No. 1.) … Each morning, he brings his crows and a set of wooden boxes to the park’s entrance so visitors can see the feathered creatures in action, Mr. de Villiers said. The crow’s task is simple. Each box has two compartments, and when a crow deposits a piece of paper or trash in a slot, a drawer is opened to reveal a treat — bird food, mostly.”

“But while it may seem like work to humans, the birds are at play. Crows are intelligent and need mental puzzles to stay alert and well adjusted, said John Marzluff, a professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington … the experiment at Puy du Fou raises the question: Could Mr. de Villiers’s staff of 40 falconers teach pigeons to tidy up Paris and New York? No, he said. ‘Pigeons are not very smart’.”

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