Wing on Wo & The ‘Wow’ Project

The New York Times: “Wing on Wo’s humble red-painted storefront at 26 Mott Street is said to be the oldest continuously run business in Chinatown. It opened on Mott as a general store in the 1890s … The family that established Wing on Wo more than a century ago still runs things … although the shop’s appearance doesn’t suggest any important heritage. Its shelves are dusty, its pace is sleepy and foot traffic is slow.”

“Wing on Wo’s salvation appeared in Mei Lum, 26, the second-youngest of the family’s five grandchildren … She is now reinventing the shop, molding it into a community space that operates against the backdrop of Chinatown’s history … she envisions a forum for panels on issues like neighborhood politics, exhibitions for local artists and a coffee shop. Ms. Lum held an event recently at the store on the neighborhood’s gentrification, and a planned panel will include influential businesswomen from Chinatown. She calls her concept the W.O.W. Project.”

“Ms. Lum’s new vision for Wing on Wo, ironically, resembles the store’s original incarnation over 100 years ago … General stores like Wing on Wo were crucial hubs in this early village-like stretch. They sold tastes of home like dried fish, herbs and tofu, but they also operated as social clubs, representing Chinese villages and counties, and provided mail and money-wiring services.”

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Tycho: Vinyl, Digital & Musical Culture

The New York Times: “In the age of the surprise digital album, what about the vinyl fans? … Scott Hansen, who records spacey electronic rock under the name Tycho, has come up with one solution. Tycho’s new album, ‘Epoch,’ was released online on Friday … Tycho’s record label, Ghostly International, will be offering a custom slipmat — the felt pad that sits on a turntable — to customers who place advance orders for the vinyl record at their local record store. The slipmat will become available in about two weeks, and physical versions of the album, on both vinyl and CD, will come out in January.”

“The staggered timing lets Mr. Hansen and Ghostly release the music quickly — Mr. Hansen said he put the finishing touches on the recording just two weeks ago — while also giving a tangible dimension to what is otherwise digital ephemera.” He comments: “We’ve always been really concerned with the physical experience. A lot of people want the vinyl so that they feel that this music is real, it’s not just a digital file.”

“For fans of major acts, a surprise online release can create a communal moment, with reactions that ricochet across social media. Sam Valenti IV, the founder of Ghostly, described the slipmat as a ‘passport stamp’ for fans, a way to seize on the release of new music yet still have a keepsake in physical form to function as a placeholder until the final product comes out.” He says: “Streaming music is fantastic, but record stores still have a place as the physical manifestation of music culture. How to balance those things is a beautiful tension right now.”

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You Don’t Have to be Weird to be Weird

Slate: “About 15 years ago, an independent bookseller in Texas went to battle against the specter of mega-bookstore invasion. His weapon of choice was something a purveyor of books knew best: a word. And the word was weird … He printed 5,000 bumper stickers urging citizens to KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD … The stickers flew off the shelves. And the Borders bookstore was never built in downtown Austin.”

“Weird campaigns have spread to communities in more than a dozen states. What do they all have in common? The cities have fewer than 1 million people, but most are growing. Many are state capitals or county seats and most have a vibrant arts scene. They all seem to have a strong sense of what makes them unique, and a grassroots urge to stay that way.”

“Despite its countercultural bona fides, weird has economic power. From indie booksellers to microbrews and real estate, leveraging quirkiness is good for business. Weird isn’t just a way of being, it’s an economic strategy, one that has the rough-hewn, indie-rock air of an anti-strategy … Underneath it all, the affinity for weirdness harkens back to the oldest origins of wyrd, which conjured mastery over the fates.”

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Grammar Police: Greenlighting ‘Green light’

The Economist: “Because linguists spend their careers trying to tease out what people actually do say and why, they get cross when people equate ‘grammar’ with a host of rules that most people don’t actually observe. Take the so-called rule against ending sentences with a preposition. In fact, saying things like: ‘What are you talking about?’ is deeply embedded in the grammar of English. ‘About what are you talking?’ strikes real speakers of English as absurd.”

“Sometimes our mental grammars don’t know what to do with unusual cases. Take the newish verb ‘to greenlight’, meaning to approve a project. What is its past tense? ‘Light’ has the past tense ‘lit’. But some people go for “greenlighted” (Variety, a film-industry magazine, prefers this) whereas others go for ‘greenlit’. Why the confusion? It’s because ‘to greenlight’ was formed anew from a noun phrase, ‘a green light’. One mental rule is that new words are always regular; hence ‘greenlighted’. But other people’s mental grammars see ‘greenlight as a form of the verb ‘to light’, an existing irregular verb with the past tense ‘lit’; hence ‘greenlit’.”

“This implicit grammatical knowledge overwhelms, in its intricacy and depth, the relatively few rules that people must be consciously taught at school. But since the implicit stuff is hidden in plain sight, it gets overlooked.”

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West Elm ‘Retails’ Boutique Hotels

The Wall Street Journal: “Furniture retailer West Elm is worried about following other chains down the rabbit hole of opening too many stores. So the company has another plan to sustain its growth: launching a chain of boutique hotels. West Elm will design, furnish and market the hotels, the first of which will open in Detroit and Savannah in late 2018 … Guests will be able to buy the room furniture and other décor online.”

“The hotel project thrusts West Elm, part of Williams-Sonoma Inc., into a fast-growing, but crowded field. Most of the major hotel chains have launched boutique hotel brands in recent years as travelers have come to crave unique experiences rather than the standardization that was once their biggest selling point … Industry experts say there is room for more entrants. Despite growing 24% over the past six years, the number of boutique hotel rooms still represents just 2% of the total supply.”

“To test its ideas for West Elm Hotels, the company built mock rooms in a Brooklyn warehouse … Guests who like the furnishings will have an opportunity to purchase them through an app they can download when they check in, or on West Elm’s website. No price tags will be displayed in the rooms, however.” West Elm says it “could eventually have as many hotels as retail stores.”

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Grass-Fed Beef: Not a ‘Luxury’ Anymore

The Wall Street Journal: “Grass-fed beef, once a niche luxury, is now sold at ballgames, convention centers and nearly every Wal-Mart in the U.S. Beef labeled as grass-fed connotes much more than cattle that were raised in a pasture, say grocers and restaurateurs. Many consumers perceive grass-fed beef as a healthier, higher-quality alternative to conventional beef and are willing to pay more for it, no matter that labeling—and flavor—can be inconsistent.”

“Not every retailer is onboard. Costco Wholesale Corp., the country’s second largest retailer after Wal-Mart, doesn’t sell grass-fed beef, though it sells organic ground beef in every U.S. store. The definition of grass-fed beef is still too ambiguous, the taste too inconsistent and Costco consumers gravitate most to an ‘organic’ label for now, says Jeff Lyons, Costco’s senior vice president of fresh foods.”

“Theo Weening, Whole Foods’ global meat coordinator, expects demand for grass-fed beef to grow well beyond human appetites. ‘When a customer likes grass-fed beef and they have a dog, they want the dog to have grass-fed beef, too,’ he says.”

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Kola House: Pepsi Pushes Cola Buzz

The Wall Street Journal: Pepsi’s Kola House, a new bar in NY’s Meatpacking District is mixing kola nuts “into cocktails such as the Curcuma, billed as an ‘enhancing appetizer of African and arabesque aromatics’ with turmeric, lemon and honeydew, and the Kola Love, a ‘dessert elixir and libido enhancer’ with red wine, vanilla and whipped cream. ‘We like to give people a flavor experience they haven’t had before,’ said Kola House flavor chemist Alex Ott, who trained as a biochemist in Germany.”

“Beverage-industry observers say companies like PepsiCo … are making a push into the bar scene, particularly in the all-important New York market, to reconnect with consumers who have lost interest in sugary sodas. Bars are ‘a great place if you want to get soft drinks in front of millennials,’ said Duane Stanford, editor of Beverage Digest, a trade publication.”

“The cola buzz is also being driven by bartenders who see it as a way to jolt cocktails with flavor, reminiscent of the complex, heavily spiced cola drinks of the 19th century. Q Drinks’s Kola soda, for example, incorporates cloves, nutmeg, coriander and citrus, among other ingredients. The flavor is tangy, sweet and savory, said Jordan Silbert, the company’s founder and chief executive, but also familiar.”

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Ralph Lauren Turns NYC Street Into Runway

The Wall Street Journal: “In the can-you-top-this stakes of New York Fashion Week stunts, Ralph Lauren is nearly shutting down one block of Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side to host the label’s latest women’s runway show. The block, between 71st and 72nd streets, is home to Mr. Lauren’s flagship women’s store on the left, its men’s store on the right, and children’s store.”

“Models will emerge from the women’s store to sashay down Madison Avenue in a giant glass-enclosed tent. Immediately after, the women’s store will be open to guests and customers, who will be able to buy anything from the collection that was just shown. The move makes Ralph Lauren the largest American brand to make an entire runway collection immediately available to shoppers, part of a growing industry trend to close the monthslong gap between when clothes are shown and when they arrive in stores.”

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The De-Branding of Logos

The Washington Post: “Symbols work better than long names on computer screens and apps, and they allow for greater flexibility if a company wants to dabble in multiple industries at once … Additionally, visual cues can travel across borders more easily, because they eliminate the need for translation … But perhaps the most powerful impetus for slimmed-down logos is that it’s increasingly more difficult to reach buyers when so many of them are skeptical of big corporations.”

“The trend is sometimes called ‘debranding’ or ‘decorporatizing’—a strategy based on paring down that can only be deployed by the most identifiable of brands. Some marketers believe that debranding can make global brands appear ‘less corporate’ and ‘more personal’ to consumers. Nameless logos can evoke more personal and immediate reactions—which is important in a media environment with plenty of possible distractions and diversions.”

“The need to get personal and friendly is particularly germane to young people, the target market of many global consumer-product enterprises … The benefits of debranding can be huge. One of the most successful executions of it has been the ‘Share a Coke’ promotion, for which Coca-Cola replaced its name on bottles with people’s first names, like Sarah and David … The campaign increased Coca-Cola’s U.S. sales by more than 2 percent and, in doing so, helped reverse more than 10 years of decline in Coke consumption in the U.S.”

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Joy Makers: How Driscoll’s Brands Its Berries

The New York Times: “Its strawberries have been bred for a uniform shape … while Driscoll’s raspberries are pinker and shinier, made to meet desires expressed by consumers … Driscoll’s is betting that once consumers know why its berries are distinctive they will demand them by name … Driscoll’s plans to build awareness methodically, by starting with digital outreach. The company’s website, which largely offered recipes, has been changed to explain more about Driscoll’s berries and what makes them different.”

“The public will get an introduction to the people Driscoll’s calls its Joy Makers — agronomists, breeders, sensory analysts, plant pathologists and entomologists who will explain how the company creates its berries. The company’s YouTube channel will feature stories told by consumers about why berries make them happy. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will be used to send traffic to the website and YouTube.”

“Labels on the company’s berries have been changed, too, to ‘speak’ more to consumers, using a scriptlike font for the Driscoll’s name with the dot over the ‘i’ colored to match the berries inside the box … Since margins on produce are razor-thin, most companies elect to spend the few dollars they have for marketing to woo buyers for supermarket chains rather than consumers.”

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