Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Local Shooting

Last night was Halloween. We only had three or four groups of trick-or-treaters, lots fewer than we have seen in the past but it's a trend, last year was pretty quiet too.

Somebody shot the cashier at the neighborhood Safeway early in the evening, that might have had something to do with it, but I don't really think so. Let me talk about that for a minute, even though I'll probably say all the wrong things.

We live on the "right side" of Viers Mill (or "Veirs Mill," interestingly both spellings are correct) in Twinbrook Forest, not Twinbrook. Houses here are taken care of, there aren't many rentals, it's the classic little suburban neighborhood, not ritzy but nice enough. Lots of people in our neighborhood have lived here their whole lives; at the Little League games they talk about who babysat for whose little sister and who dated whose brother in high school, just like a small town. I saw the police gang report last year, and Rockville has a tiny percentage of the number of gang members that places like Germantown or Wheaton have. Almost none. I noticed recently that some cars have been broken into in our neighborhood, I expect they'll catch some kids and that will be that. A couple of years ago there were some teenagers setting cars on fire around here, and they bragged about it on their MySpace and got caught and that stopped. All within the expected range of stuff that happens.

Like a lot of American neighborhoods, Twinbrook Forest has seen a big wave of immigrants come in, lots of Hispanics and lots of Koreans and other Asian groups, too, some Africans. You know me, I like that, it means I get to practice my Spanish and there's good picante food in the neighborhood, plus one of those places where you cook your meat on a grill in the middle of the table, and there's a Vietnamese guy that can fix anything like watches and cell phones. It means you feel a little strange sometimes, like when you go to the neighborhood strip-mall and realize you're the only English-speaking white person there; for some of us who grew up among people like ourselves it can be a bit of a shock, and I know some people who have not adapted well to it, but like I said, I think it's cool. To me it's like traveling without going anywhere.

Something goes with that, though. "Our" Safeway, at Twinbrook mall, has gone downhill, and we stopped going there long ago, unless we really need something quick. The inventory is always all over the floor, it's dirty, they don't hire enough people or keep enough on the schedule so there are always terrible lines, and the people that work there are underpaid, inexperienced, they tend to be both rude and clueless.

You know, as I read those last lines I was thinking, I'll bet some Safeway executive could show you a spreadsheet proving that what I said was not correct, that they care just as much about this Safeway as their other ones. And that's a funny thought, because that same executive would know exactly what I mean if he walked into that store. I'm not talking about numbers on a spreadsheet, I'm talking about people. Employees and customers.

Over towards Aspen Hill is a neighborhood that has not seen this kind of change, and there's a Safeway there on Bauer and Norbeck that's well-lighted, with good music coming out of the ceiling, Bonnie Raitt or Talking Heads or Aaron Neville, the food is on the shelves and not scattered all over the place, the clerks are, well they're just people but they know what they're doing, at least. When the line gets long they call for back-up. It's like night and day. Like, the electricity went out several weeks ago at Twinbrook mall, and the owner never did come out and throw the breaker, so all the signs are dark, the whole mall is dark every night, and nobody does anything about it. Store owners told me they called, but nobody comes out. That wouldn't happen at the "other" Safeway's mall. It's a half mile away I guess, maybe a mile, and this one is just a few hundred yards from our house, but if we're going to be stocking up we make the drive without thinking twice.

So here's what you get. Reported in this morning's Washington Post:
Four young men dressed in red and wearing bandannas over their faces barged into a crowded Rockville supermarket last night and shot a cashier, Montgomery County police said.

The cashier, whom police identified as a 23-year-old man from Silver Spring, was taken to a hospital with injuries that are not considered life-threatening, police said.

The men ran out of the store and were at large last night, Capt. Terry Pierce said.

"They fled on foot with a handgun," he said. "We have done everything we could to locate the suspects."

The victim and the men had argued in the moments before the shooting, Pierce said. At one point, the cashier threw a 24-can case of Coca-Cola toward the men, he added.

"That's when they shot him," Pierce said.

Police were dispatched to the Safeway store at 1902 Veirs Mill Rd. shortly after 6:40 p.m. Pierce said about 30 people were in the store when the shooting occurred.

"Some were hysterical," he said. Cashier Shot After Argument With Four Masked Men

I talked with a guy who talked with somebody who saw it happen. Some black guys in red Halloween costumes came in and got in an argument with the cashier. The cashier, this guy said, started throwing stuff at them and there was yelling, and then one of the guys pulled out a gun and shot him.

I'm not saying that's gospel truth, but that's how the story is going in the neighborhood here. The word "gang" comes up, and there's a chance the cashier knew the guys.

Normally this is the quietest neighborhood you can imagine. I've talked here about the cops hassling people, and a couple of things that have happened, but it's all within the expected range, I mean, c'mon, cops hassle teenagers everywhere. And of course, fuzzy dice are a serious problem in today's society. Around here, our worst problem usually is people crossing the street in the middle of the block, in the dark, and getting run over. It happens pretty often, I think they come from a country where it's okay to do that. And sometimes they have been drinking.

The story here, to me, isn't immigration, it isn't the shifting demographics of the area. Because listen, people move here because it's a nice place to live, they don't come here to run it down, they come here to lift themselves up to a new way of life. Maybe they don't figure out how to do that right away, but that's why they're here. The story is the way the Safeway corporation has let this place go. It's like there are two standards for everything, for cleanliness, for hiring qualifications, for inventory. There's the "suburban" standard and there's the "ghetto" standard, or let us be straightforward and say there are white and "other" Safeway stores. Twinbrook got on the ghetto list for some reason, probably because some monkey-monk came out and saw a lot of brown faces, and the Bauer Safeway is still on the suburban standard. Trust me, nobody's going to get shot at Bauer.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is probably more profitability than racism, Jim. Those corporate money-grabbers don't care who gives them the money.

November 01, 2007 11:29 AM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Jim writes,

The story is the way the Safeway corporation has let this place go. It's like there are two standards for everything, for cleanliness, for hiring qualifications, for inventory.

That is one possibility...have you considered any other, like that these corporate "money-grabbers" might be reluctant to reinvest in an area where they are losing money due to an increase in what is called shrinkage, that is to say loss due to theft?

Most grocery store chains operate off an amazingly slim profit margin...the number that I vaguely recall is about 2%. That is not alot, and accounts for a large part of the reason that most are very large operations - they have to be in order to survive.

November 01, 2007 4:01 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

This is fascinating. The two conservative commenters had the same thought: Safeway is naturally putting resources back into the money-maker. Like, why would they want to put more money into a loser? This is perfect.

I have two comments about this. First, the obvious thing is that Safeway's profits average over a large number of outlets. Assuming they want the maximum profit, it may be that consistent quality is a selling point, that customers who live in neighborhood B might try the Safeway in neighborhood A and if they like it they may decide to switch in their own neighborhood. I know this happens; knowing how my K-Mart was, I never went into any K-Mart.

The other observation is a little more technical. In optimization there is something called a "greedy algorithm." A greedy algorithm always moves toward the local optimum. You try something on a small scale; if it works, you keep doing it, if it doesn't you switch to something else.

So in this case, let's say they found that by staffing up the Bauer store and keeping it clean they increased business by a pretty big amount. But putting more people and work into the Twinbrook store didn't make much difference; people like me who have stopped going there wouldn't know about the change, and the people who live nearby and walk to the store still will, because that's all they can do. Corporate looks at the numbers, sees a big increase at Bauer, little or no increase at Twinbrook, so they say, OK, let's put in bright new lighting and a nice sound system at Bauer and see if it still gets better, Twinbrook doesn't matter, let's just use it to train new people and then when they're experienced we'll ship them to a better store.

Across the whole Safeway system, what you'll see is a dichotomy. Some stores will sail into the stratosphere, both in terms of investment in them and profits they generate, while others will degenerate into dirty, dangerous, frustrating hell-holes.

The conservatives' economic strategy inevitably leads to that division. The greedy algorithm leads to bifurcation in the economy, it leads to a world of haves and have-nots, widely separated. It also results in Safeway dragging along a bunch of low-profit outlets; even though they don't soak up as much money as they might they still don't make any.

If Safeway were to use a comprehensive strategy, to build up the lower performers and let the top ones make money as they are, to produce an overall high level of quality across the chain, it seems likely that overall the corporation would be in a better position. Not only would it be profitable, but it would be stable, which is also important. Right now the news is that somebody at Safeway got shot. Nobody outside our neighborhood knows where this store is, they only know that a shooting happened at Safeway. You know how many advertising dollars it's going to take to make up for that? Every Safeway store in the news region is going to lose customers. Maybe they won't notice it in any single location, but overall this is good for Giant, because people need to eat and they don't want to be dodging bullets while they're buying their groceries. Remember, those are lost dollars; executives probably won't want to mention them in any quarterly report, but that's real money out of their pockets, and it's more lost than they would have spent keeping this store in quality shape.

Sorry for going on so long, but I thought this was fascinating. As America divides more and more into rich and poor, with the middle disappearing, it may be worthwhile to understand just how that happens.


November 01, 2007 5:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am happy to report I work at the Twinbrook Safeway and have done so for several years. We will be going through a pretty major remodel just after the new year. This remodel will not erase all the problems within the store or company for that matter, but it should improve things greatly. I have noticed that over the years management in the store has gone down the tubes and many of the employees are inexperienced and not very well trained. Hopefully the community will be behind the employees as we go to vote on a new union contract early in April 2008. If successful, this new contract should improve some of the things that go on in the store. Hopefully there will be a better starting wage for new hires and less time to get health bene's. With any luck, we can turn this ship around and people can look foward to shopping there again instead of dreading having to make a quick (or not so much so if the lines are bad) stop.

November 02, 2007 9:11 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Thank you for commenting. I know it can't be good for you who work there, and of course those of us who live in the neighborhood would rather shop there, if it just wasn't such a bad experience. Your comments sound like the "inside" version of what the neighbors have noticed -- a lot of us won't shop there any more. And good luck with that union contract.

I hate to think it, but maybe this is what it took to get it turned around.


November 02, 2007 9:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Correction to This Article
A July 14 article on President Bush's fundraising incorrectly said that representatives of Breyers ice cream purchased tickets to a Bush fundraiser in California. It should have said they were representatives of Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream.

Bush 'Bundlers' Take Fundraising to New Level

By Thomas B. Edsall and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, July 14, 2003; Page A01

As chairman, president and chief executive of Safeway Inc., the world's 11th-largest grocery chain, Steven Burd is the nexus of a wide network of subordinates and suppliers, as well as friends in corporate suites. And that is why he will play a critical role in President Bush's effort to raise the largest amount of money ever spent on a presidential campaign -- not by giving a lot of money himself, but by finding a lot of people to give relatively little.

In the jargon of political fundraising, Burd is a bundler.

At two Bush fundraising events in California last month, Burd filled 10 tables with Safeway suppliers, including rice farmers, strawberry growers and a cheese manufacturer, plus representatives of Breyers ice cream, Sunkist produce and Del Monte canned goods who paid $2,000 to hear Bush talk. Each donor wrote a four-digit "solicitor tracking code" assigned to Burd on his check so that the Safeway CEO will receive credit from Bush campaign officials and they can keep a running tally of his efforts. The possible rewards, depending on how much money he can bring in, include cocktails with campaign architect Karl Rove, dinner with Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans and photo opportunities and sessions with the president...

Internal campaign documents show that the bundling organization is dominated by corporate CEOs, lobbyists, energy company executives, venture capitalists and investment bankers who can reach tens of thousands of subordinates, customers and subcontractors...

Becoming part of the Bush money machine starts with a pledge card and a commitment to raise a specific amount, from $20,000 to $250,000 or more. A highly successful innovation of Bush's first campaign, which raised a record $101 million, was the designation of "Pioneer" for someone who raised at least $100,000. That designation is also available this campaign, with the promise -- in writing -- of benefits that include "a special Pioneer event with the President," special events at the Republican National Convention in New York and "regular reports" from top campaign officials... Pioneer will no longer be the top designation. Those who produce at least $200,000 will be awarded the status of "Ranger," evocative of the Texas Rangers, the baseball team Bush once owned.

The Rangers and Pioneers recruit other Bush supporters as vice chairs, sponsors and host committee members for specific events. These people raise smaller amounts, perhaps $20,000 or $50,000, depending on the event. At the base of the pyramid are the people who write the checks, usually at the behest of an aspiring Ranger or Pioneer...

Charles M. Cawley, CEO of MBNA, the world's largest independent credit card issuer, for example, was a Bush Pioneer. MBNA employees gave Bush a total of $240,675, according to an analysis by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. Similarly, members of Vinson & Elkins -- the law firm of Pioneer Joe B. Allen -- gave $202,850. Les Brorsen, another Pioneer, is chief lobbyist for Ernst & Young, where employees gave Bush $179,949.

Rove, who remains on the White House payroll for the campaign and has been an energetic promoter of Bush's fundraising events, helped recruit bundlers by holding "pre-sale events" in New York, California and Texas. Before Bush's reception in Los Angeles, Rove chatted up bundlers during a dinner at the ranch of David H. Murdock, the billionaire chairman of Dole Food Co. Attendees said Rove went from table to table, asking for ideas and sharing insights about Bush behind the scenes, then spoke to the group about the campaign's political plans...

The single factor virtually all such donors have in common is that they, their clients, their corporations, their suppliers and their subcontractors are major beneficiaries of the Bush administration's tax-cutting and deregulatory policies.

Almost all of the top Bush fundraisers are in the top 1 percent of the nation's incomes, and many are in the top one-tenth of the top 1 percent. Consequently, they are among those who benefit the most from administration legislation reducing the top income tax rate, the capital gains rate and the elimination of taxation on dividend income...

In some instances, the bundlers' employers have also benefited from White House policies. Take Dwight H. Evans, who was on the host committee for a June 20 Bush fundraiser at the Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Ga. Evans is the executive vice president and president of the external affairs group for the Southern Co., which describes itself as "a super-regional energy company." Southern's holdings include five electric utilities: Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power, Mississippi Power and Savannah Electric. Evans's responsibilities include directing environmental policy, regulatory affairs and legislative affairs.

Few companies have done as well during the current Bush administration as the Southern Co. The Environmental Protection Agency has curtailed tough regulatory requirements governing improvements at old power plants, and the electricity industry strongly supports the administration's Clear Skies Initiative to change the pollution reduction goals in the Clean Air Act. The administration backs a wide range of subsidies and insurance protections for nuclear energy producers."

November 03, 2007 7:40 AM  

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