Sunday, July 16, 2017

First Look And Thoughts, Regarding Publix

Yeah, I did it.

But, in actuality, the title is a bit of a misnomer.

Today, I took my first trip to Publix in Virginia on the first day anyone could walk into a Publix in Virginia. But about two weeks ago, I visited the Publix that recently opened near my brother's house in New Bern, North Carolina.

Now, admittedly, both were quick trips, the first cut short by weather, the second by the desire to get just what we needed and get out of the sea of humanity that, of course, was drawn to the new store because, if you want to get Richmonders riled up about something that isn't politics or The Civil War, just mention a grocery store.

The Lukhards, Siegel's, A&P's, Safeways, Farm Fresh's, Big Star's, Food Fair's and, yes, Ukrop's, of the past are just that, in the past. With Lidl on the horizon in just days, Aldi continuing to expand, Food Lion remodeling everywhere and Martin's bidding adieu, just what will Publix do in a market now headed up by, of all places, (ugh) Walmart?

A few thoughts from a guy fascinated by the grocery business from the outside.....

1) Publix is going after Wegmans. Now, I expect their Staples Mill location, which opens July 29 replacing a Martin's (which replaced a Ukrop's), to have to go after Kroger just down the road, thus, I expect to see some lower regular prices on some items. I expect Publix to have the same price, especially sale prices seen in circulars, at all locations like everybody else. But a cursory look at some regular prices at Publix, at both stores, tell me they will struggle with getting people like me who shop almost completely with sales and have no problem going to four stores to do so. Publix will rely a lot on building loyalty. That can take a generation in Richmond.

2) Publix is the closest thing you'll see to a Ukrop's. When Martin's arrived, they painted the walls, hung signs with their font, put on green shirts, and moved the shopping carts outside. It all went downhill from there. At Publix, they're happy to carry your groceries to your car, their prepared area reminds you of Ukrop's (only it is bigger), but the back of the store is surprisingly crowded. The back aisle is small. I'm sure it'll be easier to navigate in a few weeks when half of the 23060 zip code isn't there trying to buy dinner.

3) Wegmans isn't Ukrop's. To me, Wegmans is a strange combination, now that I've seen two, of Publix and Sam's Club. Huge, wooden, meant for families of six or more. Need 48 rolls of toilet paper or five pounds of ground beef at a place where you'll get status points in your neighborhood by being seen there? Wegmans is your jam. They won't make a huge dent in Richmond market share until they build at least two more locations. They need to be in Hanover (301 makes sense, 360 is, sadly, more likely) and they'd be smart to build somewhere along 295 where they'd get weekly shoppers from the Tri-Cities, Sandston, Varina, and Chester. They'll probably end up somewhere way west on Hull Street instead.

I plan to get back to Publix and really comparison shop one day before the month ends, and I found a few good deals, and didn't mind the fact that I wasn't asked for a Valued Customer Card (I had to explain to Rachel today that we have Ukrop's to thank for that phenomenon). The bagger in our lane is actually from South Carolina, up for awhile to help with the opening. That was impressive. Publix seems very committed to the area.

So, in closing, my thoughts about who stays and who goes in Richmond?  We will have way too many grocery stores for a market this size to support.....

Well, we won't know for probably three years. That gives Publix and Lidl time to be sampled and settled and Food World time to give us a couple of annual reports on market share to see if they make a splash, and whether anyone established (aka Wegmans) can really challenge the top three.

Currently, the market share looks like this (according to Food World in its 2017 report in June):

1) Walmart (16.06%, 21 stores, including Neighborhood Markets)
2) Kroger (15.71%, 18 stores)
3) Food Lion (14.21%, 49 stores)
4) CVS (7.04%, 65 stores)
5) Martin's (6.61%, 12 stores)
6) Wawa (5.80%, 28 stores)
7) Target (4.19%, 12 stores)
8) Walgreens (3.94%, 27 stores)
9) 7-Eleven (3.30%, 83 stores)
10) Sam's Club (3.10%, 4 stores)
11) Wegmans (2.94%, 2 stores)

Aldi is currently 15th, 1.65% with ten locations. Fresh Market is 17th.

The total amount of food sales in the last 12 month period measured by the publication? $3.71 billion dollars.

That's a lot of plastic bags. BTW, PSA, I like taking bags to the store. :)

Drugs, general merchandise, tobacco sales are all included.

Martin's lost over half its market share (13.92% in 2016's report) as they get ready to leave RVA. CVS jumped .65% in part due to entering Target stores. Walmart actually sold $700,000 less in groceries, yet gained market share by .23%, while Kroger sold $48.4 million more and gained 1.54% share.

I'm excited about our Lidl opening soon (I bet August) down Staples Mill at Hermitage and may venture to the (ugh) Short Pump store when it opens, just to get a peek.

Right now, though, for me, it's still, show me the sales, and I'll be there, with Kroger getting most of my grocery business, followed up by Aldi, then Food Lion if I have to.



Friday, June 23, 2017

Song #1: "Fire On High"--Electric Light Orchestra (1975)

My first recollection of this song (which, in its edited form contains all of three words, the title, sung during the build-up to the finish) is when it was used by CBS Sports as the theme to "CBS Sports Spectacular" from 1976 to 1978. That show was their answer to ABC's more popular "Wide World of Sports".

Then, in 1978, ELO places the song as the B-side of the 45 to 'Sweet Talkin' Woman", and suddenly, I had my own copy, and it grew on me. I played it quite a bit, in fact, much more than the "A" side. :)

Then, early in the 1980's, my second favorite radio station ever, K-94 from Tidewater, used it for the most awesome Legal ID, in my view, in radio history, back in the day when you did a longer ID, usually around midnight, if you were on-air 24 hours, otherwise it was used as a sign-off or sign-on. You can listen to the K-94 package below.


"Fire On High" continued to be a staple on AOR radio stations, and my love continued to grow for the song over the years.

But it wouldn't overtake "My Sharona" by The Knack as my all-time favorite song until an unforgettable day in January, 2007. I took the day off from work, got up early, and headed down to North Carolina to attend my niece's wedding. That seems simple enough, right?

Except that I had not been out of the Commonwealth of Virginia by that point in three and one half years. It was, on many Sundays, everything I could do to travel the 45 miles down to the church I pastored at the time in Prince George County. As part of my severe depression, and severe grieving over the passing of my Mama late in 2002, I developed an outrageous, and unhealthy desire to be as close to home as humanly possible.

I was taking a huge chance that day, going by myself and out of state all at the same time. Heading through the final miles of Southern Virginia, today's song came on the radio. Moments later when I passed the state line, I called my wife, crying, to give her the good news that I had made it into The Tar Heel State.

Later that day, the song was played again. Now, catching this song once on a random day in 2007 on the radio was a treat, but twice? It was a sign from God. That part of my depression began to fade away after that day, and the song took on a much deeper meaning.

And, after discovering years later it had an "opening" edited off of the radio/record version, I believe that, while listening to the entire piece, it pretty much explains my first fifty years.

--The opening to the song (which some of you may never have heard) is an opera of the battle for the mind. In one moment, someone speaks backwards while music plays backwards, and, moments later, the heavenly choir sings "Hallelujah!" from Handel's Messiah. It's the perfect microcosm of my life as a sufferer and survivor of sudden onset obsessive compulsive disorder. Some days, that's how my mind sounds on the inside. I think I hide that very well.

--The song has two great "build-ups" in lieu of verses to get to the chorus, and I look at one with all the milestones of childhood, the second with the milestones of adulthood.

In the end, all of it crescendos together for a final build-up, including the aforementioned three-word lyrics of the song, before ending with a finish like no other.

It's totally fitting that I've chosen, essentially, an instrumental, as my favorite song. They've always been a big part of my musical life. So has ELO. If the Moody Blues couldn't occupy the top slot, I'm glad it's ELO.

My deepest thanks to everyone who have put up with this journey over the past 500 days. I will post a full list of the Top 500 as soon as possible. Now, my question for you: What's your number one song?


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Song #2: "My Sharona"--The Knack (1979)

For a long time, this was my all-time favorite song.

Around the beginning of August in 1979, I did on a typical Friday what every other preteen or teenager did by picking up that evening's edition of The Richmond News Leader and immediately going to the "Young Virginians" section.

Yep, once a week, the now defunct evening paper would spend a few pages with articles and features for the generation that's now 40 to 64 years old. There was the advice column for teens, "Ask Beth", and, my favorite part, the Billboard Top 10 Singles Chart.

They posted a few charts, but the first one was what I focused on, future radio programmer that I was at the time.

One Friday, I looked, and there was a song listed that, well, I had never heard before.

What's is "My Sharona by The Knack"??  I distinctly remember asking myself that question, mispronouncing "Sharona" in the process. Not too many days later, I got my answer, hearing the song for the very first time.

(NOTE: "My Sharona" was #45 on the Hot 100 the week of July 14th, then went to #34, #18, then #6 the week of August 4th)

In my first fifty years, NO other song has ever made me obsessed from the first listen like this one did. Immediately, my daily hope in the waning weeks before seventh grade began at Beaverdam Elementary was to hear the song, hear it again, get it on tape, and play said cassette to death.

To this day, when I hear it, I am immediately transported back to August, 1979, in my brother's Chevrolet Monza, listening to it as high as the volume for that little car radio would allow, absolutely and totally enthralled. And I smile. And I crank it up again.

The beat, the riffs, the drums, the bridge, the vocals. It's everything wrapped into one incredibly perfect piece of music, and perfect for late summer, 1979, a summer we've saluted here many times.

I eventually bought the album, "Get The Knack", and I, along with many others, thought we had the second coming of Beatlemania on our hands. That is, until early 1980, when, fatefully, The Knack released an album obviously rushed to completion to capitalize on the massive, monster success of today's song.

It was a flop. And, as quickly as they stormed the charts, sadly, The Knack disappeared from them. But I'm still a fan, as shown by the fact that several of their songs made the Top 500, a few others came close.

I salute and thank The Knack for providing me the most musically charged moment of my life: the first time I heard today's song, and knew, beyond reasonable doubt, what "My Sharona" was.

In a word? Life-changing.

Or is that two words.... :)

What eventually supplanted "My Sharona" from the #1 spot? There's a major story, in parts, behind its ascension. See you tomorrow.  :)


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Song #3: "Sausalito Summernight"--Diesel (1981)

We've talked about the year in music 1981 extensively over the past sixteen months, a year that allowed for so much musical variety in the Top 40, our generation simply wouldn't believe it.

Among those who made their mark 36 years ago was the Dutch group "Diesel". Formed three years earlier, their album, "Watts In A Tank" first debuted in their homeland in 1980, then Regency Records released it in America the following year.

Sometime, I believe, in the Summer of 1981, today's song debuted, first on the cool AOR radio stations like XL102 in Richmond, K94 near the coast, and 3WV up in Charlottesville. And, as I mentioned yesterday, when I first heard the song, especially its opening, on the airwaves, time stood still.

"What IS this song??", I asked. The funky opening and driving beat were absolutely mesmerizing.

And back then, you couldn't do The Google and go find out with a few keywords of lyrics. You know, "Google, can't afford to blow it 'cuz we haven't got a spare."

You hoped the DJ back sold the song, and that it wasn't in the middle of "ten songs in a row commercial-free!", because to find a new group's name and song title was not exactly simple back in the day.

This is one of the reasons why, and I've never understood this, many people thought The Steve Miller Band recorded and released this song. No way, Miller's vocal range was far too low.

Did I buy "Watts In A Tank"? You betcha. I liked the second single, "Going Back To China", too. But, in the Summer of 1981, THE song that made everything stop, the song I had to have a recording of off the radio before I could get the album, and the song I prayed would come every time I was in a car, was today's song.

So, drop a quarter in the meter, hit the sidewalk for awhile, and have a burger and a root beer!




Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Song #4: "Face The Face"--Pete Townshend (1985)

Keen observers of this countdown may have realized, thanks to a hint or two dropped along the way, that we hadn't heard the last of Pete Townshend, longtime member of The Who, and a pretty doggone good solo artist in his own right.

Today begins a stretch of the three songs that "stopped me dead in my tracks" the most when I first heard them over the past fifty years. You know the feeling. The song comes on the radio for the first time and everything else doesn't matter. You ask, "what IS this??" while cranking up the volume, beginning a lifelong relationship with a perfect piece of music.

Such was the case late in 1985 the first time I heard Townshend belt out this, the first single from "White City: A Novel", his fourth solo project.

You have to remember, the radio edit cuts out the actual long piano opening that slowly gives way to the band that jams better than any other ever. Ever. Ever. The super hot start to the song, as a single, was actually the second part of the full event.

How anyone could listen to this song and not "turn it all the way up" is beyond me. It was a cherished favorite my freshman year of college, remembering fondly when I heard it on a Sunday afternoon early in January, 1986 when I was finally allowed to take my car to college with me, specifically because I had landed a radio job, and needed wheels to get back and forth.

In the late 1990's, during my wonderful stay-at-home Dad era, I got Townshend's Best Of CD, and, of course, immediately introduced my kids to the song. Robbie, all the time, would ask, "Hey Dad, you got Face The Face?" when getting in the car. And somewhere, I believe, I have a copy of them singing along to this tune. I hope I find it during my summer break cleaning. I'd love to hear that again!

As Pete noted about the song, "We overdubbed everything." The "Big 80's". Gotta love it.  :)

Get ready for the party jam of party jams!




Monday, June 19, 2017

Song #5: "When I Fall In Love"--Nat King Cole (1956)

We begin the top five with, for my money, the greatest love song of all time.

Originally written in 1952, the song first achieved popularity with the version recorded by Doris Day. There have been countless versions released over its 65-year history. Three of them stand out for me.

I want to give kudos to the 1993 version with Clive Griffin and Celine Dion recorded for the movie, "Sleepless In Seattle". Their vocals are wonderful, and the ending is almost perfect.

But, in the end, no one matches the incredible vocal talent of the great Nat King Cole. It's a simple, yet elegant version of a simple, yet timeless message. I've decided to post both Nat's rendition, taken from an early television show, and the "virtual remake" done by the late Natalie Cole 40 years later.

Both I and my wife come from broken homes. I told her, on bended knee, on Christmas Eve, 1987 that I was only going to ask "this question" once. I had to find someone willing to spend the rest of their life with me, because I knew I wanted kids, and I never wanted them to experience what I had at just seven and a half years old.

After begging, and a promise to write her a check once a year (hee hee), she said yes.

So, for as much as I poked at Bonnie yesterday, I honor her today. Unbelievable to me that someone has been willing to put up with my idiosyncracies, quirks, OCD, and issues over nearly three decades now.

Thanks, sweetie!  :)





Sunday, June 18, 2017

Song #6: "Anything She Does"--Genesis (1986)

Today, the highest song in the countdown that was never released as a single to radio. It comes from Genesis' wildly successful "Invisible Touch" release, and it has a rather bawdy background, which probably explains why they invited the great British comedian Benny Hill to star in the song's music video.

My biggest memory of this song, however, has to do with my first official date with my then future wife.

It's October 17, 1987, and Bonnie and I would spend a Saturday night nervously picking at our food at the old Bonanza on Parham Road (where Aldi is today), following by some time walking around and shopping at Regency Square (which is in serious, but stable condition today). Right before I picked her up to begin the evening, I had been listening to my "Invisible Touch" cassette, and today's song came on. My date said the following:

"Um, if I'm going to be in your car, I would appreciate it if you wouldn't play that kind of music."

See, Bonnie came from a, putting it mildly, strict upbringing. So, being the respectful guy I hope I am, I complied and shut down Phil and company.

Fast forward thirty years later, and it's Bonnie's Hyundai that is tuned to Q94 and other stations, listening to music that I have little clue about (I get help to find what's popular so I make good bumper music for high school football broadcasts every fall.....).

So, needless to say, she's changed, a little.  Hee hee.....

When I hear today's song, I think of our first date, the life-changing year of 1987, and Benny Hill. Now, that's a combination.  :)