Helium shortage deflating Party City's business

Party City, the brick-and-mortar retailer that's a one-stop-shop for single-use, brightly-colored plastic crap and other festive decorations, is closing 45 of its 900 stores across the country. Store profits are down due to the shortage of helium on the planet; Party City historically makes big money from filling balloons. From CNN:

The Earth holds pockets of helium buried under rock, but it's notoriously hard to capture because it, well, floats. When drilling or fracking for natural gas, energy companies capture some helium and sell it. But helium makes up a tiny percentage of the gasses trapped under rock formations. Over the past few years, some drillers have claimed to find troves of helium buried underground, but those haven't always panned out. Party City said it really started feeling the pinch in August 2018...

The good news for Party City is it signed an agreement with a new helium supplier. Party City believes the new supplier can help it return its balloon business back to normal starting in the summer, and it hopes the supplies will last for the next two-and-a-half years...

(Party City CEO) Harrison cautioned, however, that the additional helium wasn't a sure thing. Party City's new supplier might believe it is sitting on a lot of helium, but it can't know for sure until it bottles and sells it.

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Mallwave: nostalgic synth music for imaginary and abandoned shopping centers

Mallwave is a microgenre of bedroom electronic music and smooth jazz meant to evoke nostalgia for the vibrant mall scenes of the 1980s and 1990s that many of the music's composers are too young to have experienced or at least remember.

Think of Mallwave as a hauntological soundtrack for an Orange Julius-fueled consumer culture where Suncoast, Merry-Go-Round, and Spencer Gifts anchored suburban reality. (Or, in the case of some of the moodier tracks, the kind of muzak that might play in your mind as you wander an abandoned mall in a Ballardian trance.)

From Hussein Kesvanio's feature in MEL:

“The nostalgia is so real you can cry and wish you went back in time,” reads one comment underneath the video “Neon Wave Mall (Vapor Mix).” “I feel a certain sense of… familiarity watching this footage. Almost like I myself have set foot in these places,” adds a viewer of “Corp Palm Mall.” Under the same video, another person opines: “Why wasn’t I born in this time? This video makes me realize how much things were not as advanced as we have now but it was better. I could be wrong, but sometimes I feel like living around the ‘90s sounds fun. Lifestyle is different, mindset is different and not as much laziness.”

According to writer Joe Koenig, this kind of feeling — a “nostalgia for a past you’ve never known” — is called anemoia. In his ongoing project, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, Koenig describes it as “the desire to wade into the blurred-edge sepia haze that hangs in the air between people who leer stoically into this dusty and dangerous future.”

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Blame Big Data for CVS's endless miles of receipts

Buy a single item at CVS and you can end up with a 4'-6'-long ribbon of register tape, a kind of orgy of coupons and come-ons. Read the rest

Watch thousands of robots pack groceries in a warehouse

Ocado robots zip around simultaneously filling orders without bumping into each other in this fascinating look at a modern warehouse. Read the rest

"One price to all" has been the default since 1840, but online retail is sneakily killing it off

Since the earliest days of ecommerce, analysts have predicted that retailers would use their estimations of their customers' willingness to pay to invisibly, instantaneously reprice their goods, offering different prices to each customer. Read the rest

TV commercial for JCPenney's Pee-wee Herman kids fashion line (1989)

Back in 1989, you could purchase these fine garments at JCPenney inside their incredible Pee-wee Herman Store .

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Waterstones, the UK's national bookstore, came back from near-death by transforming into indie, local stores

Waterstones was at death's door when it was purchased by Russian billioniare Alexander Mamut, who hired James Daunt -- an investment banker who'd founded the successful, six-store Daunt Books -- to run the chain. Read the rest

A heartwarming story about a comic clerk who helped a "baby gay" teen customer come out through Supergirl comics

Mary (AKA @sapphicgeek) works in an Indiana comic shop, and Saturday, she met a customer, a distraught teen girl, looking for Supergirl. Read the rest

No Aloe Vera in "Aloe Vera" sold at Wal-Mart, Target, and CVS

Bloomberg News hired a lab to analyze samples of store brand aloe gel purchased at Wal-Mart, Target, and CVS. As the first or second ingredient (after water), all the products listed aloe barbadensis leaf juice — another name for aloe vera. None of the samples contained any. From Bloomberg:

Aloe’s three chemical markers — acemannan, malic acid and glucose — were absent in the tests for Wal-Mart, Target and CVS products conducted by a lab hired by Bloomberg News. The three samples contained a cheaper element called maltodextrin, a sugar sometimes used to imitate aloe. The gel that’s sold at another retailer, Walgreens, contained one marker, malic acid, but not the other two. That means the presence of aloe can’t be confirmed or ruled out, said Ken Jones, an independent industry consultant based in Chapala, Mexico.

Target Corp. declined to comment. Spokesmen for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. said their suppliers confirmed to them that their products were authentic.

"No Evidence of Aloe Vera Found in the Aloe Vera at Wal-Mart, CVS" Read the rest

Why Circuit City abandoned its 700 stores

Bright Sun Films' Abandoned series looks at Circuit City's steady rise and dizzying fall in the world of retail consumer electronics. Read the rest

High bias found in Amazon reviews of low-cost or free samples

Review Meta has published an in-depth analysis of 7 million Amazon reviews and found that "incentivized reviews," those with a disclaimer that the reviewer got the product free or discounted, skew substantially higher than non-incentivized reviews. Read the rest

UK Intellectual Property Office grants trademark on "should've"

The trademark was granted to discount eyewear company Specsavers, whose slogan is "should've gone to Specsavers." If you object, you have until October 12 to file with the IPO. Read the rest

Amazon is suing its own retailers over fake reviews

If you're an Amazon seller and you pay people to review your products on Amazon, the company may sue you. The online commerce giant sued three sellers today for using sockpuppet accounts to post glowing but phony product reviews. Read the rest

Crowdfunding an Atheist Shoe bus to crisscross America

David from Atheist shoes (previously) sez, "We've just been successful in raising money for the first Atheist Shoes Missionary Mobile Shoe Shop, which will criss-cross the USA, selling handmade shoes and spreading our European message of godless comfort and joy. The fund-raising is ongoing, as we aim to get a whole fleet of buses on the road. The first US tour begins in September 2016, and will take in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Texas." Read the rest

Mirror-filled Chinese bookstore seems infinite

XL-Muse designed this new bookstore in Hangzhou's Star Avenue commercial center, using mirrors and clever perspective to make its many rooms seem infinite and mind-meltingly weird. Read the rest

Former Starbucks designer on what makes a "third place" feel like home

Suppose you wanted to design a home away from home. What would you put in? What would you leave out? What kind of seating would you have? (Soft? Hard? Low? High?) What kind of tables — big working slabs or intimate little two-tops?

A good “third place” may seem casually homey, but its design is the end result of a million tiny decisions. This week on HOME: Stories From L.A., it’s a conversation with Kambiz Hemati, who oversaw store design at Starbucks for two years and now owns Love Coffee Bar in Santa Monica, where he gets to think hard — and think small — about what makes a place feel like home.

Thanks for listening. And if you like what you hear, please subscribe and leave us a rating and/or review on the iTunes Store. 

Check out all the great podcasts that Boing Boing has to offer! Read the rest

Used bookstores doing fine, allegedly

Trendy idea: America's bookstores—Borders, Barnes and Noble, etc—failed not because of Amazon, but from adopting a doomed big-box retail model that cannot be escaped. The evidence: UK bookstore chains are thriving, having located themselves in smaller units surrounded by foot traffic. And it turns out that wee used bookstores are doing great in the U.S, too.

Drew Nelles writes that The Used Bookstore Will Be the Last One Standing, focusing on Topos, a bookcafé in Queens.

Other shops have shuttered, or fled Manhattan in search of cheaper rents. But this has not necessarily been the case for used bookstores, many of which are thriving. “Strangely enough, it’s the big chain bookstores that are more of an anachronism,” Björkenheim said. “Even Strand is having to do a lot more of what Barnes & Noble was desperately doing for the last ten years. I don’t even know what they’re selling now—more tchotchkes and t-shirts and tote bags. Which is something a used bookstore doesn’t necessarily have to resort to.” The whole industry was probably heading in this direction, he added: “smaller used bookstores, rather than enormous megastores.”

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