Sunday, September 4, 2011

Who misinformed who?

A recent garbage bill included an enclosure called Monterey County Recycler - Fall 2011 Newsletter providing useful tips and helpful hints about Waste Management's curbside recycling programs. 

One section of the flyer stated that "On April 16, 2011, the Monterey Herald printed a story about recycling in Monterey County that included some incorrect and possibly unclear information about recycling for waste management customers." 

I remember that article. I specifically remember reading that Waste Management was providing curbside recycling of household batteries in all Monterey Peninsula cities served by WM - which means every city except Monterey. All one had to do was place the batteries in a plastic bag and tape it to the lid of the recycling bin where the truck drivers could easily grab it. Great, I thought, no more hauling them to a recycling station. Then I remembered seeing a bag of batteries on a neighbor's bin during my daily walk a few days earlier, and realized that others knew about this even before the Herald reported it. 

Now WM says the Herald got it wrong. The flyer states that "household battery pick-up is only offered in select areas of the unincorporated county as part of their new service package." Shoot. I still have to haul them to a collection center after all.

So the Herald must have screwed up again. Typical Herald stuff, right? WRONG! 

My attitude towards any news report is trust but verify. After reading the article I went to Waste Management's website and looked up their recycling policy for Seaside just to be sure. Lo and behold, it said exactly what the Herald said. I found the same thing for other Peninsula cities as well. The Herald story was confirmed, I believed. 

So, Waste Management, why are you faulting the Herald for repeating what was on your own website??? Take responsibility for misinforming not only the Herald, but also everyone else who visited your website, like me and my neighbor. 

Last night I noticed that the Waste Management website has been completely redesigned since I last looked in April, and it no longer offers curbside recycling of batteries in local cities. The good news, if Waste Management is to be believed this time, is that they now recycle all kinds of plastics, not just those with "chasing arrow" number codes. They'll even take plastic toys. They also accept plastic bags for recycling, along with all sorts of "film" type plastics (such as bubble wrap and plastic wrap), provided they're bundled inside a plastic bag and not just thrown in your bin loose. That makes it easy for the sorters to set them aside. As of now, the only plastic they don't allow is styrofoam.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Did local shops give up too easily?

Conventional wisdom says that when a big corporate superstore moves into town, locally owned shops can't survive the competition. Now that one of those superstores, Borders bookstore, is shutting down, I've been reflecting on this common assumption. Maybe the Big Boys aren't as invincible as many believe, and I can't help but wonder if local shops sometimes give up too easily.

Carmel's iconic Thunderbird, which was the Peninsula's largest and most popular bookstore before Borders, shut down a few years ago. If any local bookstore should have survived the competition from Borders it was the Thunderbird. It's primary customer base, Carmelites and Carmel Valleyites, are not prone to driving all the way to Seaside (the scary town, in their view) or Sand City when a more pleasant option is close at hand. But the Thunderbird's long-time owner was ready to retire. I believe it was her inability to find a suitable buyer rather than corporate competition that ultimately led to the store closing. It may be that potential buyers were afraid they couldn't out-compete Borders. What a pity, because if someone had faith, we'd still have a fair-sized bookshop on the Peninsula after Borders shuts down next week.

But at least the Thunderbird tried. Two locally owned shops actually gave up before the corporate competition even opened up. Does anyone remember H&H? It was a family owned hardware and home center that occupied the building in Seaside where Staples and Smart & Final are today. H&H was arguably the best hardware store the Peninsula ever had. They had everything you could possibly need, PLUS an extensive selection of arts and crafts supplies in the back. It was a wonderful store.

But the owners gave up shortly before Orchard Supply opened up in Sand City. News reports at the time indicated they didn't expect to survive the competition from Orchard, so they didn't even try.

Palace Stationery, an office supply shop on Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey, took the exact same attitude several years later when a McWhorters office supply opened in the former J.C. Penney building a few doors away. Palace owners assumed they couldn't survive so they shut down without even waiting to see how McWhorters would affect them. Funny thing, though, McWhorters had a very brief life in downtown Monterey before it disappeared into oblivion. I'm convinced that Palace acted too hastily because Palace Office Supply's Santa Cruz operation is still alive and thriving. It might still be in Monterey, too, had they not given up so easily.

So I've gotta admire one local business that didn't give up. When Home Depot opened in Seaside, everyone thought M&S Building Supply just down the street would be toast. Not so. Before Home Depot arrived M&S made itself more visible by painting a large red sign on their beige building indicating that they've been around dependably since 1962. More than six years later, M&S is still there and appears to be thriving.

When it comes to corporate behemoths vs. mom & pop shops, I'm thinking that the conventional wisdom may not be so wise after all. Those Goliaths aren't always as invincible as they seem.