Toys R Us’ demise a gift to retailers
NEW YORK — When Toys R Us closed its doors, customers mourned the loss of a beloved brand that conjured memories of their own childhood.
Retailers, on the other hand, saw an opportunity.
Rather than cede any more ground to online behemoth Amazon, companies like Target, Walmart and Party City ramped up their offerings. Now, ahead of the pivotal holiday season, they’re going even further by focusing on making their stores a dynamic shopping experience. That means creating play areas for kids, offering demos of new toys and staging events like scavenger hunts in the stores.
Retailers are trying to grab a piece of the nearly $3 billion left on the table by Toys R Us, or 12 percent of the U.S. toy market, according to NPD Group Inc., a market research group.
Last month, Party City opened 50 Toy City pop-up shops that feature 6- by 8-foot Lego dinosaurs and other interactive displays. Walmart says 30 percent of its holiday toy assortment will be new. It will also offer 40 percent more toys on Walmart.com from a year ago. In November and December, the company’s toy area will be rebranded as “America’s Best Toy Shop.”
Starting in late October, Target will devote extra space at 500 stores located near former Toys R Us stores for bigger toys like electric cars, playhouses and musical instruments as well as adding nearly 200 more products. And 100 Target stores will see new layouts and fixtures in the toy area. The company is also expanding the number of kids’ events it hosts. Most recently, it had a Lego Minecraft event that featured a scavenger hunt.
At least one foreign toy retailer is looking into the U.S. market after the demise of Toys R Us. Mexico-based Distroller World, an experience-based retailer with more than 60 stores in Mexico and Latin America, is set to open its third store in the U.S. in October. And it will be approaching U.S. department stores to open shops to replicate its model in Mexico, says CEO Daryn Fillis. At the center of the experience: Parents and children create their own adventure to adopt an alien baby delivered in a space capsule.
“It’s all about the demonstrations, the hands-on experience,” said Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of TTPM, a toy review site. “When you get your hands on a toy and you can touch and feel, it does lead to greater sales. And those are the experiences that shoppers enjoy.”
Meanwhile, Amazon is reportedly planning a toy catalog to be distributed at its Whole Foods stores. The company declined to comment on the catalog, but analysts say Amazon could grow its market share in toys from 15 percent to 20 percent this year.
Toy sellers had long been taking advantage of Toys R Us’ woes, but they stepped up their efforts when the chain filed Chapter 11 in the fall of 2017 and accelerated the pace when the chain announced it was liquidating its operations in March. As of early this year, Toys R Us had more than 800 U.S. stores. It closed the last 200 stores at the end of June.
With reports of the retailer’s demise, there was an outpouring of nostalgia from shoppers, and some analysts credit that empathy for helping to drive an uptick in toy sales for the first half of the year. U.S. toy sales from January through June increased 7 percent to $7.9 billion, according to NPD. Last year, toy sales increased 1 percent to $20.7 billion from 2016.
Still too early to tell severity of current flu season
Early influenza data is starting to trickle in, but it’s still far too early to tell how severe this flu season is going to be. Health officials recommend getting a flu shot as soon as possible.
On Wednesday, Clark County Public Health released its Clark and Cowlitz counties influenza update for week 40 (Sept. 30 to Oct. 6) of the year. Clark County influenza positivity was at 3.39 percent, below the active influenza season threshold, and no influenza positive tests were identified in Cowlitz County for week 40.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported national influenza positivity for week 39 at 0.75 percent.
“It’s too early to tell one way or the other,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, director of Clark County Public Health.
There were two Influenza A type positive tests out of 59 total tests — there were no type B positive tests. Type A tends to be more severe than B, Melnick explained. Active flu season is defined by the percentage of positivity. Once positive test percentages rises above 10 percent, we’re considered in active flu season.
Last year, the highest percentage reached was a little more than 40 percent right around New Year’s. The onset of active flu season can vary from year to year. The reports show the last two years active flu season has spiked around late December and early January.
Melnick said people should be getting their flu shots as soon as possible.
“The flu vaccine is the best way to prevent flu, but it can take two weeks to build up an immunity,” he said.
Melnick said he would “plead” with people to get the vaccine. He said anyone older than 6 months can get it, and said that if someone has concerns about the vaccine they should talk with a health care provider.
He emphasized how devastating the flu can be, and that getting the vaccine isn’t only protecting yourself, but is also helpful to the more vulnerable populations around you.
The 2017-18 flu season was one of the worst in the U.S., according to the CDC. There were about 80,000 estimated deaths, including 180 children — the most since the CDC started using its latest surveillance procedures. About 80 percent of those child deaths happened to children who didn’t receive a flu shot.
In Clark County, the flu killed at least 14 people during the 2017-18 season.
“I just don’t understand people’s reluctance to get the vaccine,” Melnick said. “It’s incredibly safe and painless.”Get a shot Kaiser Permanente offers walk-in flu shot clinics through Friday. You can visit the Cascade Park Medical Office, 12607 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. You can also visit the Salmon Creek Medical Office, 14406 N.E. 20th Ave., Vancouver, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, but there are no Saturday hours. Kaiser will continue to offer more walk-in flu shot clinics after Friday, but that schedule hasn’t been determined yet.
Planting over 1,000 trees goal of event
Clark Public Utilities is planning to continue a yearslong restoration project along a stream in the Salmon Creek Watershed, with a big push from volunteers on the upcoming Make a Difference Day.
“We hope to plant over a thousand trees with the help of 200 volunteers,” said Ashley King, StreamTeam coordinator for Clark Public Utilities.
The planting will be held Saturday, Oct. 27, National Make a Difference Day, at a location near Battle Ground. Pre-registration is required. Exact directions to the site will be given after registration. Check-in starts at 8:30 a.m. and planting begins 9 a.m. A light breakfast will be offered. A free lunch and an awards presentation will happen at noon.
King said registration is still open, but a limited number of spots are available.
When Clark first undertook the restoration project, the roughly 28-acre site was plagued with reed canary grass, blackberries and other invasive plants. Steadily, the invasive species are being replaced with native plants, such as big leaf maples, dogwoods and red cedars, which will hold the soil in place better and provide a cooling canopy over the water.
Keeping Weaver Creek’s water cool benefits fish that depend on it and the larger Salmon Creek for habitat.
Planters of all ages and abilities are welcome. Tools and training will be provided to volunteers. The event will be held rain or shine, so those who go should be prepared for the weather.
StreamTeam hosts several volunteer events in Southwest Washington, but the one they hold on Make a Difference Day is particularly significant for them.
“(It) is one of our most beloved tree planting events because it’s part of an even bigger effort,” King said in a news release. “This annual event always brings together first-time tree-planters along with our dedicated Stream Stewards, AmeriCorps volunteers and seasoned StreamTeam leaders.”
Earlier this year StreamTeam was awarded a $10,000 grant in honor of last year’s planting event. The grant was given by three organizations behind the day of volunteerism — broadcasting company Tegna, the Arby’s Foundation and volunteer service organizer Points of Light.
Participants can sign up online at www.StreamTeam.net. They can also email StreamTeam@clarkpud.com or call King at 360-992-8585 with questions.
Florida orange harvest up after long decline
LAKELAND, Fla. — Florida’s orange crop is expected to increase for the first time in seven years.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that 79 million boxes of oranges are expected during the coming season, a 76 percent increase from the 45 million produced last season. That crop was ravaged by Hurricane Irma and the industry is still suffering from citrus greening, a disease that kills trees. A box of oranges is 90 pounds.
The forecast is only about a third the size of the typical Florida orange crop of the early 2000s. Almost all Florida oranges are sold to juice manufacturers.
The grapefruit crop is expected to grow 73 percent to 6.7 million boxes and the combined tangerine and tangelo crop is expected to jump 60 percent to 1.2 million boxes.
In Our View: Topper For Treasurer
For the first time since 1982, local voters will be putting somebody new in the office of Clark County treasurer. The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends Alishia Topper as the best candidate to maintain the stability and efficiency of the office.
As always, this is simply a recommendation, and Topper faces a well-qualified challenger in Robert Hinds. We encourage voters to study the race and to watch the editorial board’s interview with the candidates before making an informed decision.
It is likely that most voters have not given much thought to a vote for county treasurer in recent years. Doug Lasher is retiring after serving more than eight terms and often ran unopposed for re-election. His absence from the ballot creates a new dynamic in the contest for a position that oversees the county’s tax and revenue collection, banking services, debt management and investments.
Topper, a sitting member of the Vancouver City Council, is a familiar name in local political circles. If elected as treasurer, she will resign her council seat before taking office, as required by law. She has worked since August 2017 as tax services manager for the treasurer’s office, garnering valuable insight into the duties and the functions of the office.
Topper has a long history of community and government involvement, ranging from the board of directors for Columbia Credit Union to the Washington State Housing Finance Commission to the Fort Vancouver National Trust. But name familiarity and local involvement are not the only reasons we recommend Topper for the position of treasurer; she is well-suited for this particular job and emphasizes the importance of responsive customer service.
“I have put in a lot of effort to truly understand the office,” she said, adding that one role of the treasurer is to lobby lawmakers for legislation that allows county treasurers to better serve the public.
The Clark County treasurer’s office has about 25 employees and handles thousands of interactions with the public each year. It oversees the transfer of about $7 billion a year and serves 42 taxing districts (such as school districts and cities), making for a complex job where management skills are more important than financial expertise.
Hinds, a market analyst and strategy manager for Hewlett-Packard, demonstrates financial expertise through a long history of employment in private industry. Previously, he has worked for Nautilus, Freightliner and Toyota, and his education and work history suggest that he can manage the financial concerns of the position. He also serves on the Clark County Historic Preservation Commission.
Hinds rightly emphasizes his financial background as his primary qualification for the position, and he has an understanding of the job’s duties. He has done his homework, which cannot always be said of political newcomers who seek elected office.
But the editorial board believes Topper’s management acumen and her experience in the department outweigh Hinds’ strengths. After a year with the department, she has earned the endorsement of Lasher, the outgoing treasurer, who knows something about what is required to effectively oversee the office.
Notably, neither candidate has announced a party preference for what nominally is a partisan position. The role of county treasurer should, indeed, be nonpartisan; safeguarding the county’s revenue concerns all residents, regardless of political preference.
The Columbian’s Editorial Board believes Alishia Topper is the best candidate to handle those duties and recommends her for Clark County treasurer.
People in Business
Gary Foster was hired as PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center’s new chief operating officer. Foster, who started on Oct. 1, previously worked at Banner Estrella Medical Center in Phoenix, where he was a hospital administrator for eight years. While there, he led the hospital through an expansion; it grew from 48 beds to 317 beds. Foster also worked in nurse management at Del E. Webb Medical Center in Sun City West, Ariz. In his position at PeaceHealth, he will focus on increasing operational efficiencies and supporting the hospital’s Clinical Excellence initiatives. PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, 400 N.E. Mother Joseph Place, is a nonprofit, 450-bed hospital. For more information, visit www.peacehealth.org/southwest.
Darlene Kulla was hired as the executive director of Camp Hope of Southwest Washington in Battle Ground. She replaces Cheryl White, who had been the interim executive director since March. Kulla has been at the camp since it was established in 2012. Camp Hope, which sits on a 107-acre property owned by the Clark County Parks Department, was started as an effort to combat the rise in youth suicide and substance abuse. It serves as a location for youth to experience the outdoors in a safe place. Find out more at www.camphope-wa.org.
The Columbian welcomes submissions about Clark County residents or businesses, as well as regional business events. Information must be received by noon of the Tuesday preceding the intended Sunday publication date. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or fax 360-735-4540. Sales awards are not published.
Seafood processor plans worker housing
WARRENTON, Ore. — Desperate for housing, Pacific Seafood wants to turn a warehouse it owns in Warrenton into a dormitory for workers.
The Warrenton Planning Commission approved a development code amendment Thursday night that lays the groundwork for the seafood processor to create housing in a warehouse on industrial land near Carruthers Park and the dog park.
The decision, if approved by the city commission, could open the door for other companies to do the same.
Lack of housing has became a major issue for employers in Clatsop County, who say they have trouble attracting and retaining employees because workers can’t find places to live, or can’t afford the places they do find.
Recently, some companies have decided to provide housing.
This year, Bornstein Seafoods bought an apartment complex to house workers. Pelican Brewing, with a pub in Cannon Beach, provides seven apartment units on site for employees, as well as a house in Manzanita.
Pacific Seafood opened a 78,000-square-foot plant in Warrenton this summer on the Skipanon River, returning after a fire destroyed a previous plant on the site five years before. The plant is expected to employ as many as 140 full-time and 100 seasonal workers.
But the West Coast seafood processor has struggled over the past three to five years to find housing for seasonal workers across its many locations, representatives told the planning commission Thursday.
News outlets in Newport reported this summer that the company was looking at building housing for employees along U.S. Highway 101.
“It’s gotten to the extent that we put people up in hotels and motels,” said Michael Miliucci, manager of special projects and a lawyer for Pacific Seafood.
But hotel rooms are difficult to come by on the coast, particularly during tourism-heavy months. They looked into purchasing apartment buildings, but did not want to have to evict people living in the units to make room for employees.
“That’s just not the way Pacific operates,” Miliucci told planning commissioners.
The company looked at options in Astoria, but encountered long waiting lists even on apartment complexes still under construction.
“Based on the present housing prices, there’s no housing,” Miliucci said. Warrenton planning staff recommended approval of the code amendment.
Vacasa, preparing for IPO, moves into new HQ
PORTLAND — Vacasa is touting its new, 61,000-square-foot headquarters in Portland’s Pearl District. It’s a showcase office for the vacation rental management company, which is laying the groundwork for a potential initial public offering.
Anticipating mammoth growth, Vacasa retained a lease on its former headquarters across the street when it moved into the new office in August. The company has 400 employees in Portland now and expects to hire hundreds more in the coming years.
Propelled by a $103.5 million private equity deal last year, Vacasa hopes to transform the vacation rental management business.
The company employs more than 2,500 altogether — most of them cleaning and maintenance staff — and lists more than 10,000 vacation homes altogether.
WSDOT Goodwill Lake project wrapping up
Northbound drivers of state Highway 503 between Battle Ground and Vancouver will be in for a welcome surprise this fall: the days of fording Goodwill Lake are over.
The Washington State Department of Transportation is wrapping up a project that overhauled a faulty drainage system that occasionally produced a large deep puddle colloquially known as “Goodwill Lake,” given its proximity to the Goodwill Outlet Store on Northeast 117th Avenue/Highway 503 near Northeast 87th Street in Vancouver.
The giant puddle formed on the roadway after heavy rainfall, especially in the winter.
“Clearly it was something that needed to be addressed,” WSDOT project engineer Devin Reck.
Originally, the drainage system flushed water directly into the ground rather than a sewer system. The original design was installed in the 1980s. It worked well for a while, but the system clogged with debris fairly quickly. Once clogged, water would back up and flood the road until WSDOT crews cleared the drain.
McDonald Excavating Inc., the contractor chosen by WSDOT, has been working since late August to correct the underlying issue that causes the roadway to flood. They’ve replaced the old system with one that routes the storm water away from the road and into a new infiltration site. It’s expected to be finished in a few weeks. And should cost less than $700,000.
Reck said workers replaced seven catch basins along the road, tied them into one system and built an infiltration pond across the road.
“As of today, it’s fully functional,” he said.
WSDOT combined the drainage project with the installation of a Variable Message Sign board, which gives traffic information to motorists.
The last bit of work is the installation of equipment that pretreats the water before it flows into the pond. That site will eliminate the larger, bulky material that comes off the roadway and causes flooding. Occasionally maintenance crews will vacuum the debris that collects in the vault.
Reck said that WSDOT will likely employ similar solutions along other parts of Highway 503 if needed.
There’s no easy explanation for stocks’ struggles
If the interest rate jump over recent weeks didn’t get the attention of investors, last week’s quick collapse of stock prices should have — if for no other reason than the lack of a simple, obvious explanation.
Over the course of a few trading sessions the S&P 500 and Nasdaq stock indices shed more than 4 percent each. Sure, the bond market sell-off has been worrisome, there are jitters over earnings season just beginning, and the trade war with China may be taking a toll. But do these well-known and existing concerns really add up to a tipping point for investors? Or the economy?
Probably not for the economy. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s GDP Now gauge finds the American economy growing at more than 4 percent. Say what you will about the quality and pay of jobs, but unemployment is historically low. Retail sales and manufacturing data will be released in the week ahead. They will be dissected for signs of building inflation pressure, which has been blamed for the sell-off in the bond market.
The stock market, though, is more capricious and myopic than the economy. The October sell-off came with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq at record highs. That’s tough to remember when the Dow Jones Industrial Average flashes triple-digit losses at the closing bell, trade tensions between the U.S. and China remain on edge and President Donald Trump says the Federal Reserve has “gone crazy” by raising interest rates.
In the week ahead there will be no shortage of answers offered explaining the waning risk appetite of investors. Investors will vote with their money, not their voices.