The Hub Cool News

The Cheese Truck

One of the hottest lunch spots on the Yale University campus is a food truck serving grilled cheese and soup, reports Jan Ellen Spiegel in the New York Times (11/28/10). Known as The Cheese Truck, the mobile eatery is an offshoot of Caseus, a local restaurant "whose menu includes a $12 thick-slabbed" grilled cheese sandwich. The mobile version is slimmed down and far less expensive — just five bucks plus an extra dollar each for extras, including "tomato, arugula, jambon de Paris, applewood smoked bacon, guacamole," roasted red peppers or grilled onions.

If you want soup with that, it’s another three dollars and it’s always tomato — hot in the winter and gazpacho in summer. Positioned strategically just outside classrooms, the Cheese Truck routinely attracts a crowd. "I don’t know if it’s a comfort thing when it’s cold: you get this hot tomato soup and this hot grilled cheese, and it’s just wonderful," says Charles Gyer, a sophomore. "I have class every day in that building that lets out at 12:30, and if the truck’s here, you really can’t pass it up."

Sandwiches are made on thin, but large, "sourdough bread slices … fried open-faced in generous amounts of Cabot unsalted butter, then topped with six shredded cheeses." Sandwiches are served with Roland whole-grain Dijon mustard, and the Cokes are Mexican, in bottles. Michael Inwald, on leave from his MBA studies at Yale, apparently inspired by The Cheese Truck, hopes to turn grilled cheese into his own fast-food empire. "It’s when you want something that’s not too heavy, tastes great, reminds you of childhood," he says, noting that "Americans eat 2.2 billion grilled cheese sandwiches a year."

The Meatball Shop

Attempts to make a star out of grilled cheese sandwiches haven’t caught on in Manhattan, but The Meatball Shop is doing just fine, reports Diane Cardwell in the New York Times (11/29/10). The Meatball Shop "has been drawing throngs with a menu built around that humble lump," and it is one of a number of one-entree eateries popping up around the city. Others include S’Mac, featuring macaroni and cheese, Flex Mussels which is all about moules, and Hill Country Chicken, where you can get any kind of chicken, as long as it’s fried.

"We had no idea just how desperate people would be to eat fried chicken," says Elizabeth Karmel, Hill Country’s chef. Anna Gallo of Rice to Riches, which serves only rice pudding, says certain dishes can stand on their own: "Everybody has some kind of rice in their culture or their background," she says. "And everybody has that kind of very warm, passionate relationship with rice pudding — maybe it was something their grandmother made, or something their mother made or something original to their country."

Others say food bloggers help drive the trend, feeding a frenzy for recommendations for where to find not "the best restaurant but for the best single items, like pizza, burgers or tacos." As Sarita Ekya of S’Mac explains: "We noticed that there was a really strong following for mac and cheese on the internet." Daniel Holzman of The Meatball Shop suggests the single-item trend is also a way to "create a fast-food restaurant for our generation that has all the values, all the quality that we expect." He adds: "That’s what people are excited to find, especially because that’s what everybody is obsessed with — you can blog about it."

Blacksmith Street

Once Nguyen Phuong Hung is gone, Hanoi’s Blacksmith Street will likely disappear, like Fan Street, China Bowl Street and Conical Hat Street, reports Seth Mydans in the New York Times (11/25/10). When Mr. Hung was a child, Blacksmith Street "rang with the sounds of the smithies, producing farm equipment, horseshoes and hand tools." His father was a blacksmith and Mr. Hung took up the trade. "I still remember, when it was raining lightly, the streets were empty and … all you could hear was the sound of hammers," he says.

But now, at age 49, he’s the only blacksmith remaining (video); the others "left for lighter, better-paying work, and because word was out that no modern woman would marry a blacksmith." In fact, Mr. Hung’s own wife told him "she never would have married him if she had known he would become a blacksmith." So, he makes sure he’s all cleaned and scrubbed by the time he gets home. "I’m proud to be the last one," says Mr. Hung, but admits that once he’s gone, "the street will have no meaning anymore."

As the last blacksmith standing, he’s doing better than ever — but ironically his main source of work come from "people who tear down, rebuild and renovate the buildings" in his neighborhood, known as the Ancient Quarter. The area has been a center of business since the ninth century, and at the turn of the 19th century, 36 guilds were established on "36 narrow streets." Mr. Hung seems determined to hang in there, quoting his father, who told him, "When the iron glows red, you earn your money. That is your life."

Barbershop Block

Lower Manhattan is home to growing numbers of retro barbershops, reports David Colman in the New York Times (11/25/10). These include Frank’s Chop Shop, Geno’s Barberia and FSC Barber, which "was the first proper hipster barbershop to open its doors back in 2006, complete with old barber chairs, hexagonal floor tiles, antique lighting fixtures and no shortage of electric clippers." In hopes of projecting authenticity, the shops typically don’t take appointments and generally try to keep prices relatively low.

"We wanted it to work for the guy who wakes up and thinks, ‘I need a haircut,’" says Sam Buffa of FSC Barber, which is housed within the Freemans Sporting Club, a clothing boutique. "So you go put your name down, you have drink, you read a magazine, you shop for some clothes, and you’re up." However, some customers report waiting more than three hours. And while you can get a haircut for about $40 at Frank’s Chop Shop, at the Snip ‘n’ Sip in the West Village, it’ll set you back more llike $100.

"People are so confused, because they see the place and come in , and they think you are going to give a $15 barber cut," says Ricky Pannell, who outfitted Snip ‘n’ Sip to look like an old-fashioned barbershop some 10 years ago. But, of course, you can’t get an authentic, ’60s-era haircut at a real barbershop — you need a salon stylist for that. In any case, eBay reports that interest in barbershop paraphernalia is up versus just six months ago, with "sales of merchandise returned by the search term barbershop … up 77 percent, sales of Barbicide up 60 percent, and sales of items found by searching for the words ‘vintage barbershop sign’ …up 254 percent."

Panda Expression

Andrew Cherng, founder of Panda Express, thinks self-improvement is the key to business growth, reports Karl Taro Greenfeld in Bloomberg Businessweek (11/22/10). He must be doing something right because Panda Express is "one of the fastest-growing and most successful restaurant chains in the US." Currently with 1,350 locations and $1.4 billion in annual sales, Panda will add "75 stores this year and 100 in 2011 as part of a long-term plan to get to 2,300 stores by 2015." The chain is "ten times larger than its nearest competitor."

Andrew pretty much invented the fast-casual category for Chinese food, and thinks the breakthrough was figuring out how to serve it quickly, but in a way that looks "fresh and appetizing." Panda uses cafeteria-style steam tables but also showcases a "huge cooler of fresh vegetables" and features an "open kitchen design that lets the customer view the food as it’s being chopped, prepped and cooked." This creates an impression of freshness "even if the food has been in the wells for 45 minutes."

Andrew’s wife, Peggy, has also innovated on the back-end, designing computer systems for "real-time tracking of inventory, sales and customer preferences." But the real secret to business growth, Andrew believes, is personal growth, and he encourages all of his managers to attend the Landmark Forum, a self-help program. He also wants managers to share their personal issues, and hug each other as needed. The goal, he says, is "better service, better execution, better environment … Forget about return on investment, "he says, "This is a tremendous overall contribution to society."

G. Esposito & Sons

At the G. Esposito & Sons Jersey Pork Store in Brooklyn there is no menu board, but there is The Sandwich, reports Patrick Egan in the New York Times (11/21/10). This can be confusing to new patrons, who come in asking, uncertainly, for the sandwich. No: it’s The Sandwich. That would be a loaf of Italian bread, piled high with "proscuitto, mortadella, sopressata, provolone, tomatoes and roasted red peppers, and showered with oil, vinegar and oregano."

It costs $10 and theoretically could feed a family of five. Okay, maybe not, but The Sandwich is emblematic of G. Esposito Jersey Pork, which opened nearly 90 years ago, and got its name because of the provenance of its pork — Jersey farms. Two brothers — John and George Esposito — run the store these days. While they appreciate the new customers they "seem to relish the old timers anchored to the neighborhood who have shopped at the store for decades."

The shop is legendary for its sausage, which John, George and their team make fresh every morning, starting at seven: "For classic links, they use only pork shoulder, preferring to charge a little extra rather than use lesser ingredients. On average, they make about 500 pounds of sausage per week, perhaps a third of what they produced a decade ago." The brothers acknowledge that "the neighborhood has changed." But George remains optimistic: "We have a great clientele," he says. "People still have the sense to get our sausage."

Chanel No. 5

The most famous fragrance of all time is not nearly as “French” as we might think, reports Pia Catton in a Wall Street Journal review of “The Secret of Chanel No. 5,” by Tila J. Mazzeo (11/20/10). For starters, the formulation of Chanel No. 5 has its roots in Russia, as “a scent that was intended to celebrate Catherine the Great.” That idea never took off, so its creator, Ernest Beaux, offered up the aroma as a starting point to Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, who wanted to launch a fragrance line following her success in sportswear.

Chanel No. 5 was also manufactured in Hoboken, New Jersey during World War II — especially ironic given that it became an iconic gift for US soldiers to bring back as a gift from Paris. Not only that, but Coco “spent the Occupation holed up at the Paris Ritz with a German officer as her lover.” As for the scent itself, Coco wanted it to be “a modern work of art and an abstraction.” As she explained: “I want to give women an artificial perfume … I don’t want a rose or a lily of the valley, I want a perfume that is a composition.”

The resulting fragrance did have “strong notes of rose and jasmine,” but it was balanced by aldehydes, at the time “a new fragrance technology that provided a clean scent while intensifying the other aromas. Chanel No. 5 “was not the first to use aldehydes, but it was the first to use them in large portions.” The perfume’s name is said to have been chosen because the chosen formulation was the fifth of ten possibilities (there may have been some numerology involved, as well). Now 90 years old, Chanel No. 5 has remained pretty much unchanged, and to this day, “a bottle sells somewhere in the world every 30 seconds.”

Les Chocolats de Paris

"One can hardly walk from the Louvre to the Left Bank without bumping into a chocolate boutique," writes Karen Leland in the Los Angeles Times (11/21/10). Karen didn’t hesitate to sample them along the way while in Paris. At Jacques Genin, she found "sparsely elegant and modern decor" and exotic blends of chocolate and spice as well as caramels of "mango, almond, coffee, ginger, pistachio and passion fruit."

Jean-Charles Rochoux meanwhile offers up 40 flavors of bonbons, including Habanos Cigare, which is spiked "with actual tobacco that gives it an unexpectedly friendly, sweet-smokey flavor and salty aftertaste." Blech. Cacao et Chocolat is "uniquely organized," with one part of the store featuring gift boxes and another offering "chocolate products for cooking. A separate area contains chocolates for snacking, and there’s a sit-down bar," too.

Cacao et Chocolat is the "brainchild of an architect, an entrepreneur and a chocolate maker," and its shops, says Karen, are "friendly and educational places dedicated to all aspects of chocolate." Servant stands out because it puts its chocolates "out on display" instead of "tucked behind a pristine glass case." A woman working there said she eats chocolates "all the time" but stays thin by walking "to and from work every day." With any luck, this dietary regimen will catch on.

Fatburgers

Celebrity chef Hubert Keller discovered by accident that hamburger joints can be more profitable than fine restaurants, reports Katy McLaughlin in the Wall Street Journal (11/17/10). In 2004, Hubert launched Burger Bar simply because he “needed an idea he could launch quickly in vacant space that had become available in Las Vegas … Instead of the 9% to 12% margins of his fine dining restaurants … he pulls down a 35% margin on annual sales of $7.5 million.”

Of course, Burger Bar sells a hamburger topped with foi gras and truffles for $60. Hubert has since opened two more Burger Bars and has plans for another four. Bobby Flay meanwhile has opened five Bobby’s Burgers restaurants, and plans as many as seven more in the coming months. His specialty is the “Crunchburger,” featuring “a layer of crispy potato chips between meat and bun.”

Adding fat does seem to be the name of the game where designer burgers are concerned. In fact, “the main secret behind tasty celebrity-chef burgers is simple: They pile on the fat, whether from beef patties with 30% fat content or from patties basted in butter.” This compares to supermarket ground beef which “may contain as little as 8% fat.” So, you can pay extra for grass-feed beef, but Laurent Tourondel of LT Burger says it’s too lean and dry. He instead prefers to “smear softened butter onto his burger patties before cooking.”

Shrooms & Berries

Evan Strusinski, a food forager, is supplying growing numbers of restaurants with whatever he finds in Maine’s forests, reports Sumathi Reddy in the Wall Street Journal (11/1/10). “I’m finding it in swamps, I’m finding it in bogs,” says Evan. “I’m finding it in rivers, on land, on trees in forests.” What he finds he sends by FedEx to “about a dozen restaurants in Maine,” as well as two in New York.

Typically, he brings back “cattails, pineapple weed, wood sorrel and other offbeat ingredients.” How about some Buffalo berries? On a recent trek he came across several pounds worth of “maitake mushroom at the base of a towering oak tree.” Evan is 38, “is self-trained, acting on instinct and experience.” Originally from Vermont, he says he grew up foraging. “It was like treasure hunting essentially,” he says.

While foraging is “more common in Europe, where the first mushrooms of the season bring families into the forest,” Evan is not without his competitors, either: “Usually I wouldn’t want to be seen strolling into the forest with a basket,” he says. His haul mostly consists of “mushrooms, herbs and sea grasses,” such as “matsutake mushrooms, which are highly prized for many Asian dishes.” Phillip Kirschen-Clark, chef of Vandaag in New York’s East Village, is among Evan’s enthusiasts: “I would kill to get his sea blythe and put it on as a garnish,” he says.

Solar Football

The Philadelphia Eagles — whose “primary color is green” — are turning their stadium into a model of self-sufficiency, reports Ken Belson in the New York Times (11/18/10). “This is an opportunity to not be the stereotypical sports franchise that is not on the cutting edge,” says Jeffrey Lurie, the Eagles’ owner. “We’ve read a lot that excellent environmental practices are too expensive or not wise for a company. We challenged that.” He and his wife, Christine, actually have been challenging it with various green initiatives since 2003.

Their latest drive is easily their biggest — and most visible. The plan is to install “about 2,500 solar panels, 80 20-foot-high wind turbines and a generator that runs on natural gas and biodiesel” at Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles play. What this means is that the stadium will be the first that is “capable of generating all of its electricity.” The work will be done by Solar Blue, which “will spend more than $30 million” to complete the installation; the Eagles will then buy the energy from Solar Blue at a fixed price.

In addition to saving money, the panels and turbines will be visible to spectators, sending a message about sustainability. The Eagles also “use nontoxic cleaning supplies … environmentally friendly cups and dinnerware” and recycle “32 percent of their waste … The team now composts 25 tons of organic waste” and recycled “10,000 gallons of grease and used kitchen oil last year.” In addition, the Eagles “have been able to generate new revenue by selling sponsorships to companies interested in being linked to their green initiatives.”

Organic Lightbulbs

Organic Light Emitting Diodes — OLEDs — are being developed "as a potential successor to Edison’s bulb and fluorescent tubes," reports Evan Ramstad in the Wall Street Journal (10/27/10). OLEDs are different from LEDs — or Light Emitting Diodes — which are "discrete points of light, or basically very small light bulbs. Looked at directly, they glare." The OLEDs "emit light evenly across a thin panel of glass, producing more diffuse light than an LED does."

So far, OLEDs are used mainly in cellphones and car stereos. Manufacturers have yet to figure out how to use them in larger formats, like televisions "because three types of organic material — to make the colors red, green and blue that, when blended, form all colors on a display — must be deposited on a substrate, or base layer of a chip." Apparently, that’s not as easy as it sounds. :-) Creating white light is less challenging, but "a small white OLED panel would cost more than $100 to produce today."

Manufacturers hope "to bring the cost down to $10 or less," which is "still far more than incandescent bulbs, which cost pennies to make and sell for less than $1." General Electric’s goal is "to reduce manufacturing costs to about $4 a square foot." GE also says it "needs to increase OLED lifespans to 5,000 hours per product before it can consider manufacturing in bulk." In the meantime, the focus is on "install and forget" situations, like "grocery-store freezers … where lights that last for a long time are valued."

Beyond Engines

Car-engine innovations get a lot of attention, but more engineers are turning their fuel-efficiency energies to other parts of the car, reports Neal E. Boudette in the Wall Street Journal (11/16/10). Electric steering is a key area. For example, instead of "the old hydraulic power-steering system, with its big, heavy pump and the belt that connected it to the engine," Ford has created "a power-steering system driven by an electric motor … Turn the steering wheel, and the motor kicks in to angle the front wheels." The motor draws from the car’s battery, not its engine.

The result is a four-percent improvement in fuel efficiency, according to Garry Smith, a Ford engineer. The reason, says Garry, is that the electric motor runs only when the driver needs it. With hydraulic systems, the pump is running all the time. "Even if you’re just idling, the engine had that load," he explains. Ford is using the new system in its 2011 F-150 pickup truck, and it "will also appear in the 2011 version of the Ford Mustang and later in other Ford models." The technology actually "has been around for more than a decade," but used mostly in small cars, and in Europe.

At this point, only "about 27 percent of the cars and light trucks that are now on the market in North America have electric steering," according to TRW Automobile, a parts supplier. TRW says "that will increase to 73 percent by 2015." The auto industry’s efforts to reduce what they call "parasitic losses" of fuel efficiency also includes "fans, water pumps and air conditioning." Garry Smith says scale is essential to success: "We had to show suppliers that it would be a global project and they would get enough volume from Ford to do it," he says.

Diesel Boomlet

Abandoned 30 years ago as smelly, smoky and loud, diesel cars are making something of a comeback, reports Tom Zeller Jr. in the New York Times (11/17/10). Diesel cars peaked at about six percent of new cars in 1981, but "remained mostly below one percent over the last 30 years." Today, they’re up to three percent because of buyers like Kenneth Ray Earley, proud owner of a 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI. "The car is very fun to drive, it’s quick for blasting between the lights and it handles wonderfully," he says.

In addition to being more powerful than hybrids, diesels are "a greener alternative to gasoline cars." This may come as a surprise if you think of "soot-billowing buses and trucks" when you think of diesel. But diesel engineers have developed "ultra-low sulfur" formulations. "The technology has totally changed," says Karl Brauer of Edmunds.com. "There’s no cloud of smoke when you start it up in the morning, and no rattling sounds when it’s idling." Indeed, "greenhouse gas emissions from diesel cars are roughly 15 percent lower than those arising from comparable gasoline cars."

The remaining drawbacks include that diesel cars are "more expensive to build" than gas cars, although the US government now offers some tax incentives to buy them. And even though diesel fuel is cheaper to make, lower demand results in scarcity and higher prices. Federal and state taxes on diesel add about an extra 50 cents per gallon, and only about half of America’s gas stations offer diesel anyway. But that doesn’t deter Kenneth, who thinks it’s "hilarious" to tank up alongside truckers. "Another perk is meeting and destroying hybrids at stoplights," he says, "already knowing those drivers paid too much and have no fun driving."

Extra Texture

How you perceive texture in food is pretty much down to how much amylase enzyme you have in your mouth, reports Shirley S. Wang in the Wall Street Journal (11/9/10). Amylase “breaks down starch into liquid” and some scientists suspect it could help determine “why people experience foods as creamy or slimy, sticky or watery.” If you have a lot of amylase, the starch breaks down more quickly, and you would tend to perceive the food item as perhaps too runny. If you have less, it might seem too “gritty or pulpy.”

Understanding food texture is actually a new frontier in food science. There’s a pretty good understanding of how taste works — that’s “driven by a complicated interaction between taste buds and other receptors in the mouth and nose, and the messages they send to the brain.” Culture is another factor, “as people tend to like foods that are familiar.” But people generally “have a preference for creamy sensations as well as for foods that start off solid and melt in the mouth, such as ice cream and chocolate.”

Food texture perceptions also change with age, since saliva flow slows as people get older. This helps explain why “young children dislike certain fruits because of a perceived sliminess” that may not be as apparent to older folks. Some people also have “a gene that makes bitter tastes more intense,” but this can be altered. One study found that adding a half teaspoon of sugar to broccoli makes it more palatable to children, for instance. Kids usually still like the vegetable even after the sugar is omitted because they’ve developed a positive association with it.

Whiteness of Being

Christian Lander is back with another book about white people, reports Dwight Garner in the New York Times (11/16/10). Christian’s previous book was called, "Stuff White People Like: The Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions." His sequel, "Whiter Shades of Pale," is "about that demographic slice of educated (or self-cultivated) people who are drawn to places where good cheese stores, coffee bars, bookshops, art movie houses and indie bands are — places where perhaps as importantly, there are plenty of other people pretty much like themselves."

These white people are not to be confused with "those who enjoy Nascar, Sarah Palin, bratwursts, deer hunting, Metallica or ‘Ice Road Truckers’ in any way except ironically." Those white people, writes Christian, could be "the wrong kind of white person." He’s joking, of course — his book is intended as comedy, not science. But it might be insightful, such as his explanation for the popularity of sea salt: "When white people think about regular salt," he writes, "all they can think about is sodium and poor health. When they think about sea salt, they think of France."

On flea markets: "Once again, white people have taken over something that poor people used to like and made it extremely expensive." Anthony Bourdain: "There hasn’t been a show this reaffirming to white people since ‘Seinfeld.’" And entire "industries … that survive solely on white guilt: ‘Penguin Classics, the SPCA, free-range chicken farms and the entire rubber bracelet market." However, as J. Craig Venter noted: "Race is a social concept, not a scientific one." And this book suggests that "the bar of entry into the white world is low … You simply need to develop some slightly odd enthusiasms and deploy ease and irony whenever possible."

Williamburg Chains

Duane Reade is moving in and Williamsburg‘s hipsters are ticked, reports Charles V. Bagli in the New York Times (11/12/10). "Duane Reade is greed," says Jonathan Schmidt, who still prefers to shop at Kings Pharmacy across the street. Kings doesn’t offer a 24/7 selection of liquor, cold cuts and "three kinds of cherry tomatoes" like Duane Reade does, though. In fact, until recently it didn’t offer diapers because hipsters didn’t have many kids … but it does play 80s rock music in the store, and apparently its customers like that.

Whether that’s enough to survive remains to be seen, especially when there’s also a CVS moving in, about a block north on Kent Avenue. Some locals have organized a Duane Reade boycott on Facebook, but real estate brokers and developers say that such chains are needed because "people moving into new homes have higher incomes … often children" and "require more convenience stores." Shari Lind, a stroller-pushing Duane Reade customer, agrees. "Please, can you bring in Dunkin’ Donuts too," she says. "I also want a Bank of America."

Shari says she doesn’t quite understand the opposition: "For some reason, they don’t want corporate stores," she says, "They don’t want convenience." She notes that many of the indie shops don’t take credit cards and tend to be too expensive. But Scott Rossillo, who fears his bagel shop will be replaced by a Starbucks because his landlord wants to double his rent, pines for the past. "Williamsburg used to be known for a type of idealism," he says. "Williamsburg landlords have taken a different view. If they can squeeze blood from a rock, they will."

Shrinking Hipsters

Mark Greif desconstructs the hipster in a New York Times essay (11/12/10). Mark is co-editor of "What Was the Hipster? A Sociological Investigation," and he bases his analysis on a book by Pierre Bourdieu called "Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste." The central premise is that taste — whatever it is that you prefer — "corresponds tightly to defining measures of social class: your profession, your highest degree and your father’s profession."

In other words, taste has nothing to do with some "enchanted superiority in scattered individuals." Taste, writes Mark, is "a means of strategy and competition. Those superior in wealth use it to pretend they are superior in spirit." Hipsters, he believes, use taste to "jockey for social gain." One kind of hipster attacks another as "liberal arts college grads with too much time on their hands." The liberal-arts hipsters, meanwhile, deride the "trust fund hipsters" who are "possessed of money but not the nose for culture," and buy their way in.

Both "look down on the couch-surfing, old-clothes wearing hipsters" who have little money and stake their superiority on "their cool clothes." They’re all playing at the same thing: "being the inventors or first adopters of novelties." And the phenomenon is not limited to hipsters, as Mark writes: "Many of us try to justify our privileges by pretending that our superb tastes and intellect prove we deserve them, reflecting our inner superiority. Those below us economically … couldn’t fill our jobs, handle our wealth or survive our difficulties. Of course," he concludes, "This is a terrible lie."

Penney Niches

J.C. Penney’s hopes for growth involve taking a page from the Gap’s strategy of opening niche stores, reports Rachel Dodes in the Wall Street Journal (11/11/10). The Gap, as you may know, is doing well with its Piperlime (for shoes and accessories) and Athleta (for female athletes) stores — although its Forth & Towne stores for Baby Boomer women were a bust. Polo Ralph Lauren has also "added new retail formats in recent years aimed at specific kinds of consumers."

Penney’s plans are similarly focused, including "a new chain for large men, which will open 10 locations next year and could expand to 300 stores by 2013." Online, Penny will launch "Gifting Grace, a website targeted at frequent gift-givers, and Clad, an e-commerce site geared toward men ages 25 to 35 that will offer well-known brands." Both will pop up next summer "and will be involved in a marketing alliance with Hearst Magazines, publisher of Esquire and Cosmopolitan, among other titles."

The partnership will have Hearst running "advertising sections in its pages and on its website, where consumers will be able to click through to purchase the items." Hearst’s chief executive, Frank Bennack Jr., sees a big future in this: "We see this as a model going forward where we are going to play a role linking seller and customer … as contrasted to purely being a hired hawker for our customers." Penney hopes its new niches will help drive $1 billion in growth "from its retail expansion outside of malls in the next five years."

Barnes Toys

Barnes & Noble’s hopes for growth involve store-within-a-store boutiques featuring educational toys merchandised for gift-giving, reports Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg in the Wall Street Journal (11/12/10). The in-store boutiques will try "to eliminate some of the frustration that often accompanies gift-giving to children by clearly indicating which toys are intended for kids two and under; three to five; six to eight, and nine through twelve."

"It will help Uncle George," says Kathleen Campisano vp of toys and games at Barnes and Noble, explaining the merchandising approach. As Jaime Carey, chief merchandising officer, explains: "When customers learn there is a well-curated selection of educational toys and games available, it will drive traffic into the stores … We’ve sold educational toys and games online for some time, and it’s been a great business … But we didn’t have a consequential assorment in the stores."

The boutiques — which Barnes is currently testing in five stores — occupy 3,000 square feet and feature "more than 2,000 educational games and toys … the boutiques will allow children to interact with products on game tables, enabling them to draw, build and use hand-held devices." They will replace "the music and DVD departments" and will also have some "adult games and puzzles intended for those 13 and older." Barnes, which will continue to carry some 200,000 books per store, is also building 1,000-square-foot boutiques to promote its Nook e-reader."