Thursday, March 26, 2009

Water and Plants and History, Oh My!

The Anaheim Historical Society is pleased to present our guest speaker for March, Jeff Smith of Natural by Design Landscape. Jeff is an expert on water and energy use for gardens, as well as a fellow history nerd, who lives in the Historic Palm District, just north of The Colony. Jeff will be sharing a presentation on how California's landscape developed over time, with emphasis on the availability of water in the choice of those plantings. This is especially significant today, with our drought conditions. We can learn from the past to plant for the future. There HAS to be a better answer than fake grass or xeriscape. Jeff has those answers for us!
The meeting is FREE and the public is always welcome.
Tuesday, March 31
7 pm
Ebell Clubhouse Helena and Cypress, across from the tennis courts at Pearson Park

Monday, March 16, 2009

GardenWalk Party Thursday night

I have a special invitation for anyone reading this:

On Thursday, March 19, at the Anaheim Resort GardenWalk, SOAR is hosting a getting-to-know-you event from 5:30 pm to 8 pm. We are offering FREE food and beverage, provided by GardenWalk restaurants. We also have FREE entry to the GardenWalk movie theatre! What’s in it for us? We want the chance to tell you how important it is to support the Anaheim Resort, as Anaheim’s primary source of tax revenue. And if you agree that saving Anaheim’s critical services, like Fire, Police, Parks, Libraries, is important, then we would like the chance to sign you up for a FREE Soar membership. No fees, no funny hats, and your information will never be sold. We just want to be able to contact you in the future, with invitations to more exciting events in the Resort. Such a deal! We also want to be sure that you know about the GardenWalk, and see for yourself that locals are very, very welcome there!

For many years, we have lamented the lack of quality entertainment, retail shops, and restaurants in the flatlands of our beloved Anaheim. When we begged merchants for upscale offerings, the standard answer has been, "Anaheim's demographics do not support this type of development." And we took our bent little noses off to other cities for our shopping, and dreamt of a day when a simple Ann Taylor sweater might be had in Anaheim, and not just the leftovers being cleared out at the Anaheim Plaza Clearance Center, but in a real store, with real sales staff. (and real dressing rooms)

Not long ago, a visionary man brought these things to us, right here in the Anaheim Resort. Bill Stone stuck his neck (and a large fortune) out to build GardenWalk, offering Anaheim residents all of those merchants we begged for. And yet, Anaheim's response has been, well, lackluster at best.

So what is holding us back from enjoying all that the GardenWalk has to offer? I think it is largely perception, and I know I had my own preconceived notions of what GardenWalk is and isn’t. I had anticipated a tourist trap, where one might find the usual t-shirts and postcards, upcharged to grab dollars from visitors as a captive audience. But I have delighted in the stores, such as Ann Taylor, Giorgios Studio, White House/Black Market, etc. that would be found in any quality shopping mall. I have found genuine values there, as I recently updated my tired wardrobe, with pieces I could not have found elsewhere in Anaheim, at very competitive prices.

My fear is that misperception will keep us from patronizing the center that Bill Stone so bravely built, trusting that Anaheim could support such a quality environment. And if GardenWalk does not hold its own through this economic challenge, merchants will never give us this chance again, and we as a community will be condemned to a lifetime of Chuck E Cheese's, and TJ Maxx. My challenge is to each and every resident of Anaheim who has ever longed for a "real" shopping center right here in town. Come on out and give GardenWalk a try.

So please pass this along, and bring your friends and family to see us on Thursday evening. You do not need to live in Anahiem, just care about Anaheim! Our hosts are prepared to entertain hundreds of people, there is no such thing as too many guests for this event! I would love to see this party packed that evening. We need to send a message that the people of Anaheim want to thank Bill Stone and these quality retailers for taking a chance on Anaheim. Any of us who have tried to get Trader Joe's here know how hard it is to talk merchants into investing in Anaheim. Let's tell these folks that their investment has been well placed, that Anaheim CAN and WILL support quality merchants. It is time for us to step up and tell the world that Anaheim’s demographics DO support something more than a discount center. I hope to see you all there on March 19.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Why the Economy Sucks or The Death of Customer Service in America

Anyone who has visited us (and you are few because I never let anyone in) know that the house has been unfinished for far too long. Richard and I are finally tackling those projects, trying to finally get the place done, so we can invite y'all over. Yep, all of you. Of course it will likely be some sort of a fundraiser, but I digress. We were even pretty excited about the idea of being able to spend a few dollars in a bad economy, and committed ourselves to buying locally whenever possible. Now for the irony. Our biggest obstacles are no longer time and money (although they are factors) no, our biggest obstacle is the merchants themselves! We consistently find ourselves leaving empty handed, wanting to scream "Why are you making it so difficult for me to give you my money?!" Last weekend it was a well known vintage hardware shop in Orange. They carried what I wanted, at a price I was willing to pay. But by the time the saleswoman/owner (the one with the bad wig who never figured out college is over, you know the one) by the time she was done telling me all the reasons I did not want this (very expensive, hard to install, yada, yada) I left the store empty handed. She talked herself right out of a sale. Instead, I ordered-get this-brand new hardware that exactly matched the stuff she did not want to sell me, from a repro place in another state. Say what?

So today we went to talk to a few cabinet people. Again, trying to spend in Anaheim, and balance the "sorry kids you can't go to college we just gave all our money to the carpenter for custom cabinets" with the "made from plastic and lead paint in China" of stock warehouse garbage, we went to a local "we build it ourselves" shop. And we were laughed at. Now I do not mind someone telling me that they cannot help me. Go ahead and tell me that your unskilled workers out back cannot make those flush mounted shaker doors fit the cabinet frame. I'm pretty used to it. But don't mock me for the request. Don't tell me "nobody does that" (yes they do) or that I will hate them (I do not hate the ones I already live with, or I would not want to add an island of them, thanks) or that I cannot get cabinets made from anything from MDF (it makes me itch almost as bad as vinyl) because I was not born yesterday, and I know you are full of it.

If you can't help me now, at least be nice about it. You never know what I may need in the future! I understand that old house stuff is a fairly specialized request. I am willing to pay a bit more for it (but don't hose me on the price, it's not THAT much harder) I am willing to wait a little longer. I am even willing to paint it myself, install my own hardware, etc. But do not make me feel foolish for asking if you might provide a service or product I may wish to purchase. And after that, do not dare whine about how you have to lay off employees because nobody out there is spending money. So to Henry at the "we don't really do custom cabinets" shop, all I have to say is, be thankful you aren't the HVAC guy. He made the mistake of insisting that he could not explain how to service our AC filter, because I am a woman. (Are my breasts going to impede the ability to reach the filter?) Unlike HVAC guy, Henry merely lost a sale, not a body part. But it is still sad that an Anaheim business left an Anaheim resident with such a bad taste for their shop. And when I go to reno the tract house kitchen Richard's Mom left us for a rental, (which does NOT need special order work) I know where not to go.

The solution? The kitchen saleswoman at Lowe's (Rosanna, great gal) sat down and listened to what I wanted, took the time to help me layout the new cabinets, using stock sizes, and then checked her manufacturers to find one willing to sell me just the hardwood boxes, unpainted, no doors or drawers, but all the bells and whistles and gadgets inside. We will have a local carpenter make the doors and drawer fronts, and paint them ourselves, installing our own hardware. Problem solved. Lowe's makes a sale, a local carpenter gets some work, Richard gets the kitchen he wants at a price I want to pay. Everybody happy. Why merchants cannot seem to think outside the box to make a sale is beyond me, but I am grateful to people like Rosanna, who "get it", and she will also get the not-custom-kitchen cabinets I need in the future. Our daughter's theory on Mom's living room rant; "Mom, all the smart people left California already, so all you have left to deal with are idiots. It's systemic."

Monday, March 9, 2009

Tourists and TOT

Why the Disney Resort is....well, the Disney Resort.....

I was over at the Disneyland Hotel for breakfast with friends (Gustavo would find my choices pedestrian, but I starved for 2 weeks to get away with the 2 by 4 breakfast at Steakhouse 55).

As I was leaving, I noticed the usual gaggle of tourist girls taking each others' photos in front of our favorite mouse. While you can see the barriers indicating that work is being done in the area, what you cannot see is the Resort "Cast Member" maintenance guy, who is crouching down behind the base block, so as not to intrude on the "guest experience". After literally crawling on his hands and knees to get himself out of the shot, he then stopped his work, and offered to take their photos together. He later went back to work, grabbing a wrench from his toolkit, whistling quietly. Sorry, folks, but NOBODY else does it as well. Which is why, despite the downturn in the economy, while the crowds are not as robust as they may have been in years past, folks are still using whatever extra money they have to visit us in Anaheim. And while TOT revenue is off from previous years, thank God we have what we do, because without it we would be in BIG trouble!

Speaking of TOT tax, I am looking into the whole stink about online booking agencies and their payments of TOT to the City of Anaheim. While we have a full Council majority backing the move to collect the extra TOT from the agencies, I am not so sure I am in agreement. (Cynthia is going to disagree with Mayor Curt?! gasp!) Yeah, I just might.

Here's the spin:

Council claims that agencies that book discount tickets (Expedia, Orbitz, etc) buy blocks of rooms wholesale, and then resell them at a profit, while withholding the TOT collected at the higher price. Confused? Here's a hypothetical example: Agency A buys a block of rooms from a hotel at $100 per room, sells to Family B at $200 per room, collects TOT on the $200 from Family B, but only gives the City the TOT on the $100 Agency A paid. Now, if that is in fact the scenario, then yes, Agency A needs to forward all TOT collected back to the City. That is only fair.

However, I have also heard that the agencies are not in fact collecting and not forwarding. The alternate scenario is that they are only collecting TOT from Family B based on the lower price that Agency A bought the room for. If the battle is raging over forcing agencies to collect more taxes from the consumer, I am not sure that is the way to go. Charging tourists even more money in this economy may not be the smart move, and frankly the agencies are lit about it. In fact, in other markets where City governments have forced the TOT issue, agencies have simply rerouted guests to neighboring cities! (can you say Garden Grove?) How much TOT does Anaheim collect on a Garden Grove hotel room? That would be none.

There is no easy answer here, and I still do not have all of the answers. But I am looking into it, and will report back here when i get those numbers. Any ideas from the peanut gallery?