China’s ‘Zero Covid’ Mess Proves Autocracy Hurts Everyone

After the city locked down its 25 million residents and grounded most delivery services in early April, many people encountered problems sourcing food, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Some set alarms for the different restocking times of grocery delivery apps that start as early as 6 a.m.

In the past few days, a hot topic in WeChat groups has been whether sprouted potatoes were safe to eat, a few Shanghai residents told me. Neighbors resorted to a barter system to exchange, say, a cabbage for a bottle of soy sauce. Coca-Cola is hard currency.

After nearly two weeks under lockdown, Dai Xin, a restaurant owner, is running out of food to provide for her household of four. Now she slices ginger paper thin, pickles vegetables so they won’t spoil and eats two meals a day instead of three.

Even the moneyed class is facing food supply shortages. The head of a big retailer told me last week that she got many requests from Shanghai-based chief executives. But there was little she could do under lockdown rules, the executive said, who spoke on the condition of anonymity given the political sensitivities.

Wang Lixiong, the author of the apocalyptic novel “China Tidal Wave,” which ended with a great famine in the aftermath of a nuclear winter, believes that a man-made crisis like the one in Shanghai is inevitable under China’s authoritarian system. In recent years, he said in an interview, the risk increased after Beijing clamped down on nearly every aspect of civil society.

After moving into a friend’s vacant apartment in Shanghai last winter, he stocked up on rice, noodles, canned food and whiskey to sustain him for a few months in case of a crisis.

But many residents in the luxury apartment complex, with units valued at more than $3 million, weren’t as prepared when the lockdown started. He saw his neighbors, who dashed around in designer suits a month ago, venture into the complex’s lush garden to dig up bamboo shoots for a meal.

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Inflation Hits the Fast Food Counter

On a chilly Tuesday afternoon this month, James Marsh stopped by a Chipotle near his suburban Chicago home to grab something to eat.

It had been a while since Mr. Marsh had been to Chipotle — he estimated he goes five times a year — and he stopped cold when he saw the prices.

“I had been getting my usual, a steak burrito, which had been maybe in the mid-$8 range,” said Mr. Marsh, who trades stock options at his home in Hinsdale, Ill. “Now it was more than $9.”

He walked out.

“I figured I’d find something at home,” he said.

The pandemic has led to price spikes in everything from pizza slices in Manhattan to sides of beef in Colorado. And it has led to more expensive items on the menus at fast-food chains, traditionally establishments where people are used to grabbing a quick bite that doesn’t hurt their wallet.

government data. And, in some cases, portions have shrunk.

“In recent years, most fast-food restaurants had, maybe, raised prices in the low single digits each year,” said Matthew Goodman, an analyst at M Science, an alternative data research and analytics firm. “What we’ve seen over the last six-plus months are restaurants being aggressive in pushing through prices.”

This comes at a time when the hypercompetitive fast-food market is booming.

Chains like McDonald’s, Chipotle and Wingstop were big winners of the pandemic as consumers, stuck at home working and tired of cooking multiple meals for their families, increasingly turned to them for convenient solutions. But in the past year, as the cost of ingredients rose and the average hourly wage increased 16 percent to $16.10 in November from a year earlier, according to government data, restaurants began to quietly bump up prices.

But making customers pay more for a burger or a burrito is a tricky art. For many restaurants, it involves complex algorithms and test markets. They need to walk a fine line between raising prices enough to cover expenses while not scaring away customers. Moreover, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Chains that are operated by franchisees typically allow individual owners to decide pricing. And national chains, like Chipotle and Shake Shack, charge different prices in various parts of the country.

When Carrols Restaurant Group, which operates more than 1,000 Burger Kings, raised prices in the second half of last year, the number of customers actually improved from the third to the fourth quarter. “Over time, we generally have not seen a whole lot of pushback from consumers” on the higher prices, Carrols’ chief executive, Daniel T. Accordino, told analysts at a conference in early January.

Menu prices are likely to continue to climb this year. Many restaurants say they are still paying higher wages to attract employees and expect food prices to rise.

“We expect unprecedented increases in our food basket costs versus 2021,” Ritch Allison, the chief executive of Domino’s Pizza, told Wall Street analysts at a conference this month. While Domino’s hasn’t raised prices, it is altering its promotions — offering the $7.99 pizza deal only to customers ordering online and shrinking the number of chicken wings in certain promotions to eight from 10 — in an effort to maintain profit margins.

Despite the higher food and labor costs, some restaurants are seeing sales and profits rebound past prepandemic levels.

When McDonald’s reports earnings this month, Wall Street analysts expect that its revenues will have hit a five-year high of more than $23 billion, a $2 billion increase from 2019. Net income is predicted to top $7 billion, up from $6 billion in 2019. Other chains like Cracker Barrel and Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, have resumed dividend payments or cash buybacks of stock after suspending those activities early in the pandemic to conserve cash.

And next month, when Chipotle reports results for 2021, analysts expect revenues to top $7.5 billion, a 34 percent jump from 2019. Net income is expected to almost double from prepandemic levels. In the third quarter, the company repurchased nearly $100 million of its stock. Chipotle declined to make an executive available for an interview, citing the quiet period ahead of its earnings release.

While Chipotle executives blamed higher labor costs for a 4 percent price increase in menu items this summer, the company has been looking for ways to boost its profitability.

One way was to charge higher prices for delivery. Delivery orders through vendors like DoorDash and Uber Eats exploded for Chipotle and other fast-food chains during the pandemic. But so did the commission fees that Chipotle paid the vendors. So in the fall of 2020, it began running tests to see what would happen if it raised the prices of burritos and guacamole and chips that customers ordered for delivery, executives told Wall Street analysts in an earnings call. It essentially meant the customer covered Chipotle’s side of the delivery costs.

The company discovered customers were willing to pay for the convenience of delivery. Now, customers ordering Chipotle for delivery pay about 21 percent more than if they had ordered and picked the food up in the stores, according to an analysis by Jeff Farmer, an analyst at Gordon Haskett Research Advisors.

“I would say that our ultimate goal, so this would be over the long term, maybe the medium term, is to fully protect our margins,” said Jack Hartung, the chief financial officer of Chipotle, on a call with Wall Street analysts last fall. “When you look at our pricing versus other restaurant companies’ for the quality of the food, the quantity of the food, and the quality and convenience of the experience, we offer great value. So we believe we have room to fully protect the margin.”

That doesn’t mean customers are thrilled about the extra costs.

This month, Jacob Herlin, a data scientist in Lakewood, Colo., placed an order: a steak-and-guacamole burrito for $11.95, a Coca-Cola for $3, and chips and guacamole, which were free with a birthday coupon. The total was $14.95, before tax.

But when he clicked to have the food delivered, the price for the burrito jumped to $14.45 and the soda climbed to $3.65, bringing the total to $18.10 before tax, 21 percent more than if he had picked the food up himself.

There was more. Mr. Herlin was charged a delivery fee of $1 and another “service fee” of $2.32, bringing the total for the delivered meal to $23.20. He tipped the driver an additional $3.

Mr. Herlin said he did not mind paying for delivery and wanted drivers to be paid a decent wage. But he felt that Chipotle wasn’t being upfront with customers about the added costs.

“They’re basically hiding the fees two different ways, through that base price increase and through the hidden ‘service fee,’” Mr. Herlin said in an email. “I would very much prefer if they had the same pricing and were just honest about a $5 delivery fee.”

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Can Anyone Satisfy Amazon’s Craving for Electric Vans?

That number is growing quickly. Amazon is several years — and tens of billions of dollars — into a huge push to deliver packages, shifting away from relying on large carriers like UPS. To begin the expansion, Amazon ordered 20,000 diesel Sprinter vans from Mercedes-Benz.

Through its network of contractors, Amazon now delivers more than half of its orders globally, and far more in the United States. Amazon has six times as many delivery depots now as it did in 2017, with at least 50 percent more new facilities set to open this year, according to data from MWPVL, a logistics consultancy.

That logistics boom, accelerated by the pandemic’s shift to online shopping, multiplies the challenges the company faces in meeting its pledge to reduce its climate impact. Its vow to make half of its deliveries carbon-neutral by 2030 is part of the company’s broader pledge to be net-carbon-neutral by 2040.

“Electrification of their delivery fleet is a really important part of that strategy,” said Anne Goodchild, who leads the University of Washington’s work on supply chain, logistics and freight transportation.

Delivery vans are well suited to electric propulsion because they usually travel 100 miles or under in a day, which means they don’t need large battery packs that add to the cost of electric cars. Delivery trucks are often used during the day and can be recharged overnight, and usually require less maintenance than gasoline trucks. Electric vehicles don’t have transmissions and certain other mechanical components that wear out quickly in the heavy stop-and-go typical in delivery routes.

In September 2019, when Mr. Bezos announced Amazon’s huge Rivian order — the largest ever order of electric vehicles — he positioned it as central to Amazon’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint. At the time, he said he expected the 100,000 vans to be on the road “by 2024.”

Amazon invested at least $1.3 billion in Rivian, which Amazon says is supposed to make 10,000 vans as early as this year. Amazon also locked up exclusive rights to Rivian’s commercial vans for four years, with the right of first refusal for two years after that. The companies have been testing the vans for almost a year.

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Farewell, Millennial Lifestyle Subsidy

A few years ago, while on a work trip in Los Angeles, I hailed an Uber for a crosstown ride during rush hour. I knew it would be a long trip, and I steeled myself to fork over $60 or $70.

Instead, the app spit out a price that made my jaw drop: $16.

Experiences like these were common during the golden era of the Millennial Lifestyle Subsidy, which is what I like to call the period from roughly 2012 through early 2020, when many of the daily activities of big-city 20- and 30-somethings were being quietly underwritten by Silicon Valley venture capitalists.

For years, these subsidies allowed us to live Balenciaga lifestyles on Banana Republic budgets. Collectively, we took millions of cheap Uber and Lyft rides, shuttling ourselves around like bourgeois royalty while splitting the bill with those companies’ investors. We plunged MoviePass into bankruptcy by taking advantage of its $9.95-a-month, all-you-can-watch movie ticket deal, and took so many subsidized spin classes that ClassPass was forced to cancel its $99-a-month unlimited plan. We filled graveyards with the carcasses of food delivery start-ups — Maple, Sprig, SpoonRocket, Munchery — just by accepting their offers of underpriced gourmet meals.

tweeted, along with a screenshot of a receipt that showed he had spent nearly $250 on a ride to the airport.

“Airbnb got too much dip on they chip,” another Twitter user complained. “No one is gonna continue to pay $500 to stay in an apartment for two days when they can pay $300 for a hotel stay that has a pool, room service, free breakfast & cleaning everyday. Like get real lol.”

Some of these companies have been tightening their belts for years. But the pandemic seems to have emptied what was left of the bargain bin. The average Uber and Lyft ride costs 40 percent more than it did a year ago, according to Rakuten Intelligence, and food delivery apps like DoorDash and Grubhub have been steadily increasing their fees over the past year. The average daily rate of an Airbnb rental increased 35 percent in the first quarter of 2021, compared with the same quarter the year before, according to the company’s financial filings.

set up a $250 million “driver stimulus” fund — or doing away with them altogether.

I’ll confess that I gleefully took part in this subsidized economy for years. (My colleague Kara Swisher memorably called it “assisted living for millennials.”) I got my laundry delivered by Washio, my house cleaned by Homejoy and my car valet-parked by Luxe — all start-ups that promised cheap, revolutionary on-demand services but shut down after failing to turn a profit. I even bought a used car through a venture-backed start-up called Beepi, which offered white-glove service and mysteriously low prices, and which delivered the car to me wrapped in a giant bow, like you see in TV commercials. (Unsurprisingly, Beepi shut down in 2017, after burning through $150 million in venture capital.)

These subsidies don’t always end badly for investors. Some venture-backed companies, like Uber and DoorDash, have been able to grit it out until their I.P.O.s, making good on their promise that investors would eventually see a return on their money. Other companies have been acquired or been able to successfully raise their prices without scaring customers away.

Uber, which raised nearly $20 billion in venture capital before going public, may be the best-known example of an investor-subsidized service. During a stretch of 2015, the company was burning $1 million a week in driver and rider incentives in San Francisco alone, according to reporting by BuzzFeed News.

But the clearest example of a jarring pivot to profitability might be the electric scooter business.

Remember scooters? Before the pandemic, you couldn’t walk down the sidewalk of a major American city without seeing one. Part of the reason they took off so quickly is that they were ludicrously cheap. Bird, the largest scooter start-up, charged $1 to start a ride, and then 15 cents a minute. For short trips, renting a scooter was often cheaper than taking the bus.

But those fees didn’t represent anything close to the true cost of a Bird ride. The scooters broke frequently and needed constant replacing, and the company was shoveling money out the door just to keep its service going. As of 2019, Bird was losing $9.66 for every $10 it made on rides, according to a recent investor presentation. That is a shocking number, and the kind of sustained losses that are possible only for a Silicon Valley start-up with extremely patient investors. (Imagine a deli that charged $10 for a sandwich whose ingredients cost $19.66, and then imagine how long that deli would stay in business.)

Pandemic-related losses, coupled with the pressure to turn a profit, forced Bird to trim its sails. It raised its prices — a Bird now costs as much as $1 plus 42 cents a minute in some cities — built more durable scooters and revamped its fleet management system. During the second half of 2020, the company made $1.43 in profit for every $10 ride.

“DoorDash and Pizza Arbitrage,” about the time he realized that DoorDash was selling pizzas from his friend’s restaurant for $16 while paying the restaurant $24 per pizza, and proceeded to order dozens of pizzas from the restaurant while pocketing the $8 difference, stands as a classic of the genre.)

But it’s hard to fault these investors for wanting their companies to turn a profit. And, at a broader level, it’s probably good to find more efficient uses for capital than giving discounts to affluent urbanites.

Back in 2018, I wrote that the entire economy was starting to resemble MoviePass, the subscription service whose irresistible, deeply unprofitable offer of daily movie tickets for a flat $9.95 subscription fee paved the way for its decline. Companies like MoviePass, I thought, were trying to defy the laws of gravity with business models that assumed that if they achieved enormous scale, they’d be able to flip a switch and start making money at some point down the line. (This philosophy, which was more or less invented by Amazon, is now known in tech circles as “blitzscaling.”)

There is still plenty of irrationality in the market, and some start-ups still burn huge piles of money in search of growth. But as these companies mature, they seem to be discovering the benefits of financial discipline. Uber lost only $108 million in the first quarter of 2021 — a change partly attributable to the sale of its autonomous driving unit, and a vast improvement, believe it or not, over the same quarter last year, when it lost $3 billion. Both Uber and Lyft have pledged to become profitable on an adjusted basis this year. Lime, Bird’s main electric scooter competitor, turned its first quarterly profit last year, and Bird — which recently filed to go public through a SPAC at a $2.3 billion valuation — has projected better economics in the years ahead.

Profits are good for investors, of course. And while it’s painful to pay subsidy-free prices for our extravagances, there’s also a certain justice to it. Hiring a private driver to shuttle you across Los Angeles during rush hour should cost more than $16, if everyone in that transaction is being fairly compensated. Getting someone to clean your house, do your laundry or deliver your dinner should be a luxury, if there’s no exploitation involved. The fact that some high-end services are no longer easily affordable by the merely semi-affluent may seem like a worrying development, but maybe it’s a sign of progress.

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Goldbelly Raises $100 Million During Pandemic-Driven Boom

When the pandemic started last spring, Di Fara, one of New York City’s storied pizza joints, had the same question as countless restaurants nationwide: How would it make any money when customers weren’t allowed through its doors?

One answer quickly emerged: Ship frozen (and slightly smaller) versions of its classic pies across the country in partnership with the eight-year-old e-commerce platform Goldbelly.

Sales picked up so much that Di Fara converted its two-year-old second location, in a food hall, to essentially be a Goldbelly production line. Margaret Mieles, the daughter of Di Fara’s founder, who had already struck an agreement with Goldbelly in December 2019, credits the platform with helping the pizzeria avoid layoffs.

It isn’t just iconic pizzerias that have relied on Goldbelly to survive lockdown orders. More than 400 of the 850 restaurants that sell food on Goldbelly’s platform have joined since the start of the pandemic, an influx that the company says has more than quadrupled sales over the past 12 months.

Parkway Bakery & Tavern in New Orleans, recalled dodging calls from Goldbelly representatives pitching the platform for more than a year, before relenting in September 2019. Even then, he said in an interview, he would ship perhaps 15 boxes in any given week.

Then pandemic lockdowns devastated the restaurant industry. More than 110,000 restaurants nationwide had permanently closed by December, the National Restaurant Association estimated, and a survey it conducted found that sales in October had dropped from a year earlier for 87 percent of the full-service survivors.

Mr. Kennedy shut Parkway in March 2020. When he restarted the business several months later, he began by shipping its signature po’ boy sandwiches through Goldbelly. At the height of the pandemic, Parkway shipped around 200 orders a week, doing roughly the same business that it had done prepandemic — only now its customers included people far from New Orleans.

“We got customers from Alaska calling us, asking us what to do for leftovers,” Mr. Kennedy said. “These are customers we would never have had.”

Some restaurants seeking alternate sources of revenue during the pandemic turned to local delivery services; total orders on DoorDash’s platform in 2020, for instance, jumped roughly threefold from the previous year.

But like Mr. Kennedy, many also turned to Goldbelly to ship their pork shoulder dinners, bagel brunches and huckleberry cheesecakes to locations as far away as Hawaii. (Goldbelly doesn’t consider services like DoorDash to be rivals, since its food generally takes at least a day to arrive and requires cooking).

grilled eggplant parm — something that previously would never have been served at the Michelin-starred restaurant — in part because it would do well on Goldbelly.

Spectrum Equity, the investment firm that is leading the new financing round, reached out to Goldbelly last year as it saw how the company was able to connect local restaurants with a national audience.

“The pandemic has really accelerated trends that were already happening,” said Pete Jensen, a managing director at Spectrum, adding that Goldbelly’s growth has been “extraordinary.”

Mr. Ariel said the fresh capital — raised at an undisclosed valuation — would help Goldbelly expand further, including by hiring more staff and augmenting new offerings like livestreamed cooking classes with celebrity chefs, including Marcus Samuelsson and Daniel Boulud. The company is looking to have more than 1,000 restaurants on its platform by year-end.

The goal, Mr. Ariel said, is to make Goldbelly the biggest platform on which restaurants make money outside of in-person dining, while expanding their brands nationally.

Streetbird is on the Goldbelly platform.

But others, like Ms. Mieles of Di Fara, said they remained committed to the service. “I think, honestly, Goldbelly is here to stay,” she said.

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Mystery Boxes With Mail-Order Pets Set Off a Backlash in China

HONG KONG — The mystery pet boxes are listed on e-commerce platforms in China as a bargain, priced at little more than a few dollars, and they often contain cuddly animals ready to be mailed straight to your doorstep.

The recipients of the pet “blind boxes.” typically don’t know exactly what’s inside — other than the fact that it’s a dog, a cat, a hamster or an unhatched turtle egg. Though the unauthorized transport of live animals across the country is illegal, that hasn’t stopped vendors from openly holding cheap sales and promising fast deliveries. The practice has become increasingly popular.

But many of the animals have ended up dead or suffering from infections or organ damage during the winding journey through China’s postal system after they have been dispatched by breeders.

dead animals among 13 packages at a depot in eastern China, headed to a village in Jiangsu Province, set off a furor. It was the second instance this month, after about 160 crates containing puppies and kittens were found by animal rescuers in a Chengdu shipping facility.

Video footage of the earlier episode posted by the rescuers of the malnourished animals piled into plastic-wrapped crates circulated widely online, casting harsh scrutiny on the industry and prompting internet users to denounce the maltreatment of the animals.

“We could hear them crying in discomfort,” the Chengdu Love Home Animal Rescue Center wrote on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform, last week after its volunteers worked to feed and revive the animals.

Last September, an animal rescue group said that 5,000 dogs, cats and rabbits were found abandoned in perforated cardboard boxes at a shipping warehouse in Henan Province. As volunteers rushed to rescue the surviving animals, they found that about 4,000 had already died.

Blind boxes promise the thrill of the unexpected and the chance to own a coveted collectible or particular breed of dog at a lower-than-market price. In the past few years, vendors on China’s e-commerce platforms have lured consumers with photos of figurines, comic books, clothes or makeup products. One of the largest manufacturers of blind-box figurines, Pop Mart, entered the Hong Kong stock market in 2020.

China banned the live transport of dogs and cats across provincial boundaries in 2011 without a health certificate signed by a government-approved vet at the animal’s place of origin.

Peter Li, a China policy specialist at the Humane Society International and an associate professor of East Asian politics at the University of Houston-Downtown, said that the mystery pet box phenomenon was not only a “gross inhumanity,” but also a public health risk.

“The fact that China’s surveillance system has failed to capture the illegal trade is because it looks like a normal business operation,” Dr. Li said in an email.

“Those involved in the mystery box ‘business’ are encouraging irresponsible pet ownership, irresponsible consumption habit and encouraging disrespectful behaviors toward nonhuman animals,” he said. “Shipping companies and delivery services have the duty not to handle shipment that is ethically questionable, legally liable and socially toxic.”

He added that while animal-protection groups in mainland China have been encouraging the adoption of rescue animals, the mystery-box model is a supply-driven trade, driven by breeders with too many animals who seek to lure younger customers with the promise of expensive breeds of pets at low prices.

Even among people who have bought mystery boxes of other items, but not pets, there was a recoiling at the idea of mailing animals.

Zhang Luyuan, a 33-year-old staff worker at a tourist attraction in the Chinese city of Fuzhou in Fujian Province, once indulged in blind-box purchases. “Those who buy blind boxes have a bit of wishful thinking and want to get what they want with less money,” he said by phone. But after spending $60 on a mystery box for what he thought were high-quality sport jerseys, he found subpar products inside.

“Since buying that blind box, I learned that meat pies won’t fall from the sky, and I have been buying the products the honest way,” he said, using an idiom similar to “there’s no free lunch.”

He said the delivery of living animals in mystery packages was tantamount to abuse, a lucrative way for breeders perhaps to get rid of those that are ill and unlikely to survive.

ZTO Express, the company behind both botched shipments of animals this month, could not be reached for comment. In a statement on May 4, it apologized for failing to enforce safety laws and said that it needed to “uphold correct life values.”

The company added that it would close the Chengdu delivery facility where the 160 crates were found, would cooperate with the police investigation and would enhance safety training. In another statement on Wednesday, ZTO said it had sought to regulate and reverse the delivery of live animals since May 5. The company added that the animals found in Suzhou were already being returned to their place of origin, but had been stranded at a shipment centers.

The police and postal authorities in Chengdu and Suzhou also could not immediately be reached for comment.

The backlash this month has prompted many breeders to remove their listings from popular e-commerce sites such as Pinduoduo and Taobao.

Li Ruoshui, a 19-year-old university student in Shanghai, said he had bought more than a dozen blind boxes of Harry Potter and anime figurines as gifts over the past two years.

“My sister really enjoys the surprise when opening the box, because you don’t know what you’re going to get,” he said in a phone interview. “I think that’s how blind boxes stand out from other products.”

But he said that the concept of blind boxes should never be extended to living animals, and questioned whether the customers who buy pet boxes actually want to take care of the animals inside or are doing it for the novelty.

“I will never buy pet boxes,” he said. “I like small animals, and transporting them in blind boxes is very unsafe and increases the chances of their abandonment.”

Liu Yi contributed research from Beijing.

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‘A Land Grab’ for a Piece of New York’s Marijuana Business

It has been only five weeks since New York State legalized the use of recreational marijuana. The board that will oversee the rollout has yet to be appointed, let alone rules set for how licenses will be issued to cannabis businesses. The sale of legal pot in the state is still a year away. And, of course, marijuana remains illegal on the federal level.

But already the rush is on to get a piece of what could be a $4.2 billion industry in the Empire State.

Brokers are talking to landlords about leasing storefronts to dispensaries. Representatives of out-of-state cannabis businesses are flying in to scope out properties. And suppliers of medical marijuana are expanding in the hope that they will be able to branch into recreational sales.

Agricultural land upstate is now marketed as being “in the green zone” for hemp farming or the construction of grow houses for cultivating marijuana.

may soon change.

heated discussions among local officials, some of whom “can’t fathom the idea of the devil’s lettuce businesses within their borders,” said Neil M. Willner, co-chair of the cannabis practice at Royer Cooper Cohen Braunfeld, a New York City law firm.

But the pandemic may have softened the stance of some officials, given the jobs and tax revenue that cannabis businesses can generate after the protracted health crisis has decimated both. The state estimates that the new industry could bring it $350 million in annual revenue and create 30,000 to 60,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, funding is pouring into the industry in anticipation of possible federal legalization, some lenders will now do business with cannabis companies, and real estate investment trusts have sprung up to serve marijuana interests.

an increase in purchasing over leasing in the past year.

“Going forward, when banking becomes more normalized for us — when we have the opportunity to get real estate debt in the way traditional industries do — we would have a preference for owning real estate,” said Barrington Rutherford, senior vice president of real estate and community integration at Cresco Labs, a cannabis company with operations in several states.

law firms, consultants, insurance agents and accountants specializes in helping clients jump through regulatory hoops. A listing service that is the industry’s answer to Zillow offers a wide range of real estate, from $65,000 lots in an industrial park in Lexington, Okla., to a $109 million, 45,000-square-foot grow house in San Bernardino, Calif.

The brick-and-mortar side of cannabis real estate has also evolved.

As cultivation of marijuana has become more sophisticated, grow houses have expanded — they can be 150,000 square feet or more, with high ceilings, heavy-duty ventilation, lighting and security. Processing typically occurs in separate buildings with high-tech machinery.

dispensaries are increasingly stylish, offering a rarefied retail experience. Accomplished architecture and design firms have gotten into the act. There are even companies that specialize in kitting out dispensaries and other cannabis real estate.

And as marijuana gains broader public acceptance — and some celebrity glamour, with Jay-Z’s Monogram and Seth Rogen’s Houseplant — stores are opening in prominent locations near traditional retailers.

“We’re next to Starbucks in downtown Chicago,” Mr. Rutherford said. “In Philadelphia, the store we’re opening is a half block from Shake Shack and down the block from Macy’s.”

“We are building a portfolio of sites that would be enviable by any retail organization,” he added.

The New York State law also provides for licenses for “consumption sites,” and this is expected to give rise to clublike lounges and cannabis cafes. The prospect of such convivial settings has led to predictions that New York City may become the next Amsterdam.

These new storefront uses would appear to be a godsend for New York’s retail real estate market, where availability has increased and rents have fallen.

“A few years ago, when the market was stronger, it was harder to find landlords willing to play ball,” said Benjamin S. Birnbaum, a broker at the real estate services firm Newmark. “What’s changed, because of the pandemic, is that every landlord is willing to talk about it.”

in a recent CNBC interview.

Regardless of size, opening a dispensary can be complicated and expensive, in part because states have required that would-be retailers have control of a site, through a lease or option to lease, before they can apply for a license. But the number of licenses in some states is limited, with no guarantee a business will get one.

In Oregon, some applicants had to wait so long — one or two years, said Andrew DeWeese, a lawyer with Green Light Law Group in Portland — they eventually gave up and essentially sold their place in line.

“It’s a Catch-22,” said Kristin Jordan, a cannabis lawyer in New York City. “You want to secure real estate, but you don’t want to jump the gun.”

Still, the prospect of operating in New York, a state with more than 19 million residents and a major tourist destination, is so enticing that cannabis companies are getting their ducks in row.

Companies that have medical dispensaries, which have been operating since 2016, are in an enviable position because it is believed they will have an advantage in securing additional licenses.

Cresco Labs has four medical dispensaries in New York, including one in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. It is unclear whether the state will allow recreational marijuana to be sold at those locations, but Mr. Rutherford is hedging his bets, adding parking and in some cases expanding by leasing a storefront next door to an existing space.

“We are making sure those stores are ready for the future adult use market,” he said.

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Amazon’s profits soar 220 percent as pandemic drives shopping online.

With the pandemic shifting sales online and consumers flush with stimulus checks, Amazon on Thursday reported $108.5 billion in sales in the first three months of the year, up 44 percent from a year earlier. It also posted $8.1 billion in profit, an increase of 220 percent from the same period last year.

The first-quarter results surpassed Wall Street’s expectations. Shares were up as much as 5 percent in aftermarket trading.

The most profitable parts of Amazon’s retail business boomed. Revenue from merchants listing items on its website and using its warehouses was up 64 percent, to $23.7 billion. Its “other” business segment, which is largely its lucrative advertising business, increased 77 percent, to almost $7 billion.

Amazon previously disclosed that 200 million people pay for Prime memberships, and subscription revenue for that service and others reached almost $7.6 billion in the quarter. In addition to paying Amazon $119 a year or $12.99 a month for free shipping and other perks, households with Prime memberships typically spend $3,000 a year on Amazon, more than twice what households without the membership spend, according to Morgan Stanley.

step down as chief executive later this year and transition into the role of executive chairman.

Amazon’s total work force dipped slightly between December and the end of March, falling by 27,000 to 1,271,000 employees globally. That was still 51 percent more workers than the same period last year. On Wednesday, Amazon announced it would increase pay for half a million workers and was hiring “tens of thousands” more.

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Amazon to raise pay for 500,000 workers.

Amazon will increase pay between 50 cents and $3 an hour for half a million workers in its warehouses, delivery network and other fulfillment teams, the company said on Wednesday.

The action follows scrutiny of Amazon from lawmakers and an unsuccessful unionization push that ended this month at its large warehouse in Alabama. In 2018, Amazon raised its minimum pay to $15 an hour. In recent months, it has publicly campaigned to raise the federal minimum to $15, too.

Amazon has been on a hiring spree during the pandemic. As more customers ordered items online, the company added 400,000 employees in the United States last year. Its total work force stands at almost 1.3 million people.

Amazon typically revaluates wages each fall, before the holiday shopping season. But this year, it moved those changes earlier, said Darcie Henry, an Amazon vice president of people experience and technology. The new wages will roll out from mid-May through early June. Ms. Henry said the company was hiring for “tens of thousands” of open positions.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, recently told shareholders in his annual letter that he recognized the company needed “a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success.” He said that Amazon had always striven to be “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company,” and that now he wanted it to be “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work” as well.

Amazon is scheduled to report quarterly earnings on Thursday.

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