For much of the pandemic, Amazon has offered free on-site Covid testing for employees. It incorporated a variety of design features into warehouses to promote social distancing. But a worker at an Amazon warehouse in Oregon, who did not want to be named for fear of retribution, said there had been a gradual reduction in safety features, like the removal of physical barriers to enforce social distancing.
Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokeswoman, said that the company had removed barriers in some parts of warehouses where workers don’t spend much time in proximity, but that it had kept up distancing measures in other areas, like break rooms.
“We’re continuously evaluating the temporary measures we implemented in response to Covid-19 and making adjustments in alignment with public health authority guidance,” Ms. Nantel said. She added that the company would “begin ramping down our U.S. testing operations by July 30, 2021.”
At REI, the outdoor equipment and apparel retailer, four workers in different parts of the country, who asked not to be named for fear of workplace repercussions, complained that the company had recently enacted a potentially more punitive attendance policy it had planned to put in place just before the pandemic. Under the policy, part-time workers who use more than their allotted sick days are subject to discipline up to termination if the absences are unexcused. The workers also said they were concerned that many stores — after restricting capacity until this spring — had become more and more crowded.
Halley Knigge, a spokeswoman for REI, said that under its new policies the company allowed part-time workers to accrue sick leave for the first time and that the disciplinary policy was not substantively new but merely reworded. The stores, she added, continue to restrict occupancy to no more than 50 percent capacity, as they have since June 2020.
Workers elsewhere in the retail industry also complained about the growing crowds and difficulty of distancing inside stores like supermarkets. Karyn Johnson-Dorsey, a personal shopper from Riverside, Calif., who finds work on Instacart but also has her own roster of clients, said it had been increasingly difficult to maintain a safe distance from unmasked customers since the state eased masking and capacity restrictions in mid-June.
BALTIMORE — When Target announced that it was opening a store in Mondawmin, a predominantly Black neighborhood in this city struggling with crime and poverty, it seemed like a ticket to a turnaround.
And from the start, it was a practical success and a point of community pride. The store, which opened in 2008, carried groceries, operated a pharmacy and had a Starbucks cafe, the only one in this part of Baltimore’s west side.
People came from across the city to shop there, helping to soften the Mondawmin area’s reputation for crime and the looting that followed protests over the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who was fatally injured while in city police custody. As an employer, Target seemed to cater to the community’s needs, making a point of hiring Black men and providing an office in the store for a social worker to support the staff. Elijah Cummings, the congressman from Baltimore, was known to shop there.
But in February 2018, with almost no warning or explanation, Target closed the store.
Residents, especially those without cars, lost a convenient place to shop for quality goods. And a marker of the community’s self-worth was suddenly taken away.
shut two stores in predominantly Black neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side as the company made plans to build a new store on the wealthier and mostly white North Side.
according to local legend, visited the property in the 19th century and observed the area’s bountiful cornfields. Mondawmin is derived from a Native American phrase for “spirit of corn.”
In the 1950s, the property was sold to a real estate developer, who turned the rural lot into the city’s first shopping mall.
The Mondawmin Mall featured a Sears, a five-and-dime, and eventually an indoor fountain and spiral staircase, advertised as the “seventh wonder of Baltimore,’’ according to Salvatore Amadeo, an amateur historian who makes YouTube documentaries about malls, including a segment on Mondawmin.
When the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 sparked protests across Baltimore and caused “white flight” to the suburbs, the mall struggled. Over time, it ceased to be a big draw for shoppers outside the area.
The stores became more focused on Black fashion and neighborhood services. A large barbershop occupies the mall’s bottom floor, and there is an agency that helps formerly incarcerated people find jobs.
a forceful statement, promising to reopen one of its stores in Minneapolis damaged in the protests against police violence.
Today’s Best Reader Comments
The closing of a Target store shows the limits of a pledge to help Black communities: “A business exists to make money. Period. If it doesn’t it will close, move, or change the business. This is the limits of capitalism.” sjs, Bridgeport, Conn.
She writes about the law. But could she really help free a prisoner?: “Justice has to keep growing for the masses of incarcerated innocents in the U.S. I will share in hopes that this article will be read and shared again and again.” Diane, Chicago.
Masks again? The Delta variant prompts a reconsideration of precautions.: “Wearing a mask indoors for sparing amounts of time (for the majority) is a minor inconvenience. While I, too, am annoyed by those who are choosing not to be vaccinated— my actions are based on those who are medically vulnerable and/or ineligible.” SB, Massachusetts.
“The murder of George Floyd has unleashed the pent-up pain of years, as have the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor,” Mr. Cornell said in the statement. “We say their names and hold a too-long list of others in our hearts. As a Target team, we’ve huddled, we’ve consoled, we’ve witnessed horrific scenes similar to what’s playing out now and wept that not enough is changing.”
One of the names on that “too-long list” is Freddie Gray. Mr. Gray was from Baltimore’s west side and was arrested a few blocks from the Mondawmin Mall in April 2015 for possessing a knife.
prosecutors described as a “rough ride,” his spinal cord was 80 percent severed.
One of the first big waves of protests over his death occurred at the Mondawmin Mall. Protesters began throwing rocks at police officers, and the mall was looted. Some students from Frederick Douglass High School, across from the mall and the alma mater of the civil rights giant Thurgood Marshall, the first Black man to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, were caught up in the melee.
Target was spared serious damage. But for a time, many shoppers, both Black and white, stayed away from the store, recalled Mr. Johnson, who now works for the Postal Service.
“Mondawmin already had a bad rap with out-of-towners,” he said.
Shoppers eventually returned to the Target in Mondawmin, he said. But he noticed that the city’s other Target store, which had opened in a trendy area near the harbor in 2013, was getting more popular.
In November 2017, Mr. Mosby, then a state lawmaker, got a call from a resident whose family worked at the store: The Target in Mondawmin was shutting its doors in a few months. “I thought it was a just a rumor at first,” Mr. Mosby said.
Some residents and neighborhood leaders were told that the store struggled with high rates of theft, known in the retail industry as “shrinkage.” But Mr. Ali, the store’s former manager, said, “That was untrue,” at least while he worked there. The store met its profit and shrinkage goals during his four years as manager, which ended in 2012, years before the store closed.
Still, Mr. Ali, now the executive director of a youth mentoring group, acknowledged challenges that he said were unique to a store in a “hyper-urban area.”
A significant amount of inventory was once damaged in a fire in a storage area next to the store, and the company had to spend $30,000 a month for an armed Baltimore police officer to keep watch, he said.
There may have been additional considerations. “I think what happened after Freddie Gray spooked Target,” Mr. Ali said.
Other national chains reacted differently. TGI Fridays stuck with its plans to open a restaurant at the Mondawmin Mall, months after the protests. The restaurant remains one of the neighborhood’s only free-standing, sit-down chain restaurants.
Mr. Mosby and other officials tried to negotiate with Target to keep the store open, but the company said its mind was already made up.
“They weren’t interested in talking to us,” Mr. Mosby said. “They wouldn’t budge.”
A storefront still sitting empty
The temperature gauge outside Pastor Lance’s car registered 103 degrees as he drove through Greater Mondawmin and its surrounding neighborhoods. He was wearing a white shirt emblazoned with his church’s logo — a group of people, of all races and backgrounds, walking toward the sun, holding hands.
A Baltimore native, Pastor Lance used to work as a computer programmer at Verizon. He made “lots of money,” he said. “But I didn’t feel fulfilled.”
He became a pastor and took over a nonprofit company that develops park space and playgrounds and hosts a summer camp for schoolchildren with a garden surrounded by a meadow near the mall.
“But some days, I wonder if I made a mistake,” he said. “It’s great to have a park, but if you don’t have a good job, you aren’t going to be able to enjoy a park.”
He drove along a street with liquor stores and houses with boarded-up windows. A woman tried to flag him down for a ride. But the poverty he saw was not what made him most upset.
It was when Pastor Lance steered through an enclave of big houses and immaculate lawns, only a short distance away, that the anger rose in his voice.
“You are telling me that these people wouldn’t shop at Target for lawn furniture or school supplies,” he said. “I am not trying to gloss over the problems, but there is also wealth here.”
“If shrinkage was a problem, hire more security guards or use technology to stop people from stealing,” he added.
He circled back to the Mondawmin Mall, where families ducked into the air conditioning for a bubble tea or an Auntie Anne’s pretzel. He drove past the TGI Fridays and then past the Target, its windows still covered in plywood and the trees in the parking lot looking withered and pathetic.
Pastor Lance refused to accept that a Target could not succeed here.
“If you are really interested in equity and justice,” he said, “figure out how to make that store work.”
Retail sales were flat last month after a buoyant March, the Commerce Department said on Friday, as Americans continued spending their latest round of government stimulus checks.
The pace for April was a slowdown from the prior month, when retail sales rose by 10.7 percent, as vaccinations increased and people became more comfortable outside their homes, spending more money on clothing, restaurants, bars and sporting goods. Retail sales, which experienced record drops just over a year ago at the onset of the pandemic, have been closely watched as monthly gauges of the health of the economy and the mind-set of consumers.
job growth slowed in April, a surprise to many economists, while the jobless rate rose slightly to 6.1 percent. The data served as a reminder of the fitful economic recovery and that stimulus money can only go so far.
“Labor market income will become increasingly important in sustaining consumer confidence and spending over the coming months,” the Morgan Stanley economists wrote in a May 7 note.
Retail sales increased in April in categories including restaurants and bars, which posted a 3 percent gain, as well as electronics and appliance stores and grocery stores. Declines were seen in a broad array of categories, including apparel, gas stations, sporting goods and book stores and department stores.
Still, the broader picture is sunny compared with April 2020. Spending at clothing and accessories stores was up more than 700 percent last month, compared with a year earlier, while furniture and home furnishing stores had gone up nearly 200 percent — staggering figures that were a reminder of just how devastating the pandemic was to many parts of the retail industry.
“What we need to remember is retail sales went up a crazy amount in March because of the stimulus, and it’s kind of like they’re stuck up there, so that’s good,” Mr. Frick said. “That means people have continued spending at that high rate.”
L Brands has decided to spin off Victoria’s Secret rather than sell it, the DealBook newsletter was the first to report.
The company said last year that it was considering separating Victoria’s Secret from the rest of its business, and it tested the interest of private equity. Ultimately, L Brands decided to split itself into two independent, publicly listed companies: Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. The deal is expected to close in August.
L Brands received several bids north of $3 billion, sources familiar with the situation said, requesting anonymity because the information is confidential. It turned the offers down, because it expects to be valued at $5 billion to $7 billion in a spinoff to L Brands shareholders. Analysts at Citi and JPMorgan Chase recently valued Victoria’s Secret as a stand-alone company at $5 billion.
“In the last 10 months, we have made significant progress in the turnaround of the Victoria’s Secret business, implementing merchandise and marketing initiatives to drive top line growth, as well as executing on a series of cost reduction actions, which together have dramatically increased profitability,” Sarah Nash, chair of the company’s board, said in a statement.
valued Victoria’s Secret at $1.1 billion.
Apart from a pandemic that upended the retail industry, Victoria’s Secret was dealing with a series of challenges: a brand that had fallen out of touch, accusations of misogyny and sexual harassment in the workplace and revelations about the ties between Les Wexner, the company’s founder and former chairman, and the financier Jeffrey Epstein. (Mr. Wexner stepped down as chief executive last year and said in March that he and his wife were not running for re-election on the company’s board.)
As the pandemic shuttered stores and battered sales, Sycamore sued L Brands to get out of the deal, and L Brands countersued to enforce it, heralding a spate of similar battles between buyers and sellers. Eventually, last May, the sides agreed to call off the deal.
A lot has changed since then. The retailer has overhauled its brand, de-emphasizing the overtly sexy image and products that customers saw as exclusionary. It has become “less focused on a specific demographic target and more focused on being broadly inclusive of all women of all shapes and sizes and colors and ethnicities and genders and areas of interest,” Martin Waters, the retailer’s chief executive, said on a recent earnings call.
Dick’s Sporting Goods and Michaels, accelerating digital overhauls that may have otherwise taken years. Direct sales at Victoria’s Secret in North America rose to 44 percent of the total last year, from 25 percent the year before.
It’s unclear whether pandemic shopping trends will stick, and “it would be reasonable to expect some reversion,” Stuart Burgdoerfer, the L Brands chief financial officer, said at a March event. “But I also think that people have very much enjoyed some of the benefits that were forced on us or triggered through the pandemic.”
Exclusive: L Brands will spin off Victoria’s Secret
L Brands has decided to spin off Victoria’s Secret rather than sell it, DealBook is first to report. The company said last year it was considering separating Victoria’s Secret from the rest of its business, and we previously reported that it was testing private equity’s interest. Ultimately, sources say, L Brands has decided to split itself into two independent, publicly listed companies: Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. The deal is expected to close in August.
Bids didn’t match what Victoria’s Secret expects to get in a spinoff. DealBook hears that L Brands received several bids north of $3 billion. It turned them down, because it expects to be valued somewhere between $5 billion and $7 billion in a spinoff to L Brands shareholders. Analysts at Citi and JPMorgan recently valued Victoria’s Secret as a stand-alone company at $5 billion.
The pandemic torpedoed a sale last year for much less. That agreement, announced in February 2020 with the investment firm Sycamore Partners, valued Victoria’s Secret at $1.1 billion. Apart from a pandemic that was about to upend the retail industry, Victoria’s Secret was dealing with a series of challenges: a brand that had fallen out of touch, accusations of misogyny and sexual harassment in the workplace and revelations about the ties between Les Wexner, the company’s founder and former chairman, and Jeffrey Epstein. (Wexner stepped down as C.E.O. last year and said in March that he and his wife are not running for re-election on the company’s board.)
As the pandemic shuttered stores and battered sales, Sycamore sued L Brands to get out of the deal, and L Brands countersued to enforce it, heralding a spate of similar battles between buyers and sellers. Eventually, in May 2020, the sides agreed to call off the deal.
Dick’s Sporting Goods, Michaels and others were able to accelerate digital transformations that may have otherwise taken years. Direct sales at Victoria’s Secret in North America rose to 44 percent of the total last year, from 25 percent the year before. It’s unclear whether pandemic shopping trends will stick, and “it would be reasonable to expect some reversion,” Stuart Burgdoerfer, the L Brands C.F.O., said at a March event. “But I also think that people have very much enjoyed some of the benefits that were forced on us or triggered through the pandemic.”
bump in inflation and that factory-gate prices in China rose more than expected last month. April’s Consumer Price Index data is set to be released today, and is expected to show a sharp rise from a pandemic-depressed level last year.
China’s birthrate slows again. The country’s population is growing at its slowest pace in decades, posing grave social and economic risks to the world’s second-largest economy. While the U.S. also reported a drastic slowdown in population expansion, China “is growing old without first having grown rich,” The Times’s Sui-Lee Wee writes.
President Biden defends federal unemployment benefits. He rejected claims that $300-a-week supplemental payments are deterring unemployed Americans from seeking work, but he ordered the Labor Department to help reinstate work search requirements. Separately, Chipotle said it was raising wages, to an average of $15 an hour, to attract workers.
The Colonial Pipeline is expected to “substantially” reopen within days. The pipeline, which supplies nearly half of the East Coast’s fuel, is expected to restore most services by the weekend after a ransomware attack. U.S. authorities formally blamed a hacker group and pledged to “disrupt and prosecute” the perpetrators.
12- to 15-year-olds in the U.S., potentially helping reopen schools and other parts of the economy more quickly. But while cases are declining worldwide, they are surging in countries that lack vaccines. And the W.H.O. labeled a virus variant spreading fast in India as “of concern.”
Does Amazon need more money?
Amazon sold $18.5 billion worth of bonds yesterday, joining other corporate giants taking advantage of ultralow interest rates to raise money because … well, why not? The e-commerce titan sold some of its debt at a record-low interest rate for a corporate issuer — barely above what the U.S. government pays.
About $1 billion worth of two-year bonds has a yield just 0.1 percentage points above the equivalent in Treasuries. That’s a huge vote of confidence in Amazon, which has emerged as a winner during the pandemic. The company also set a record for yields on a 20-year bond, besting Alphabet. Over all, investors placed $50 billion worth of orders, underscoring enthusiasm for debt that yields next to nothing.
Today in Business
It raised another $1 billion in the form of a sustainability bond, which is meant to finance investments in environmentally minded projects like zero-carbon infrastructure and cleaner transportation. Amazon is the latest company to sell bonds aimed at E.S.G. investors, a market that reached $270 billion last year and could double this year.
To be sure, the bulk of the offering will finance typical corporate maneuvers like share buybacks, acquisitions and capital expenditures, according to the bond prospectus. It will add to the nearly $34 billion in cash that Amazon had on hand at the end of March — as will profits that are growing at extraordinary rates for a company of its size.
a bold bet by the beleaguered retailer that shoppers and workers will flood back there after the pandemic.
offshore tax evasion. “The tax gap is a massive problem, especially the part driven by ultrarich individuals and corporations stashing income overseas,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, the subcommittee chair, told DealBook. That gap “could be as much as a trillion dollars,” he said. “That’s trillion with a ‘T.’” This money would help fund President Biden’s spending plans, which also run into the trillions.
It’s difficult to quantify just how much money goes uncollected each year, officials say. Corporate tax collections in the U.S. are “at historic lows and well below what other countries collect,” according to a recent Treasury report. U.S. multinational companies can be taxed at a 50 percent discount compared with their domestic peers, an incentive to shift profits abroad. “Bermuda, a country of merely 64,000 people, shows 10 percent of all reported U.S. multinational foreign profit,” the report explained.
“The Biden administration is serious about stopping tax cheats and so are we,” Whitehouse said. The hearing, which features I.R.S. and Treasury officials, will discuss legislation to end corporate tax breaks that incentivize profit shifting, a proposed $80 billion investment in I.R.S. enforcement, a new approach to international tax diplomacy and proposed changes to the tax code.
THE SPEED READ
The investment firm TPG named Jon Winkelried as its sole C.E.O.; Jim Coulter, who previously shared the role, will become executive chairman and lead the firm’s E.S.G.-focused funds. (Bloomberg)
Vice Media is closing in on a deal to merge with a SPAC at a $3 billion valuation, which would leave existing investors in control. (WSJ)
Elliott Management has reportedly taken a stake in Duke Energy and plans to push for a change in strategy, after the utility rejected a takeover bid by NextEra Energy. (WSJ)
Politics and policy
In Wall-Streeters-seeking-political-office news: Glenn Youngkin, the former Carlyle Group co-C.E.O., won the Republican nomination for Virginia governor; and Alex Lasry, the son of the hedge fund mogul Marc Lasry, is running for the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin as a Democrat. (NYT, WaPo)
Big semiconductor makers and their customers have formed a new group to push for billions in federal funding to promote chip manufacturing in the U.S. (NYT)
Forty-four state attorneys general warned Facebook against plans to introduce a version of Instagram for children. (NYT)
The Pentagon reportedly may scrap its JEDI cloud-computing program, the subject of a lawsuit by Amazon and criticism from lawmakers. (WSJ)
Veteran traders are bringing old Wall Street tricks to crypto market-making. (Bloomberg)
Best of the rest
NBC said it won’t air next year’s Golden Globes ceremony, the biggest blow yet to the awards show as its organizers face criticism over a lack of diversity. (NYT)
An American court rejected an Australian company’s bid to scrap Ugg as a U.S. trademark. In Australia, it’s a catchall term for sheepskin boots with fleece linings. (NYT)
“How the Zoom era has ruined conversation” (WaPo)
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