Target Store Closings Show Limits of Pledge to Black Communities

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.

“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.”

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.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

‘It’s Going to Be a Big Summer for Hard Seltzer’

The music should be pumping and the burgers and jerk chicken wings flying out of the kitchen this holiday weekend at the Rambler Kitchen and Tap in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago.

To wash it down, patrons might go with a mixed drink or one of the 20 craft beers the bar sells. But many will order a hard seltzer. The Rambler expects to sell close to 500 cans in flavors like peach, pineapple and grapefruit pomelo.

“We’ll sell a lot of buckets of White Claw and Truly seltzers,” said Sam Stone, a co-owner of the Rambler. “It’s going to be a big summer for hard seltzer.”

The Memorial Day weekend kicks off what many hope will be a more normal summer, when kids start counting down the number of days left in school, people head back to the beach and grills heat up for backyard parties that went poof last year because of the pandemic. And for the hard seltzer industry, it’s the start of a dizzying period when dozens of old and new competitors vie to be the boozy, bubbly drink of the season.

ad campaign with the British pop singer Dua Lipa. This spring, the hip-hop star Travis Scott released Cacti, a seltzer made with blue agave syrup, in a partnership with Anheuser-Busch. It quickly sold out in many locations.

“People were lining up outside of the stores to buy Cacti and share pictures of themselves with their carts full of Cacti,” said Marcel Marcondes, the chief marketing officer for Anheuser-Busch.

Also this spring, Topo Chico Hard Seltzer was released. A partnership between Coca-Cola and Molson Coors Beverage, it hit shelves in 16 markets across the country, chasing the cult following of Topo Chico’s seltzer water in the South.

“I feel like I can walk into a party saying, ‘Oh, yeah, I brought the Topo Chico,’” said Dane Cardiel, 32, who works in business development for a podcast company and lives in Esopus, N.Y., about 60 miles south of Albany.

How flavored bubbly water with alcohol became a national phenomenon is partly due to social media videos that went viral and clever marketing that sold hard seltzers as a “healthier” alcohol choice.

White Claw’s slim cans prominently state that the drinks contain only 100 calories, are gluten free and have only two grams each of carbohydrates and sugar. The brand is owned by the Canadian billionaire Anthony von Mandl, who created Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

“The health and wellness element is front and center in terms of the visual marketing,” said Vivien Azer, an analyst at the Cowen investment firm. “Every brand’s packaging features its relatively low carb and sugar data.”

On top of that, the alcohol content in most hard seltzers, about 5 percent, or the same as 12 ounces of a typical beer, is less than a glass of wine or a mixed drink. That makes it easier for people to sip at a party or while watching a game without getting intoxicated or winding up with the belly-full-of-beer feeling.

“It’s a nice drink for an afternoon on the patio,” said Shelley Majeres, the general manager of Blake Street Tavern in downtown Denver. “You can drink four or five of them in an afternoon and not have a big hangover or get really drunk.”

Blake Street, an 18,000-square-foot sports bar, started selling hard seltzers two years ago. Today, they make up about 20 percent of its can and bottle sales.

The industry has also neatly sidestepped the gender issue that plagued earlier, lighter alcoholic alternatives like Zima, which became popular with women but struggled to be adopted by men.

“I’ve got just as many men as women drinking it,” said Nick Zeto, the owner of Boston Beer Garden in Naples, Fla. “And it started with the millennials, but now I have people in their 40s, 50s and 60s ordering it.”

That kind of broad appeal is attractive to beer, wine and spirits companies.

“We view ourselves as the challenger brand,” said Michelle St. Jacques, the chief marketing officer of Molson Coors, which has been making beer since the late 1700s but hopes to end this year with 10 percent of the hard seltzer market.

Last spring, the company released Vizzy, a hard seltzer that contains vitamin C. Top Chico came this spring. “We feel like we’re making great progress in seltzer by not trying to bring me-too products, but rather products and brands that have a clear difference,” Ms. St. Jacques said.

While grocery and liquor stores have made plenty of space available to the hard seltzer brands that people drink at home, the competition to get into restaurants and bars is fierce. Most want to offer only two or three brands to their customers.

“Oh, my god, I get presented with new hard seltzer whenever they can get my attention,” said Mr. Stone, who sells six brands at the Rambler. The crowd favorite, he said, is the vodka-based High Noon Sun Sips peach, made by E.&J. Gallo Winery. “Everybody, from the big brands to small, new ones, are getting into the hard seltzer game.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

What It’s Like to Be in India’s Covid-19 Crisis

Infections are soaring. So are deaths. Whole cities are under lockdown. And the government seems powerless to help.

India is in the grip of a coronavirus crisis. Experts agree that the spread is probably even worse than the official statistics suggest. In many parts of the country, hospital beds, supplemental oxygen and other vital supplies are running short.

As Western countries roll out mass vaccination campaigns, only about 3 percent of India’s population is fully inoculated. Though conditions are slowly improving in New Delhi and Mumbai, the virus appears to be spreading largely unchecked through the rest of the country.

The New York Times asked readers in India to describe their lives in the midst of the pandemic with words and photos. They wrote about fear and loss, anxiety and boredom. Some wrote about their anger at the stumbling response by India’s government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But they also wrote about family and friends who have helped them cope, and efforts they have made to help neighbors and strangers alike.

“A lot of people my age have been helping people find resources like hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, medication, etc., through social media by verifying whatever leads are floating around on the internet and sending them to whoever needs them. I’ve been working with one such group. I realize that it is a necessary job in these times, but it’s also incredibly draining. It is the sign of a completely broken system that teenagers have to band together and work themselves to exhaustion trying to answer all these desperate pleas all over Twitter. And it’s getting harder to do by the day as things worsen because resources get exhausted very quickly. Most of the time we just end up calling a lot of numbers and get no response, and when we do it’s usually people saying there’s nothing they can do for us. It’s heartbreaking when people around are just suffering and dying and there’s so little you can do to help. We’re all terrified and burnt out and this is a very unsustainable system of getting people access to health care. You can’t leave it to the citizens to bear the brunt of a health care system that’s crumbling.” — Arunima Tiwari, New Delhi

“I miss spontaneity. I hate that I now have to plan everything out and even when I do, the plans feel like they can just disappear. I’m trying not to focus on what could have been. Instead, I’m determined to stay focused on what I can do. I have reactivated my long-dormant social media accounts to amplify what I can, and I now volunteer at a response center that offers assistance to Covid-positive patients. I don’t have a choice but to help because elected authorities have made it loud and clear that they aren’t going to.” — Anindita Nayak, Bangalore

“Life in Delhi at the moment feels like you’re having an out-of-body experience. It’s hard to imagine this is actually real and happening. Every social media feed, every WhatsApp group is full of requests from people looking for oxygen, hospital beds, critical lifesaving medicines. The worst part: There’s almost nothing you can do to help anyone immediately. It takes hours of verifying, calling, begging for help to actually find some solutions, if that even happens. By that time, you feel almost too scared to call back and find out if help is still needed for fear of hearing the inevitable — that the person has died without getting adequate care. Indians are dying not because of Covid but because they’re not receiving treatment and care.” — Shweta Bahri, Delhi

“Both my parents got Covid. I lost my mother yesterday. Father is on ventilator support. The reason I lost my mother is because she didn’t get treatment. I live in Bangalore, and there is no way you can get a bed in any hospital. The help line numbers never work. If they do, then they just take details or transfer your call with no help. Being completely helpless, I took my mother to a hospital that I’m not sure is even legitimate. They just wanted money from me. They did not have trained staff. Oxygen was always in short supply. I felt helpless that I could not take her anywhere. I knew that if I kept her there she would not survive. I had to bring my father there, and his condition deteriorated due to lack of oxygen. I managed to take him to a different hospital, but it was too late. Now he is on a ventilator.” — Paresh Patil, Bangalore

Rahul Patil died on May 17, Paresh Patil said, after this submission was received.

“It has been challenging, but I maintain a mood log throughout the day and encourage my family to do the same. I also post a mood meter on social media so people can reply with how they are feeling using an emoji and we can talk about it. I also help my parents with their medicines, food, oximeter and temperature readings. Since both have different sets of medications, it’s really important we keep a record of the medicines along with a chart of the vitals. My extended family has been very helpful during this time. They remain connected through calls and texts and remind us not to lose faith.” — Rachita Ramya, Delhi

“Since I have been going to work every day, I have not really experienced the lockdown in terms of staying inside. But it has been a very stressful year when it comes to working. When the lockdown lifted last year, people immediately rushed into the bank where I work. It has been very difficult and almost impossible here, in a rural part of India, to make people understand the importance of masks and social distancing.”

“The government has done little to make people aware of the situation. Also, the lockdowns initially were more of a television ratings stunt rather than a precautionary measure. A lot of workers in banks have died on duty, and some have been denied leave even when they were sick. The precautionary measures on paper are nowhere close to reality. In the past few months, we played dumb to something which we clearly saw coming.” — Shweta Beniwal, Kolar

“As I type this out, four doors lay ajar or wide open in my home. Three of us have now developed Covid symptoms. My old dad has been taking care of cooking, cleaning, medicating and sanitizing all day. My dad sleeps in fits through the day and night, interrupted by calls for food, tea, hoarse coughing, and groans of pain and frustration. How do I cope? Each night, as a 21-year-old, lying wide-awake — the weather is unbearably hot, and my fever rarely subsides — I make up positive scenarios in my mind. Getting a job and earning enough to secure my family’s well-being in this cruel dog-eat-dog world. Being more bold, less hesitant, in fighting people who didn’t see the warning signs of a corrupt, inept distribution of resources. Slapping each of those complacent idiots who voted into power a ruthless demagogue who wins elections by stoking fear and resentment but is a dud when it comes to long-term policymaking, tough decision-making and leadership.” — Harmandeep Khera, Chandigarh

Since sending his submission, Mr. Khera said, he and his family have recovered.

“Many friends have been infected, and we call each other every day to share a joke and to stay positive and make plans to meet in the future. Still frightening, but we are coping. I also try to help people overcome disinformation and keep telling people that most of us who are infected will recover. I ask people to avoid panic buying and seeking unvalidated cures. Since last year I have exercised regularly and continue to do so even while infected and isolated. I am also a pistol shooter for my state of Maharashtra, so mental conditioning has been an important part of my training. I meditate for 10 minutes each day to stay positive.” — Raj Khalid, Mumbai

“It is very frightening. Half of the people I know have been tested positive or have been previously infected. We haven’t stepped out of the house for the past two weeks, and it has taken a greater toll on our physical and mental health. The only rule is to avoid contact. If you want to keep your close ones safe, then you need to keep them away for a while. My mother is an essential worker, and I have seen her doing grocery shopping for many needy people who are quarantined. It’s something I’m proud of. In times like these, we need to hold on to humanity and have faith in whatever you believe in. Being an atheist, I have faith in science and myself.” — Akash Helia, Mumbai

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Not Your Pre-Pandemic Las Vegas

A decade ago, after a rained-out Thanksgiving desert camping trip with our five kids, my wife, Kristin, and I headed to the nearest available lodging, the now-shuttered Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas. Watching our brood eat their Thanksgiving meal as cigarette smoke and slot-machine clamor wafted over their cheeseburgers, Kristin and I locked eyes with an unspoken message: We ar­­e the world’s worst parents.

We have avoided Las Vegas with the kids since then, but an aborted drive to slushy Aspen this April with three of our heirs caused us to pause in Vegas. At the time, the city was just awakening from its Covid slumber, with mandatory masks and limited capacity in most indoor spaces, traffic so light that cars were drag-racing down the normally packed Strip, and a lingering, troubling question over the whole place: Will this reopening really be safe?

But extraordinary things have been happening during this slumber, and while we were only going to spend one night there, we had so much fun that we ended up staying four. At first we spent most of our time in the relative safety of the outdoors, but then we started to relax along with the rest of the city, drowning our hands beneath the ubiquitous liquid sanitizer dispensers, masking up and heading indoors.

I knew things had shifted in Sin City when, while maneuvering the minivan through some seemingly dicey neighborhood between Downtown and the Strip, I noted on the back alley wall of a hair salon a striking mural depicting the cult outsider artist Henry Darger’s seven Vivian Girl warriors in their trademark yellow dresses. What were the Vivian Girls doing here?

Makers & Finders — and wandered along Spring Mountain Road, the hub of the city’s Chinatown, rapidly expanding westward. In the midcentury mecca of East Fremont Street, a $350 million investment by the tech titan Tony Hsieh, who died last year, has produced a boulevard of fantastical art installations, restored buildings and a sculptural playground surrounded by stacked shipping containers converted to boutiques and cafes, all guarded by a giant, fire-spewing, steel praying mantis.

“Vegas is going through a cultural renaissance,” a former member of the city’s Arts Commission, Brian “Paco” Alvarez, told me in a recent telephone interview. “A lot of the local culture that comes out of a city with two million unusually creative people didn’t stop during the pandemic.”

Area15, which opened in February in a mysterious, airport-hanger-size, windowless building two miles west of the Strip. Imagine an urban Burning Man mall (indeed, many of the sculptures and installations came from the annual arts festival held in northern Nevada), with some dozen tenants providing everything from virtual reality trips to nonvirtual ax throwing, accompanied by Day-Glo color schemes, electronic music, giant interactive art installations and guests flying overhead on seats attached to ceiling rails. Face masks are currently only mandatory in Area15 for self-identified unvaccinated people, though some of the attractions within still require face masks for everyone. Everywhere, we encountered the constant presence of cleaning attendants spraying and wiping surfaces.

Blue Man Group, who was bringing his creative magic to Area15 in the form of a “Psychedelic Art House Meets Carnival Funhouse” called Wink World (adult tickets start at $18). Wink World is centered around six rooms with infinity mirror boxes reflecting Slinkys, plasma balls, fan spinners, Hoberman Spheres and ribbons dancing to an ethereal soundtrack of electronic music, rhythmic chanting and heavy breathing.

“I worked on these installations for six years in my living room in New York,” Mr. Wink told me. “I was trying to evoke psychedelic experiences without medicine.”

My unmedicated children were transfixed, as if these familiar toys frolicking into eternity were totems to their own personal nirvanas. I’ve never seen them stand so still in front of an art exhibit.

Omega Mart (adult admissions start at $45, face mask and temperature check mandatory), the biggest attraction in the complex, lines one side of the complex’s atrium and seemed — at first — to provide a banal respite from Area15’s sensory overload. Along the sale aisles I found Nut Free Salted Peanuts, Gut Monkey Ginger Ale and cans of Camels Implied Chicken Sop.

Meow Wolf (the name derived from pulling two random words from a hat during their first meeting), Omega Mart is an amalgamation of some 325 artists’ creations tied together by disparate overlapping story lines which one can follow — or not.

For a short time, I tracked the story of the takeover of Omega Mart’s corporate headquarters by a hilariously manipulative New Agey daughter, and then got sidelined into the tale of a teen herbalist leading a rebellion to something else. I have no idea what I experienced other than that Brian Eno composed the music to one of the installations. None of my kids could explain what they experienced either, other than something mind-expanding. If it wasn’t for dinner, we might still be in there.

Raku. Step behind an understated white backlit sign and you enter an aged wood interior of an intimate restaurant that you might find off a Kyoto alley. We slid into the family-style tables behind the main dining room and commenced to feast. There’s a $100 tasting menu if you are feeling adult, but my tribe ordered cream-like tofu with dried fish, foie gras skewers and a dozen other items.

Chinatown became our go-to-spot for snacks and boba tea between adventures. A favorite spot became Pho 90, a low-key Vietnamese cafe with outstanding noodle dishes and exquisitely layered banh mi sandwiches for picnics in the wild.

Red Rock Canyon, 17 miles west of the Strip, is like walking into a Road Runner cartoon with a Technicolor ballet of clashing tectonic formations. We grabbed our admittedly reluctant brood on a 2.4-mile, round-trip hike on the Keystone Thrust Trail through a series of gullies until we emerged above epic white limestone cliffs jutting through the ocher-colored mountains. Here we had our Vietnamese picnic overlooking the monolithic casinos in the distance.

Rail Explorers has set up rail bike tours on the abandoned tracks leading to the Hoover Dam construction site. We booked a sunset tour (from $85 to $150 for a tandem quad bike). After some quick instruction, we, along with three dozen other visitors, climbed into an 800-pound, four-person Korean-made bike rig and, giving the group ahead of us a three-minute head start for some space, started peddling.

Our route was along four miles of desert track gently sloping into a narrowing canyon pass. As we effortlessly peddled at 10 miles per hour, we noticed that the spikes holding down the railroad ties were often crooked or missing. “I bet these were all driven in by hand,” my teenage son, Cody, a history buff, noted.

In the enveloping dusk, we glimpsed shadows moving along the sagebrush: bighorn sheep, goats and other critters emerging for their nocturnal wanderings. But the most surreal sight was at the end of the ride, where a giant backlit sign for a truck stop casino appeared over a desert butte — Vegas was beckoning us back, but now we welcomed the summons. Here we were, peddling into the sunset, feeling more athletic, cool and (gasp!) enlightened than when we first rolled into Vegas four days ago. Oh what good parents we were!

“The moniker of ‘Sin City’ is totally wrong,” Mr. Alvarez told me, “if you know where to look.”

View Source

Gemstone traders in Thailand are hit hard as the country battles a virus surge.

As a resurgent coronavirus threatens countries across Southeast Asia, the health authorities in Thailand are working to contain an outbreak that is ripping through the tight-knit community of gemstone traders in the southeastern reaches of the country near the border with Cambodia.

The town of Chanthaburi — which has a long history as a center of the country’s business in rubies, sapphires and other stones — is at the heart of the outbreak, which has infected at least 166 in the community of traders from Africa who work in the country. At least 103 Thais in the town have also tested positive as a result of the latest outbreak, officials reported.

The cluster of cases comes as Thailand battles its worst outbreak since the pandemic began. For nearly three weeks, the country has averaged about 2,000 new cases a day — more than double its worst peak in January. The largest outbreak has been reported in Bangkok, which is under a partial lockdown.

On Wednesday, the government reported 34 deaths, a record, and 1,983 cases. One of those who died was from Finland.

Thailand was among the most effective countries last year in controlling the virus, but it has been slow to contain outbreaks this year and has lagged behind other countries in procuring vaccines.

Now, with the latest surge in cases, it is scrambling to obtain shots and to develop a mass inoculation program.

Some officials have declared that foreigners will not be vaccinated despite earlier outbreaks among migrant workers from Myanmar and now among the African gemstone traders. Other officials have said that Thailand will inoculate foreigners but have not provided specifics.

Thailand, which has a population of about 70 million, is home to more than two million foreigners who live in the country legally. More than two million more are believed to live in the country illegally.

Over the years, the gem business has attracted traders from several predominantly Muslim countries in Africa, including Gambia, Guinea and Mali. Many of them have settled in Thailand, married Thai wives and import gemstones from Africa.

Sankung Kongeh, a trader from Gambia, said members of the African community gathered daily at their offices and at the market, where they work, talk and eat together. During Ramadan, which began April 12, many also have prayed together, he said.

It is precisely that kind of close social contact that has fueled outbreaks around the world, but Mr. Kongeh discounted the group prayers as a significant risk.

“The possibility of the Covid spread has nothing to do with praying together,” said Mr. Kongeh, who recently tested negative. “It’s during the time hanging out at the office where we have the AC on, the door closed, and we chat with each other, drinking hot tea. There could be 10 or 12 of us sitting together. We don’t talk to each other during prayer.”

View Source

Was That a Giant Cat? Leopards Escape, and a Zoo Keeps Silent (at First).

For a zoo to let a leopard escape is worrisome. To lose three of them and fail to warn residents for days seems something else altogether.

A safari park near the city of Hangzhou in eastern China is facing an onslaught of questions after it achieved that dubious feat, belatedly admitting late last week that three of its leopards had somehow absconded into the nearby hills.

By Monday, searchers had found two of the big cats, and teams with dogs, drones and dart guns were looking for the third.

A search for answers was also underway. The government put a senior manager of the zoo under criminal investigation, and officials promised an inquiry. Many Chinese people wondered how the Hangzhou Safari Park could lose several wildcats and hold back the news for up to a week, maybe longer.

on Saturday after the local government confirmed the escape and warned residents to be on guard.

The Chinese internet has been agog with updates and discussion about the missing leopards. Many were not impressed by the park’s explanation and had questions about the government’s actions, the frantic search and the well-being of the leopards that were hunted down. Leopards are an endangered species, and are found in the wild across remnant patches of western China.

“The ‘leopard hiding’ affair has exposed gaps in management that warrant more scrutiny and reflection,” Chinese Central Television News opined in an online article.

Chen Fang, the owner of a rural leisure lodge in the area of the search, said in a telephone interview, “The zoo should have notified us earlier, but at the start they didn’t own up, and so nobody knew about it.”

“If you say you worried about triggering public panic, wouldn’t someone panic if they ran into a leopard on the city outskirts?” one person wrote on Weibo, the popular Chinese social media platform.

stepping out of their cars in drive-through animal parks.

told The Shanghai Observer. “This was much bigger than a cat.”

Mr. Zhu was alarmed but kept his cool. He used his phone to snap a picture of the creature gazing at him quizzically among the tea plants. But he was too busy with farm work to overthink encountering an exotic wildcat. After it walked off, he said, he kept working in his fields.

Mr. Zhu later made another sighting of a leopard, but friends in the village advised him not to report it to the authorities in case that brought “unnecessary hassles and interfered with work,” he said.

announced on Saturday that it was closing temporarily to deal with unspecified “safety issues.”

Later that day, the government of Fuyang District, the site of the park, disclosed that the three leopards had gone missing and one was still at large, and the park issued its apologetic admission. Since then, search teams have swarmed the lush hills on the edge of Hangzhou.

So far, there have been no reports of injuries from the leopards, and the safari park and some experts said the shy, youngish cats were unlikely to attack people.

one article said. “Whatever you do, don’t panic,” said another. If attacked, it added, consider as a last resort ramming your fist down the leopard’s throat. “That’s the only chance of saving your life.”

Liu Yi contributed research.

View Source

Black Pound Day Aims to Support U.K. Black-Owned Businesses

LONDON — For Aimée Felone, whose children’s bookstore in London stocks tales with ethnically diverse characters, the Black Lives Matter protests last summer were, in a word, overwhelming.

“We had attention like we’ve never had before,” Ms. Felone said. People across the country clamored for books about antiracism and sought out Black-owned businesses like her store, Round Table Books, as a way to help reverse years of economic racial inequality. In early June, the store’s sales went through the roof.

But pandemic restrictions had shuttered the store’s warehouse. After two weeks, the four-person team was struggling to fulfill online orders. A publishing company affiliated with the bookstore, which Ms. Felone also co-founded, sold out of every book it had published. New customers grew impatient.

“The sales were wonderful,” Ms. Felone said. The problem was “the additional stresses that I think a lot of people don’t realize they’re putting” on the small Black businesses they are trying to help.

the largest social movement in U.S. history and quickly spread across the globe, businesses are looking for ways to convert that chaotic surge of interest into regular, reliable sales.

In Britain, one effort was created by Swiss, a British rapper. He calls it Black Pound Day, and the idea is simple: Once a month, people should spend money with Black businesses.

according to a study conducted by Jamii, a company supporting Black businesses, and Translate Culture, a marketing agency.

pardner. Small groups still use it to save together outside the banking system.

Swiss, 38, whose real name is Pierre Neil, grew up in South London. His grandparents had come to Britain from Barbados and Jamaica. At 17, he found fame with So Solid Crew, a garage and hip-hop group with dozens of members. In 2001, their song “21 Seconds” topped the British charts.

But the group’s reputation was always entwined with gang culture and violence — a point Swiss pushed back against in “Broken Silence,” a song he co-wrote describing how the group felt that it had been mistreated by the media and government and unfairly blamed for its low socioeconomic status.

“I’ve been making socially conscious tunes from back when I was a teenager,” Swiss said, adding that he was inspired by the rappers Tupac and Nas.

Swiss said he had mulled over the idea for Black Pound Day for years, noting how few businesses that Black people appeared to own.

A study by the British Business Bank, a state-owned bank supporting small businesses, and the consulting firm Oliver Wyman found that entrepreneurs who come from an ethnic minority background face systemic disadvantages, and that the average annual revenue for a Black entrepreneur was 10,000 pounds less than it was for white business owners in 2019.

0.02 percent of venture capital money invested in Britain from 2009 to 2019 went to Black female founders. That’s 10 women in a decade.

Those barriers contribute to large income and wealth gaps between Black and white households in Britain. The total wealth for a median household headed by a white British person (including property, investments and pension) is £313,900 ($436,000). For a Black Caribbean household, it’s £85,900 and just £34,000 for a Black African household, the national statistics agency estimates.

Ms. Ismain, the founder of Jamii, which offers a one-stop shopping site for Black businesses, said her organization and initiatives like Black Pound Day sought to remind consumers to keep Black businesses in mind even when antiracism protests weren’t front-page news.

“When it’s not trending, you don’t always think about it, you fall into old habits, and if you can’t find alternatives to things you are already buying anyway it’s just not very sustainable,” Ms. Ismain said. “That’s the thought process behind Jamii — making it super easy to find businesses.”

For Afrocenchix, a hair care brand for natural Afro hair, Black Pound Day has been transformative. Every month on Black Pound Day, the company gets two or three times its normal sales. To promote the day, it offers customers free delivery and a packet of tea and biscuits — a.k.a. cookies in the United States — with their order.

“We got trolled a bit on the first Black Pound Day by lots of people telling us we were racist and not British,” said Rachael Corson, a co-founder of Afrocenchix. So in response, she said, she and her co-founder, Jocelyn Mate, thought: “What’s more quintessentially British than tea and biscuits?”

Since the first Black Pound Day, they have doubled their number of customers, and in 2020, Afrocenchix’s sales were five times that of the previous year.

“It made a huge difference in terms of brand awareness for us,” Ms. Corson said.

And the influx of customers and revenue should help Afrocenchix’s founders with their next goal of overcoming the venture capital fund-raising odds. They are trying to raise £2 million.

For others, the advantages of Black Pound Day have dipped with time, and they speculate that consumer interest has been spread across more Black businesses. But Natalie Manima, the founder of Bespoke Binny, a housewares brand sold online, said the attention her company had gotten since people sought out Black-owned retailers during last summer’s protests had been “life changing.”

The interest “didn’t end,” Ms. Manima said. “It’s not the same barrage that it was, but I have not ever gone back to pre-protest level of sales.”

She recalled the day in early June when she woke up to hundreds of orders for her products, which include lampshades, oven mitts and blankets. It took her a few days to track the source of the surge — a list of Black-owned businesses circulating on Instagram at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Because Britain was under lockdown, the manufacturer of her products was closed, as was her daughter’s nursery school. So Ms. Manima was packing orders herself, late at night and early in the morning, until she sold out of everything and had to pause taking orders.

But once the manufacturers reopened and her business was running smoothly again, customers have kept coming back. She has since moved into a larger office (twice) and hired a team.

“I have gone from a one-woman show to this, and I know that it’s all down to what happened in June,” she said.

That said, the experience at Round Table Books, the children’s bookstore, is a testament to how hard it can be to permanently alter people’s spending habits, even with the help of initiatives like Black Pound Day. The store has been shut all winter in line with government restrictions. It sells books online, but it’s still hard to compete against giants like the British bookseller Waterstones and Amazon.

“When you don’t have the physical bookshops open, I find that a lot of the attention goes to the bigger brands,” Ms. Felone said. But she said that the store will reopen in early May and that she still supported Black Pound Day.

View Source

Renée Fleming Was Back Onstage. Here’s What Happened First.

The soprano Renée Fleming sauntered onstage in a shimmering long-sleeve gown, perched on a chair and started to sing.

For a renowned performer decades into her career, it might have been an uneventful Wednesday evening at the Shed, the expansive performance space in Hudson Yards. But after 13 months in a pandemic, a sea of faces was a novel sight for the opera star and the trio accompanying her.

“Wow, applause!” she remarked after finishing the meditative opening number. “Very exciting.”

Exciting, indeed — and no mean feat to pull off.

After the Shed and other flexible New York performance spaces lobbied to let audiences in, it got the go-ahead to open its doors for a live event on April 2, after 386 days of shutdown. Fleming’s April 21 show there, before a limited audience, was the fourth performance in a series co-sponsored by NY PopsUp, a public-private program aimed at reviving the arts.

acted in a play during the Shed’s opening season, wouldn’t be left completely untended: Bottled water, tea bags and a kettle would be in her dressing room.

Alex Poots, the Shed’s chief executive, had one big announcement to share with the staff. The venue had not received state permission to expand the size of the audience. In the days leading up to the concert, the Shed had asked to double capacity from 150 to 300, which would still only be a fraction of the roughly 1,200 people the McCourt, its largest performance space, can seat.

But the state had essentially told them: Not so fast.

The concert had sold out in two hours. Audience members who did secure tickets had already received the first of four emails explaining the coronavirus protocols they would need to follow.

Gone was the chance to rush to a concert after work and plop down into your seat as the curtain rose. Before they entered the Shed, concertgoers would need to check one of three boxes: show proof of full vaccination; demonstrate a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of the event; or have taken a rapid antigen test, which is less reliable, within six hours of showtime.

This was such a jumble of rules and dates that the front-of-house staff would be provided printed cheat sheets for the day of the show.

Bill Frisell was surrounded by piles of sheet music — some Handel, some Stephen Foster — laid out on the dining room table and the living room floor of his Brooklyn home. He was writing out his parts in pencil, referencing a list of songs that Fleming had sent to him, the bassist Christian McBride, and the pianist Dan Tepfer.

“Down in the Depths (on the Ninetieth Floor),” Fleming was up on East 57th Street, visiting her longtime hair stylist, Michael Stinchcomb, at Vartali Salon.

Stinchcomb has been an avid fan since the 1990s and first met Fleming backstage at Carnegie Hall. He’s been doing her hair for more than two decades, often traveling around the world when she performs.

But last winter Fleming moved from New York to Virginia, and the pandemic had prevented her from visiting Stinchcomb until the day before her Shed performance.

“She was so happy to come in,” Stinchcomb said. “She’s a woman who likes to look good.”

Later that afternoon, Fleming arrived at the Shed for a three-hour rehearsal, where she and the musicians discussed harmonies, tempos and spots for improvised solos.

“A full rehearsal the day before a show?” McBride said. “That’s a lot in the jazz world.”

José Rivera pointed at the space between two clusters of seats. “From here to here, it’s 6-foot 4,” he announced, bending to scrutinize his yellow tape measure. “From here to here is 6-foot 1.”

That made the grade: According to state rules, the distance between audience members had to be over six feet.

He and another facilities employee, Steven Quinones, had been arranging the chairs for some two hours, ensuring that the setup matched a detailed paper diagram.

“And see, this is the big aisle that people walk through, so it’s 9 feet, 5 inches,” Rivera continued, raising his voice to be heard over the whirring of a third colleague zooming around the room on an industrial floor scrubber.

Five floors up, Josh Phagoo, an operations engineer, checked up on one of the Shed’s most important technologies for Covid safety: the HVAC system. Massive air handlers and chillers in the building’s engine room whirred constantly as Phagoo made sure the machines that keep the air at roughly 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity at 50 percent were functional.

On the stage itself, the first piano notes of the day were vibrating through the air, up to the McCourt’s 115-foot ceiling.

Stephen Eriksson had arrived at 11 a.m. to tune the gleaming Steinway grand piano. While he said his business had disappeared for the first four months of the pandemic, now he is busier than ever.

For nearly 30 minutes, he used a tuning wrench to make sure that the piano was concert ready. Afterward, he played a bit of Debussy and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

“That’s a bit of pure indulgence,” he said.

Within 15 minutes after arriving at the Shed, Fleming — who was scheduled for her second vaccine in New York the morning after the show — got the rapid Covid test in her dressing room. Negative.

Afterward, she rehearsed onstage with the musicians, their instruments positioned more than six feet apart from one another, while an audio crew member in a mask and a face shield flitted around them, making sure everything was working properly.

The six-person crew working the show was slightly smaller than usual, according to Pope Jackson, the Shed’s production manager. Everywhere they went, they brought along what Jackson referred to as a “Covid cart,” which contained a stock of masks, gloves, sanitation supplies and brown paper bags, which the musicians’ union requires so that players have a clean place to put their masks while they perform.

Downstairs, a staff of eight security guards had their nostrils swabbed to make sure that they tested negative.

Fleming and the musicians had been doing virtual and outdoor concerts throughout the pandemic, but the security staff was filled with people whose careers had been even more upended.

Allen Pestana, 21, has been unemployed for more than a year after being let go from working security at Yankee Stadium; Duwanna Alford, 53, saw her hours cut at a church in Morningside Heights; Richard Reid, 33, had worked in April 2020 as a security guard at a field hospital in Manhattan, where he had tried to forget his health fears and focus on the hazard pay he was receiving.

This was the moment before a concert where the theater was alive with preparation and nerves — a bustle missing in the city during the first year of the pandemic.

“It’s like doing the electric slide, the moonwalk and the bachata all at once,” Jackson said of the minutes before showtime. “But when the lights go up, it all fades away.”

The front-of-house staff had only 20 minutes to review the audience members’ IDs and Covid-related documents; take their temperatures; and show them to their seats.

Icy gusts of wind just outside the doors weren’t making things any easier.

But by 8:05 p.m., 150 people had settled into their precisely placed seats, able to snap a photo of the QR code on the arms of the chairs to see the concert program.

In between performances of the jazz classic “Donna Lee” and “Touch the Hand of Love,” which Fleming had once recorded with Yo-Yo Ma, the artists chatted onstage about what they’d been doing with their lives for the past 13 months.

“Wishing this pandemic would be over,” McBride said.

Tepfer said he had been improving a technological tool that made it easier for musicians to play in unison over the internet — a tool that he and Fleming had used to rehearse together virtually.

Frisell had not performed for an indoor audience since the beginning of the pandemic. “This is such a blessing,” he said.

The show ended with a standing ovation, and then the musicians played an encore: “Hard Times” by Stephen Foster, which Fleming described as a song that tends to resonate in times of crisis.

“Hard times,” she sang, “come again no more.”

View Source

Jane Austen Museum to Address Ties to Slavery

Austen’s novels are about a narrow, upper class of British society and are set in picturesque villages, mostly cut off from the troubles of the outside world. “Jane Austen is now on a pedestal as an expression of something delightful, comforting, beautiful, clever,” said Paula Marantz Cohen, an English professor and the dean of the honor’s college at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Many of her fans, she said, want to relish her stories about a simpler time and place.

Some Austen scholars say passages in her novels “Emma” and “Mansfield Park” suggested that she supported abolitionism, but others say that is unclear. Few of her letters survived. But her favorite authors — Samuel Johnson, Thomas Clarkson and William Cowper — were abolitionists. Still, like almost all English families of any means in the 18th century, her family had ties to the slave trade, according to “Jane Austen: A Life,” a book by Claire Tomalin.

In addressing the topic of slavery, Sherard Cowper Coles, the president of the Jane Austen Society, said, “This is England’s story, and as our understanding increases, we should tell it and update it.”

But Mr. Cowper Coles, a former diplomat who was Britain’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009-10, cautioned: “Expecting people to have consciousness outside of their time is not fair. But equally, in our time, we are aware of slavery, we’re living with its consequences in Minneapolis and many other places.”

Frances Brook, a tour guide in England who has led groups to Austen sites, said that she was in favor of the museum presenting more context about Austen’s time, but that condemning her for wearing cotton and taking sugar in her tea would amount to “woke-ism gone a little too far.” Like the rest of us, Austen did things in her everyday life that conflicted with her broader views about the world, said Ms. Brook, who last visited the museum in 2017.

Prof. Johnson of Princeton said that the museum’s attempt to add context to Austen’s life would not quell readers’ enthusiasm for her.

“Just because you involve Austen in the messiness of history doesn’t mean you don’t love her,” she said.

View Source