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Corporate food catering startup Chewse raises $19 million

Chewse, a food catering and company culture startup, just announced a $19 million fundraising round as it gears up to expand its operations in the Silicon Valley area. This brings Chewse’s total funding to more than $30 million. Chewse’s investors include Foundry Group, 500 Startups and Gingerbread Capital.

Instead of plopping down meals in the office and bouncing, Chewse aims to create a full experience for its customers by offering family-style meals. In order to ensure quality, Chewse employs drivers and meal hosts so that it can provide them with training. Chewse also offers it drivers and meal hosts benefits.

“We initially started with a contractor model but then very quickly started to realize our customers often mentioned the host or the driver in their feedback,” Chewse CEO and co-founder Tracy Lawrence told TechCrunch.

“I know there’s a lot of other companies that are like food tech or logistics but for us, it’s all about elevating and improving company culture,” Lawrence said. “We have technology but we’re investing in it to create an exceptional real-life experience.”

“On the tech side, we’re using a ton of machine learning and algorithms to learn what people like to eat and create custom meal schedules,” Lawrence said.

To date, Chewse has hundreds of customers across three markets. Chewse initially launched in Los Angeles, but paused operations for a little over one year in order to focus on achieving market profitability in San Francisco. Chewse has since relaunched in Los Angeles, in addition to launching in cities like Palo Alto and San Jose. As part of the Silicon Valley launch, Chewse has partnered with restaurants like Smoking Pig, HOM Korean Kitchen and Oren’s Hummus Shop.

Within the next year, the goal is to double the number of markets where Chewse operates. But Chewse faces tough competition in the corporate meal catering space.

Earlier this year, Square acquired Zesty to become part of its food delivery service, Caviar. The aim of the acquisition was to strengthen Caviar’s corporate food ordering business, Caviar for Teams.

At the time, Zesty counted about 150 restaurant customers in San Francisco, which is the only city in which it operates. Some of Zesty’s customers include Snap, Splunk and TechCrunch. Zesty, which first launched in 2013 under a different name, had previously raised $20.7 million in venture funding.

“Zesty is a direct competitor of ours for sure,” Lawrence said. “When we’re thinking about the things that set us apart from Zesty and ZeroCater, the investment in using the technology and building a meal algorithm — which is something we know they’re doing by hand — and then automatically calibrate when we’re getting feedback because we employ our hosts and our drivers. Yes, it’s more expensive for us but because it provides such a superior experience, we retain our customer longer.”

*Zesty has reached out to clarify it, too, has an algorithm at play to determine best foods and meals to serve.

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How Amazon’s Alexa Could Help Solve A Double Murder Case

Authorities in New Hampshire are turning to an unconventional sleuth in hopes of solving a New Hampshire double murder that took place in January 2017.

Timothy Verill is accused of first-degree murder in the stabbing deaths of Christine Sullivan, 48, and 32-year-old Jenna Pellegrini. Verill pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial

Last week, a judge ordered e-commerce giant Amazon to release any recordings taken by an Amazon Echo speaker seized by police from the murder scene. It’s unclear if the smart speaker contains any audio evidence, however, the court found probable cause recordings maintained on an Amazon server could contain “evidence of crimes committed against Ms. Sullivan, including the attack and possible removal of the body from the kitchen.”

“Accordingly, the State’s motion to search in lieu of a search warrant is granted,” reports ABC of the ruling. “The court directs to produce forthwith to the court any recordings made by an Echo smart speaker with Alexa voice command capability, FCC ID number ZWJ-0823, from the period of January 27, 2017 to January 29, 2017, as well as any information identifying cellular devices that were paired to that smart speaker during that time period.”

It adds to a growing amount of case studies citing concerns over privacy and technology, though an Amazon spokesperson told the Associated Press that the company won’t release customer information “without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us,” it’s not the first time Alexa has found herself in a sticky situation.

More than 30 million sold across the world last year and that number is expected to grow to nearly 50 million in 2018, making smart speakers the world’s fastest growing consumer technology, and it’s easy to see why. Alexa uses machine learning in real-time to assist users in everything from checking the calendar to finding the best takeout. When a person issues a voice command, Alexa records whatever was said and sends it to a cloud server that then interprets the command via Alexa Voice Services. The system then sends relevant data back to your device.

In practice, the system should only activate when triggered by a voice command, but that’s not always the case. Earlier this year, Amazon’s voice-controlled smart speaker recorded a couple’s private conversation and sent it to a person in their contact list in what Amazon called a misunderstanding. Last year, an Arkansas court similarly allowed prosecutors to use recordings captured by Amazon’s smart speaker as evidence in a murder trial (charges were ultimately dropped).

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Trevor Noah visited his grandma in South Africa, and now we’re basically in love with her.

Like him or not, no one can deny that Trevor Noah has lived a fascinating life.

If you haven’t read Trevor Noah’s memoir, “Born a Crime,” you’re missing out. The smart, witty comedian who took over Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” has lived a life few Americans his age can imagine.

Noah was born and raised in Soweto, a township of Johannesburg, South Africa, during the era of apartheid. The son of a black mother and white father, he was literally born a crime, since it was illegal for black people and white people to have sex in South Africa at that time. His book is filled with incredible stories of his upbringing, his fiercely determined mother, his experiences in “black church” and “white church,” and harrowing examples of what it meant to live under a blatantly racist system of government.

Some of the stories in his book include his grandmother, who played a big role in helping to raise him. Recently, Noah traveled to Johannesburg and took some time to chat with her and brought his camera crew with him.

One thing is clear: Noah’s “Gogo” is a 91-year-old force to be reckoned with.

“First things first,” Noah said, as he walked up to his grandmother’s house in Soweto. “Whenever you come into an African person’s house, you greet.” Then he called through the doorway, using a Zulu term for grandmother. “Gogo! Gogo! Hello, Gogo!

She invited Noah and the crew in, and the two sat down to chat. Their conversation veered from her exact age (91 years and 9 months) to Nelson Mandela (“Madiba!”) to the Flying Squads of white police officers who enforced South Africa’s racist laws.

“For young people,” said Noah, “it’s very hard to understand how scary it was to be a black person living in South Africa during that time. But everybody was scared of the police.”

His grandmother said they’d get a knock at the door at 3:00am with police telling them, “Dress up, let’s go!” just like that.

Noah pointed out that some people say since life is hard and some people don’t have jobs in South Africa that it would be better to go back to the way it was, to which his grandmother responded with a quick “No! No thank you. It wouldn’t be better . . . ”

Whistling and shaking her head, she said that back then black people had to work on farms with no pay. Then she explained that if you were picking potatoes and one of the people picking potatoes beside you died of exhaustion, you’d have to dig a hole, bury the deceased, and then keep on picking potatoes.

No, not better.

When Noah asked her about his role in fighting apartheid as a child, she giggled.

Gogo tells Noah that he didn’t know about apartheid growing up because he was just a kid. “You were born a crime,” she told him. “How could you fight apartheid?”

“But I told them that I was an apartheid hero, Gogo,” Noah quipped. “I wasn’t?”

She giggled, then talked about how naughty Noah had been as a child. “When you were here, oh Trevor, you gave me a tough time,” she said. When asked why, she answered, “Because you wanted to play in the street! And I knew the Flying Squad was going to take you.”

She also said kids would run away from Noah because they thought he was “white.” They had never seen a white man before—Noah’s mixed skin was the lightest skin they’d ever seen.

“I feel so special now, Gogo,” Noah joked. “To know that there was a time that I was white.” Noah then tried to get his gran to say he was a good-looking kid, to which she whistled and said, “Energetic and really naughty.”

“But mostly good-looking,” prompted Noah.

“Like hell,” she responded. “Those big bumps,” she said, pointing to her own backside, “they know my slippers.”

The whole exchange is delightful, but it also illustrates how vastly different Noah’s upbringing was to what his life is now.

Looking around his grandmother’s kitchen, it’s clear that she lives a modest life. Some have suggested after seeing the clip that Noah should do more to make life better for his family in South Africa, but he pointed out in his book that his grandmother has refused offers of financial assistance.

She told him in the video, “It’s a pity because I don’t even wish to see where you stay. Flying over the sea, like this? No, not for me.”

When he asked her if she’s ever watched his show, she said the electricity goes out too often. And also that the cable isn’t reliable.

Noah said he must get her a generator, and a fitter for the generator, and something done about the cable for her to watch his show. “I feel like I’ve been tricked into doing a lot of things for you to watch my TV show, Gogo,” he laughed. She laughed along with him.

Watch the segment here:

Trevor visits his grandma in Soweto, South Africa, to talk about his childhood, her life under apartheid, and what…

Posted by The Daily Show on Monday, December 3, 2018

(P.S. The full episode has more of Noah’s visit to South Africa and is definitely worth watching.)

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Have We Got It All Wrong About Christmas?

Halloween is over, Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and so begins the countdown to Christmas. It’s such a festive, joyful time for so many, bringing great memories of holidays past, but it can also be a crazy, hectic time. In fact, the majority of the time it is a battle to keep the good feelings flowing while pushing away the harried rush of aggravation. Why do we fall for it every year? Have we got it all wrong about Christmas?

Recently I became aware of someone asking for financial assistance. Eager to help if I could, I decided to dig a little deeper into their personal situation. I was under the impression they were having difficulty meeting their obligations and monthly bills such as rent and utilities, but as I became better acquainted with their request for monetary support, I realized it had to do with Christmas. They were imploring of the general public for a substantial sum to buy Christmas presents for their children.

First, I’d like to say that I totally understand the desire to purchase Christmas presents for your kids. Been there, done that. I can recall a Christmas when my first daughter was a little over one year old. My husband only had part-time work, and I had just switched jobs to have less on-call time away from my baby. The switch did give me more time at home overnight and on weekends, but it had also brought a substantial pay cut. I remember my daughter getting two gifts that year from us and Santa. One was a $20 plastic kitchen we found at Dollar General, and the other was a cardboard playhouse a work friend had bought us. It hurt my heart not to be able to afford more for my child, but I knew she was young. We bought a few other cheap but thoughtful gifts for close family from Fred’s, and I tried to not feel embarrassed about our paltry presents. That year we were disappointed with the financial situation we faced, but I can say we paid all of our bills on time. Consequently, it was a wonderful Christmas, and I can’t recall anyone seeming disappointed other than myself.

When I saw this particular person’s fundraiser for Christmas for their kids I wasn’t judging them, but it did make me think about what we place value on in our world. And even though the amount they were trying to raise was 16x more than the amount I planned to spend on my own children, I didn’t conclude any kind of crass opinion on these people. In fact, I understood. I’d been there, and I had felt the same way not that long ago. I had placed much importance on buying lots of presents. I mean, it just made you feel wonderful to give to others. Wasn’t that a good thing? The old adage, “it’s better to give than receive.” That had to count for something!

Indeed, I can recall a Christmas six years ago when my husband and I once again found ourselves financially strapped. I was about to go on maternity leave, unpaid, right at the holidays. We had planned financially enough for my time off work but had not included enough for the kind of Christmas presents we wanted to buy. We didn’t want another repeat of the $20 kitchen! So we actually went and took out a loan for the holidays. And I regretted it the whole next year. Every time I paid that bill with the horrible interest rate I would tell myself, “never again!”

But the next year I utilized credit cards. Wasn’t that the same thing?

And I used them again the following year.

I mention all this to say that I wasn’t judging this family for wanting to spend a large amount of money on Christmas for their children. How could I judge someone who was doing the same thing I’ve done? The same thing most of us do? We consider Christmas a time to go all out! So whether you save up money all year, use a Christmas bonus, utilize credit cards, take out a loan, or create a GoFundMe, it all goes towards the same goal. Purchasing a ton of possessions for people you love. It’s how we show them we love them. It’s just something we do. It’s what Christmas is all about! My only question is, have we got it all wrong?

Yeah, I know, the wise men brought gifts to the Lord. And yep, I’ll agree that Jesus was the best gift of all to a fallen world. It’s a wonderful way to show love, kindness to others, and to honor the Lord by giving gifts. It’s a tradition to give presents to those you care about, to give to those in your circle, and to get super excited about all the wrapping paper and bows bundled up beautifully under the tree. I am the most excited person you’ll meet for all that stuff! But I wonder, do we have it all wrong?

Are we placing far too much importance on the materialism that’s become commonplace for the holidays?

We assume we must purchase presents for people because that’s what we do. Society has made it normal, normal to the point that we feel obligated to do so. Even if we don’t have the money. Even if our heart isn’t in it. Heck, sometimes even if we don’t like them very much. It’s just expected.

And then comes the kiddos. It’s not just a gift. It’s become a madness mountain of many gifts, towering far above the manger. We buy more than we need to, more than they need, to the point that even they are overwhelmed. So come the morning after the whole family is weighed down by the mass of items, and we go on a cleaning spree to take down the tree and erase the chaos of so much stuff! Am I right?

We buy so much that we have to do a purge to get rid of the excess. We buy so much that we’re short on finances come January, that our budgets are tight, or that our credit cards are maxed out! We buy so much that we forget why we even celebrate the holiday in the first place. Christmas has always been the season of giving, but we’re so focused on materialistic giving that we lose sight of the gifts of love.

Kindness is replaced by angry, last-minute shoppers. Joy is replaced by debt. Happiness is replaced by hurried attitudes. We’re distracted from the true reason of the season, and we replace it with shopping lists. The birth of Christ is overshadowed by our incorrect assumption that the holiday is about buying more stuff. We think we have to show love by buying presents. We forget that love is shown in so many more ways than that.

I wonder sometimes what happened to buying something special, like one thing or maybe two to bestow on the people you love? Our society has taught us that bigger is better, that the more we buy, the more we love. I think of the newborn Jesus coming with very little fanfare, to a cave in Bethlehem, laid on hay with the company of shepherds and their sheep. The greatest gift came so humbly to save us all. What must He think of the shiny show we’ve created of His Birthday?

I’m no Scrooge, don’t get me wrong. I’ll put up my tree, string lights, and sing carols with the best of them. My children won’t be sitting sadly Christmas morning holding a lump of coal. We will wrap packages and give them joyfully to the people we love. But what I refuse to do is think that’s the best part of it. I won’t fall for the trick from the devil that says the bigger the stack of presents, the better the Christmas. I won’t put myself into debt for it. I won’t drive myself crazy buying the perfect gift for absolutely everyone. I won’t think that more is better. I won’t fall into the name-brand game. I won’t worry what other people think, or try to impress anyone. I won’t make Christmas a show, a way for me to display my wealth, or a way for me to covet the wealth of someone else.

Christmas is the best time of the year, but we could enjoy it ten times better if we let go of how we think it should go, what we think is important. We could stop getting it wrong by focusing on stuff, and start getting it right by focusing on Jesus in us. That’s the gift He wants to see us give for His Birthday. The gift of His love.

I’ll finish up with one last Christmas story of financial distress for you, a story of Jesus and His love. I can remember a Christmas when I was five years old. My biological father had left us. My mother and I were in dire straits. We could hardly pay the bills, but we did have one another. We always had that. I remember we were far from family, but we had many friends from work and school. Wanting to show them our love during the holidays we got together in the kitchen and made cookies. My mom and I baked from scratch M&M cookies, we bagged them up, and we gifted them to all our friends.

Looking back I can’t imagine how my mother must have felt being unable to purchase anything for me for Christmas other than keeping the lights on and a roof over our head. But I always remember this Christmas with joy. The memory of baking cookies with my mom was wonderful, and the gift of seeing the love of others was something I’ll never forget.

I got my first bicycle that year. White and yellow with daisies on the wheels and streamers from the handlebars. I was excited for the bike, sure, but what I remember even now with joy is the look on my mom’s face and her grateful tears when we arrived [at] her work and saw the bike, a gift to me from her coworkers. I realize now that it wasn’t so much the bike that was given to us that day. It was love we were given. And that, my friends, was Christmas done right.

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North Las Vegas cops release video of fatal shooting of 11-year-old; 2 arrested

Police arrested Jarquan Tiffith, 20, and another suspect this week for their alleged involvement in a drive-by shooting.  (North Las Vegas Police Department)

Two North Las Vegas suspects tied to the fatal shooting of an 11-year-old girl inside her home have been arrested, police said during a Thursday press conference.

The two suspects – a 16-year-old, and Jarquan Tiffith, 20 – were among five men involved in the fatal shooting of Angelina Erives, Las Vegas’ Fox 5 reported, citing police.


The teen and Tiffith were booked into the Clark County Detention Center on multiple charges related to the Nov. 1 shooting.

Surveillance footage released by police showed three suspects exiting a Nissan Altima in a suburban neighborhood. Two additional suspects remained in the driver and passenger seat.

The three suspects emptied rounds into a house before running back to the car. The 11-year-old girl was killed amid the gunfire while she sat in the family kitchen. Police said last week that the gunmen had opened fire on the wrong house.

A neighbor fatally shot one the suspects – Guy Lee Banks III, 17, police said.

Police identified and arrested Erin Hines, 17, as one of the five suspects. Police have reportedly identified the fifth suspect who remains at large. His identity was not released so as to not compromise the investigation.


Police have asked anyone with information on the remaining suspect to call the North Las Vegas Police Department at (702) 633-9111.

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Family sets up video to see how their Frenchie kept getting into the kitchen

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Dead Malls And Boutique Bra Fittings: The Reinvention Of Retail

The way we shop will never be the same. And if you want a glimpse of what the future will look like, visit two malls on opposite ends of Los Angeles.

The first, Westfield Century City, sits just west of Beverly Hills. After a $1 billion makeover last year, the relaunched shopping center features VIP elevators, a Hermés-branded laundromat and a Tesla dealership. In the garage underneath, a “frictionless” valet service scans the license plates of big spenders and displays their name over their spot.

The second, Hawthorne Plaza Shopping Center, is just 12 miles away. It has been abandoned for 19 years and declining even longer, a casualty of the shrinking local aerospace sector. Every few years, a plan to revitalize the shopping center surfaces, then dissolves. It was going to become a “lifestyle center,” then an outlet mall, then simply demolished. So far, nothing has come to fruition. For now, it’s a part-time drone racing course and a filming location for HBO’s post-apocalyptic “Westworld.”

These malls ― and the bifurcation they represent ― exemplify two transformations remaking the retail sector. In strong markets, booming neighborhoods and wealthy enclaves, stores are transitioning from goods to services and from commodities to luxuries. Since 2013, as department store sales have plummeted, high-end retailers have shown steady growth. “Class A” malls — the ones with high-end retail, central locations and valet parking — boast rising sales and rosy forecasts.

The much-discussed ‘death of retail’ is, in truth, a reinvention.

In shrinking towns and poor neighborhoods, on the other hand, national brands are retreating, existing stores are struggling and vacancy rates are rising. Around one-third of American malls have shuttered, and another 25 percent are expected to close by 2022. The ones left are so desperate for customers that they’re offering wave machines and burlesque dancers.

And the trends behind this transformation are only beginning: Online sales made up just 13 percent of retail spending in 2017, but are growing five times faster than brick-and-mortar sales. According to one estimate, nearly twice as many retailers went out of business last year than at the height of the financial crisis — and suburban retailers, especially big-box stores and aging malls, are leading the way into the abyss.

But the much-discussed “death of retail” is, in truth, a reinvention. In expanding cities, stores are overhauling the way they look, function and interact with customers. Shrinking exurbs are transforming ailing spaces into new purposes. And in both, local leaders are deciding what they want their cities to look like in the future.   

Bloomberg via Getty Images
The bicycle brand Rapha added coffee, events and a monthly membership to attract high-end customers.

In Strong Markets, A Shift From Goods To Services  

Call it the Apple Store-ification of shopping. In every sector of the market, retailers have realized they need to give customers a reason to leave the house, something more interactive than just pulling a product off the shelf.

Some Eddie Bauer stores, for example, offer room-sized “ice boxes” where customers can test out their heavy duty jackets. Target launched a pop-up holiday store in 2015 that featured, among other things, a stuffed-animal selfie wall, a life-sized Etch-a-Sketch and a Willy Wonka-inspired paint job. Pop-up shops in San Francisco and New York offer boutique bra fittings, custom monograms and professional photographers. Nordstrom’s “Local”  storefront in LA offers beer, wine, personalized shoppers and custom tailoring. Customers choose the clothes they like in advance, then visit the store to try them on.

Some companies are blowing up the retail model entirely. Samsung’s 837 store in New York City has a test kitchen, an art gallery, a cafe and a multimedia studio. It doesn’t, however, have any Samsung products for sale.

“We’re not seeing brick-and-mortar go away,” said Brad Koszuta, a senior associate for McMillanDoolittle, a retail consulting firm. “They’re just creating more ways to interact with the brand in person.”

What Samsung’s store and others like it represent, Koszuta said, is the increased importance of marketing, store experience and entertainment. The types of products consumers are most likely to buy online are bulk, repeatable and undifferentiated — things like diapers, pet food and laundry detergent. “People will still shop for things they want more of a relationship with,” Koszuta said, “so retailers are trying to form those relationships.”

This is why, he says, “digital native” brands like Warby Parker, Bonobos and Trunk Club are opening retail stores: Letting customers try on products in person is a way to improve loyalty and boost word of mouth. It’s also why Amazon, often fingered as the assassin of brick-and-mortar retailers, is becoming one. The online retailer has established five Amazon Go stores in Seattle and Chicago and purchased the nationwide grocery chain Whole Foods.

Getty Editorial
Samsung’s flagship Manhattan store offers personalized experiences, but no hard sells. 

The renewed emphasis on experiences also explains why so many new retail business models have appeared in recent years. From bike shops to shoe stores, existing retailers have redesigned themselves as clubs, events spaces and education providers. Yoga, SoulCycle, CrossFit and other boutique gyms have driven the fitness industry from $8 billion in sales to $26 billion since 1995. Walk-in and urgent-care clinics like CareNow and CityMD have taken over storefronts once occupied by Blockbusters and American Apparels.

This transition, though, comes with significant growing pains for the companies that can’t pivot to a higher-income clientele. According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a think tank focused on community development, one in five independent retailers in the United States went out of business between 2005 and 2015.

Stacy Mitchell, the co-director of the think tank, said the number of new businesses has fallen by two-thirds since 1980 and that local tax receipts are falling as online spending drives customers to national brands.

But, Mitchell said, while the shift is affecting the entire retail sector, local mom-and-pop stores may in fact be better positioned to survive it than generic national brands.

“Independent retailers have a few things going for them, like expertise about the products they’re selling and deep connections to their communities,” she said. “In the age of Amazon, there’s little reason to go to Target. But there are still reasons to go to a local toy shop or an independent bookstore.”

As cities grow and change, Mitchell said, the most resilient retailers won’t be deep-pocketed startups or national brands. They will be the smaller stores and neighborhood institutions that have been there for years.

“If you’re letting your streets be taken over by chain stores, then you’re doomed,” she said.  Many of those companies aren’t going to make it. Your best bet as a city is to support independent businesses — neither Amazon nor the chains can match that. I’d bet on a local bookstore any day over Barnes & Noble.” 

Richard Wellenberger via Getty Images
One-third of the malls in America have already gone out of business.

In Weak Markets, Learning To Shrink Sustainably

But not every city is a growing metropolis or a roaring boomtown. Dozens of cities have lost population since the Great Recession. Smaller towns and poorer neighborhoods still struggle to attract well-paying jobs. Ellen Dunham-Jones, author of Retrofitting Suburbia, said that in these markets, the story of the next 10 years will be about managing decline.

The first option for these cities is converting existing retail to new purposes. Nashville’s 100 Oaks Mall, for example, has given its entire second floor over to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “They give you one of those vibrating pagers, like at a restaurant, so you can go downstairs and shop while you’re waiting for your lab results,” Dunham-Jones said. “It’s a lot nicer than sitting and reading magazines.”

Hospitals aren’t the only retrofit for retail graveyards. A one-time mini-mall in Los Angeles, for instance, is now Camino Nuevo Charter Academy elementary school. The former Mayfield Mall in Mountain View, California, hosts 500,000 square feet of Google office space. Hickory Hollow Mall in Tennessee is now an ice rink, and Cleveland’s Randall Park Mall, once the largest in America, is slated to reopen as an Amazon fulfillment center.

The second option for redeveloping retail spaces in weaker markets is converting them not to one new use, but many. Outside of Memphis, the Lakeland Factory Outlet Mall is being relaunched as the “Lake District” — a mixed-use development featuring homes, hotels and stores. Another former mall in Port Orchard, Washington, houses a church, a radio station, a karate school and two dozen units of mini-storage.

“You’re turning a mall into a neighborhood,” said Ronald Friedman, the co-head of retail and consumer products for Marcum LLP, an advisory services firm. “It has living space, office space, restaurants, gyms and retail. It’s a place you want to spend your day.”

Friedman points out that as the demographics of the country change, the question of what to do with America’s emptied-out suburban infrastructure will take on a new relevance. Some former retail sites have already become senior centers, putting apartments, shops and services for residents in one place. Others, seeing projections that three-quarters of the demand for new homes by 2025 will be from single, childless professionals, are adding “micro-lofts” on top of, or within, struggling malls and big-box stores.

But some sites simply don’t have the demand to justify a relaunch. In cities with falling populations, Dunham-Jones said, revitalizing old retail spaces could lure residents and customers from other neighborhoods. “If a mall died because there was another mall not too far away, it might be worth redeveloping the property as something else,” she said. “But if a mall died because the steel mill closed, you’re not going to bring it back with urban, yuppie apartments and fancy restaurants.”

For those cases, Dunham-Jones recommends “re-greening”: demolish the structure, scrape up the parking lot and bring back the nature underneath it. As climate change brings more severe storms, she said, cities will need drainage capacity more than they will need another Panera Bread. One of the earliest examples of this model was the Phalen Shopping Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, where a dilapidated mall was torn down to resurface the wetlands paved over decades previously. More recently, Seattle dug underneath a mall parking lot to resurface a creekbed.

“If it’s done well,” Dunham-Jones said, “a park can attract development around it, so it becomes a win-win.”

geogif via Getty Images
In some cities, ailing retailers have been rebuilt as compact, walkable neighborhoods. In others, they have been transformed into parks and wetlands.

It’s Up to Cities To Decide What The Future Of Retail Will Look Like

Regardless of whether a city is shrinking or growing, though, the future of retail is more of a political question than it might seem.

Emily Talen, an urbanism researcher at the University of Chicago, points out that in strong markets, cities can defend their independent stores from displacement and safeguard their neighborhoods against national brands.  

“A lot of retailers do have the ability to outlast Amazon,” she said. “But cities need to be proactive to help them survive.”

There’s lots of things cities can do to protect local stores as the retail market moves online, Talen said. They can update zoning ordinances to reduce parking requirements and legalize stores in residential zones. Cities can give grants to small business owners, stabilize their rents or help them purchase their storefronts. Or change their procurement practices to buy goods and services from local retailers. In Santa Barbara, California, where the primary retail street now has a vacancy rate over 30 percent, city leaders are waiving fees and auditioning entrepreneurs to set up pop-up shops. Other areas are charging landlords a fee for every month they allow stores to sit vacant.

“We can create the kinds of neighborhoods people value,” said Alex Baca, the engagement director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a D.C.-area advocacy group. Grants for small businesses, she says, are often dwarfed by subsidies for suburban infrastructure and tax incentives for chain stores. “Everyone wants to keep dollars in the local community and create walkable neighborhoods. But we don’t see politicians passing policies to promote them.”

The same principle applies to the suburbs. Instead of enticing faraway corporations to take over their abandoned malls or rescue their ailing big-box stores, these areas can take advantage of the communities they already have.

Plaza Fiesta on the outskirts of Atlanta, for example, which failed as a traditional mall and then as an outlet, has found new life as an immigrant market and community hub. The mall rents booths to local entrepreneurs, hosts a yearly Mexican Independence Day celebration and provides a venue for organizing against federal immigration policy.  

“Plaza Fiesta is a beloved place,” Dunham-Jones said. “The places that have less money and can’t attract the big chains are often better at conserving the local community.”

Plus, Dunham-Jones said, cheap rents are the world’s greatest catalyst for creativity. An abandoned Walmart in Texas is now the world’s largest one-story library. Another became an indoor race track. An events company in Reading, U.K., uses an old retail site to host fake zombie attacks, hiring actors to shuffle down corridors and charging customers $200 to spend the day shooting them.

So, in many ways, it’s up to cities to decide whether the future of retail will be a death or a reinvention. “The demise of small businesses has been predicted consistently for decades,” said Nathan Jensen, a researcher at the University of Texas-Austin who specializes in state and local development. “First it was shopping malls, then it was Walmart, now it’s Amazon.”

What cities can do, he said, is go back to basics. Instead of enticing national chains, help local businesses grow. Instead of reaching out to tech giants, reach down to striving entrepreneurs and struggling local businesses.

“Become a city where businesses can thrive and people want to live,” he said. “And let Amazon and Target fight amongst themselves.”

This is part of our five-story series spotlighting the current state of retail in America.

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Burgerbot startup Creator hires inventor of Boston Dynamics Big Dog

Disney Imagineering animatronics wizard Dr. Martin Buehler is a legend in the robotics world. His work leading development of the galloping Big Dog quadruped at Boston Dynamics both inspired and terrified a new generation of makers. But after playing in the worlds of fantasy and science fiction that consumers can’t buy, Buehler has been poached to work on something much more tangible. In fact, it’s edible. He’s joining burger-making robot startup Creator as VP of engineering.

“It was a great experience working on experimental validation [at Boston Dynamics],” Buehler tells me, “But one of the things I really value at Creator is the immediacy of real impact to real people. With burgers being such a big segment of the food market, we have the potential to touch millions of people.” Creator opened its first restaurant to the public in September, selling San Franciscans gourmet hamburgers at a surprisingly low $6 price tag by replacing a kitchen full of cooks with a massive, transparent robot.

Formerly known as Momentum Machines, Creator has raised more than $24 million according to SEC filings. It hopes to make fast-food healthier, tastier and cheaper by saving money on labor to replace preserved ingredients with premium, freshly cut beef, cheese and veggies. Patrons can choose from several burger styles, and then get to watch their bun sliced and toasted as a conveyor belt slides it beneath dispensers for other fixins. Instead of cooking, the restaurant staff serves as concierge to customers while keeping the robot stocked.

Buehler also helped develop the world’s most popular robot: the Roomba. Now with his help, Creator could make the robot more efficient, flexible enough to handle more custom orders and more delightful to watch… and Instagram. The whole restaurant industry is trying to become more shareable on social media, with kitschy decor and plating. But the robot gives Creator natural virality by making the cooking process itself entertainment — like some futuristic Benihana.

Creator’s new VP of Engineering Dr. Martin Buehler

“At Disney I was in charge of robotics at Imagineering. We used advanced robotics and AI to bring walking and talking Disney characters to life so our guests who meet the characters on the silver screen first can meet and interact with them physically in the parks. What I really learned was to position technology as second fiddle to the guest experience,” he tells me.

Buehler calls Creator “a stunning symphony of motion — the visual experience supports the central culinary experience. The downfall of a lot of robotics companies is that they fall in love with the technology and they lose track of what it takes to deliver value to the customer.” Creator’s approach is working so far. The company claims to be hitting its revenue targets and have a higher net promoter score than fast-food favorite Chick-fil-A.

But the success of the company will depend on its ability to scale. Creator co-founder and CEO Alex Vardakostas reveals that “the next announcement is going to be more burger stores.” That means the Creator contraption can’t be a one-off art piece. “Right now the task at hand is to make the current robot scalable — make it cost less and more reliable — so we can provide robots to many more restaurants,” Buehler says. He’ll have help from fellow teammates who hail from Apple, Tesla and NASA.

The concern, though, is that Creator could be the tip of the spear of automation decimating employment as food service workers are replaced by bots. Vardakostas grew up flipping burgers himself at his parents’ restaurant, and he believes machines can take care of the dirty and dangerous work that perhaps humans shouldn’t be doing in the first place. The company already pays its service workers $16 and hour, and offers “five percent time” where they can take time to read or learn about the culinary arts. Eventually it hopes to retrain former fast-food cooks in robot maintenance to offer them a path to get paid more.

“The basic mission of the founders is to build a company culture focused on learning and personal development. I like the aspect of the service of giving back,” Buehler says. “All the team members get coaching to help them grow, not just technically but personally.”

In its pleasant restaurant, seemingly happy workers and its flashy robot team up to make some remarkably delicious burgers. With Buehler’s help, Creator could expand beyond the seemingly fictional world of Silicon Valley and pull people who care about food quality and flare away from McDonald’s.

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I Spent Over 3 Years Traveling With My Cat In A Campervan

It’s been over 3 years since I left our hometown of Hobart, Tasmania, to travel around Australia. Although I sold my house and all my stuff, there was one thing that I just couldn’t leave behind.

My cat Willow.

The solution was simple. Road trip with my best friend!

Since May 2015 we have traveled over 70,000 km, seen forests, beaches, and deserts, and even took a boat out to the Great Barrier Reef together. Late last year we finally made it all the way around and even spent summer back in our hometown.

But the adventure wasn’t meant to end there – and we have no intention of stopping anytime soon. This year we spent 3 months passing through the outskirts of the Simpson Desert before making our way back to the beautiful East Coast.

Some people are surprised to find that I travel with my cat. Once a backpacker at a campsite even exclaimed “Excuse me, there is a cat trying to get into your van!” ..

I know.

Our home is our camper van, a tiny house on wheels. I built it myself with a bed, cupboards, a kitchen, and plenty of places for a little cat to hide! It might be small but the whole Australia is our backyard.

It’s always a joy watching Willow explore the places we visit. She wears a tracking collar so that I always know where she is.

We post our photos on Instagram and it’s so nice to hear from people all over the world that they are following our adventure.

It wasn’t easy leaving my old job and life behind but I knew I had to make some changes for my own well-being. It was a slow process but now I am happier.

I work a little bit where I can, invest my savings, and it’s enough to keep us going.

If Willow has taught me anything, it’s that you don’t need a lot to be happy. A bit of food, shelter, and a whole lot of love. And that if she doesn’t get enough pats each day you can guarantee that her demands will be made at 3am!

We have made the 2019 calendar and we are using it to raise money for Motor Neurone Disease (ALS) research. It’s available on our website. Last year we raised over $3000 AUD.

I’m lucky. I get to see Australia through the eyes of a cat, and that I will treasure for a lifetime.

We have been travelling for 3.5 years now but every day is special

This year we spent 3 months in the desert and I was so happy to make it back to the beach! I’m not sure what Willow thought

Our camper van is our home. A tiny house on wheels with a bed, cupboards, a kitchen, and even a TV!

Last summer we returned to our home state of Tasmania and visited all my favorite places

Willow even got to meet her cousins!

She loves to explore but she never strays to far. She wears a tracking collar to keep her safe

Out in the desert there are lots of abandoned places to camp. This place was actually an old movie set

Willow’s favorite place to sit is on the dashboard where she has a great view

The front bull bar is a great place to look out over the sun set

Willow loves to follow me around but she doesn’t like to go too far from our van

We might be all alone but we always have each other and the whole Australia to explore

Happiness is spending an afternoon with your cat


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This Is How 6 Castles Across The UK Looked Before Falling Into Disrepair

There is something wonderful about visiting castles.

As you walk through the ruins, your imagination begins to fill in the blanks about the people who lived there, the history of the place and the architectural details that have been lost. But what if you didn’t need to use your imagination? Luckily, the digital age has given us the tools to recreate the complete picture by rebuilding these incredible castles without any heavy lifting. And that’s what On Stride Financial has done with these mind-blowing reconstructions.

With the help of an architect (and a dose of technology), they’ve brought back to life 6 spectacular castles across the United Kingdom – from Bothwell Castle in Scotland to Kidwelly Castle in Wales.

So jump on a journey back in time to see what has been relentlessly destroyed by time, and by people.

1. Dunluce Castle (County Antrim, Northern Ireland)

Image credits: onstride

Image credits: onstride

Dunluce has one of the most dramatic histories of any UK castle. Built around 1500, it was abandoned as early as 1639. The castle’s kitchen – and kitchen staff – had collapsed over the cliff edge and into the sea as the 2nd Earl of Antrim’s family sat waiting for their dinner.

Two years later, the small town that developed around the castle was razed by the Scots and abandoned. It has now become a valuable archaeological site and the historic footprint of this short-lived settlement is a haunting destination for visitors to the northern tip of Northern Ireland.

Image credits: onstride

2. Dunstanburgh Castle (Northumberland, England)

Image credits: onstride

Image credits: onstride

King Edward II’s most powerful baron, Earl Thomas of Lancaster, built this enormous castle as a show of might when relations soured between the two men. However, the earl was captured and executed before he could enjoy his epic crib.

The castle fell into disrepair after sustaining damage as a battle hotspot during the Wars of the Roses. Today, a walk along the Northumberland Coast in view of Dunstanburgh’s ruins offers a melancholy but awe-inspiring day out.

Image credits: onstride

3. Bothwell Castle (South Lanarkshire, Scotland)

Image credits: onstride

Image credits: onstride

This thirteenth-century castle saw a lot of action through Scotland’s Wars of Independence. It repeatedly swapped hands between the Scots and the English in the wake of fierce battles.

Architecturally, Bothwell is notable for its “cylindrical donjon” (a fortified refuge for the castle’s inhabitants), which was ruined in a series of sieges. Visit on Halloween and you may encounter the ghost of Bonnie Jean, a noblewoman who drowned crossing the River Clyde to elope with her lover.

Image credits: onstride

4. Goodrich Castle (Herefordshire, England)

Image credits: onstride

Image credits: onstride

Goodrich was begun in 1102, and strengthened later that century by the fantastically named Godric Mappestone (from whom the castle probably took its name). It wasn’t until the Civil Wars of 1642-6 that the stronghold would sustain serious damage. Cromwell’s army pelted it with 200-pound balls from Roaring Meg, a cannon built specifically for the purpose.

After the war, the ruined castle was partially dismantled and then abandoned. Thankfully, they’ve since installed a tearoom so visitors can recharge after enjoying the historical exhibits and spectacular views from the parapets.

Image credits: onstride

5. Caerlaverock Castle (Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland)

Image credits: onstride

Image credits: onstride

The UK’s only triangular castle has a triple history: built in the 1280s, it was partially dismantled in the 14th century on the word of Sir Robert Bruce, to prevent it falling into English hands. Once rebuilt, it was again taken apart after being besieged by the Earl of Sussex in 1570. Again rebuilt, a thirteen-week siege during the Bishops War resulted in one last dismantlement; and that is how the castle is to be found today.

But the ruins are awesome. Caerlaverock’s moat, twin-towered gatehouse and lofty battlements are supplemented by an exhibition honouring the castle’s turbulent history.

Image credits: onstride

6. Kidwelly Castle (Dyfed, Wales)

Image credits: onstride

Image credits: onstride

Kidwelly was initially built as a wooden structure as the Normans entered southwest Wales, around 1106. Major stone fortification was added in the final decade of the 1300s, just in time to withstand a five-month siege at the outbreak of the Owain Glyn Dwr rebellion.

The following years of peace diverted the focus to residential building and the grandeur of Kidwelly’s military fortress was allowed to fade. This means that although it’s considered a ruin, Kidwelly is actually one of the best preserved and most awe-inspiring castles in Wales today. Catch a view of it in the morning mist to truly feel you’ve been transported through time.

Image credits: onstride


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Is it your anniversary? Here’s what to get for the man in your life.

The day you and your partner became a happy couple is one of the most important days of the year. It brought you and your significant other together and is a celebration of your love. Once a year, the both of you celebrate that wonderful day by reaffirming your love and desire for one another. (We hope.)

But finding the perfect gift for your anniversary gets harder every year. What do you get for the man who has everything? (AKA you.) That’s where we come in.

From weekend bags to wine subscription services, cameras to cocktails, we’ve gathered the best gift ideas for the special man in your life. Even if he has everything, we bet he doesn’t have everything on this round-up. We also included gifts that can drop subtle hints and ideas about how you can spend more time together. (Awww.) Maybe you want to travel more, or maybe you want to document your lives a bit better — either way, there’s a gift for that.

We’ve rounded up 20 very thoughtful gifts that he’ll surely love, while also letting him know you hold him dear in your heart. Here are the best anniversary gifts for the man in your life:

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Move over Le Creuset? A new cookware startup founded by and for millennials is getting down to business

Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine a product or industry that a new e-commerce startup hasn’t tried to remake already, from slippers to mattresses, from luggage to lipstick.

Yet two childhood friends in New York have seemingly struck on a fresh idea: taking on the stodgy and often expensive world of cookware, where one’s options out of college are usually limited to a few pieces of Calphalon or Farberware or, in the best-case scenario, some Le Creuset, the premium French cookware manufacturer founded back in 1925 and known for its vibrant colors, including Marseille, Cerise, and Soleil.

In fact, what the pair are building with their 10-month-old startup, Great Jones, appears to be a Le Creuset for the next generation: a handful of cookware items, including a cast-iron Dutch oven, that come in an array of colorful, if comparatively more muted, tones. Think Broccoli and Mustard.

The cookware is also more affordable than Le Creuset, which charges upward of $300 for a similar Dutch oven, compared with $145 for Great Jones’s new product. Notably, Great Jones’s full collection, which also includes a stainless steel stock pot, a stainless sauce pot, a stainless deep saute and a ceramic nonstick skillet, retails for $395.

Cookware is a smart sector to chase. According to the market consultancy IBIS World, the so-called “kitchen and cookware stores” industry has been growing steadily, reaching revenue of $17 billion last year.

One of the big questions for Great Jones will be whether its offerings hold up, and whether its customers find them compelling enough to recommend to others. After all, the old adage tends to hold up that you get what you pay for. And most new products take off because of favorable word of mouth, not merely because they’re Instagrammable.

Great Jones’s 28-year-old founders — Sierra Tishgart, previously a food editor at New York Magazine, and Maddy Moelis, who worked in customer insights and product management at a variety of e-commerce companies, including Warby Parker and Zola — seem to have thought these things through. Indeed, in a recent Forbes profile, they say they conducted extensive interviews with chefs and cookbook authors in their network in order to establish, for example, how to design a comfortable handle.

They also smartly made certain that their introductory offerings come in a range of metals. As even so-so cooks know, stainless steel is ideal for browning and braising; durable nonstick coatings make preparing delicate foods, including eggs and pancakes, less nightmarish.

In the meantime, Great Jones has easily captured the press’s imagination with what they are cooking up — a sign, perhaps, that the industry is ready for a refresh. In addition to Forbes, Great Jones also received recent coverage in The New York Times and Vogue — valuable real estate that most months-old startups can only dream of landing.

Great Jones has also raised outside funding already, including $2.75 million that it closed on last month led by venture capital firm General Catalyst, with participation from numerous individual investors.

Now the company just needs to convince its target demographic that it should ditch the older, established brands that may not feel particularly modern but are known to be durable, easy to clean, dishwasher safe and not insanely heavy (among the other things that keep people from throwing their pots in the garbage).

Great Jones also has plenty of newer competition to elbow out of the way if it’s going to succeed.

As the Times piece about the company notes, just a few of the other startups that are suddenly chasing the same opportunity include Potluck, a five-month-old, New York-based startup that sells a $270 “essentials bundle” that features 22 pieces, including utensils; Misen, a four-year-old, Brooklyn-based startup that sells cookware and chefs knives; and Milo, a year-old, L.A.-based startup that’s solely focused on Dutch ovens, to start.

According to Crunchbase, Misen has raised $2 million, including through a crowdfunding campaign; Milo has raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding.

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