Leon Worden

Pauline's beau and chain store cannibals

By Leon Worden
Friday, September 24, 1999

uane Harte is Superman. He's the guy leering down at you when you zoom to the top of Superman The Escape (which may or may not be a roller coaster) at Magic Mountain.
    Either Duane is Superman, or he's nuts.
    Duane was appointed last week to the City Parks Commission. Normally that's not such a huge thing, but Duane is already on the Newhall Redevelopment Committee.
    Maybe the City Council forgot it already appointed him to that. Or maybe they assumed he'd step down when he made Parks. Wrong. Duane has the distinction of being the only person ever to serve on two city commissions in this town at once. (Or as The Mighty Signal editor would argue, one commission and one pseudo-commission/committee.)
    Duane is also going on the board of the SCV Chamber of Commerce next year, barring any unforeseen write-in campaign against him from a band of renegade chamber members. Which is unlikely, considering Duane racked up so many volunteer hours at the chamber that they anointed him "Masochist of the Year" or something like that.
    And Duane is president of the Friends of Mentryville. No. He doesn't just fill space at the board table. He personally guides historically inclined visitors around the little ghost town. (Located west on Pico Canyon Road, open for tours every other Sunday, noon to 4).
    Duane helps out with the local Fourth of July parade, and he probably does other things I don't know about.
    What's weirdest is the follow-through. Duane will take on a tough assignment and complete it. On time. Under budget.
    Like I said, the guy is Superman. Or... I was thinking. There are basically three reasons a guy would volunteer so much.
    One: He really likes helping others and wants to make his community better.
    Two: His wife is a lunatic and he wants to get out of the house. (Signal readers know Pauline is a sweet, dear person. And she's a babe. So that can't be it. Besides, she accompanies him lots of places.)
    Three: He's running for City Council.
    We've ruled out No. 2. I hope it's one and three. I can't think of anyone better.

* * *

    Our state lawmakers are boneheads. That's not news, but what they did this time is so dumb that it could still backfire in spite of the fact that Gov. Gray Davis put a stop to it.
    The way it went down was bad enough: The legislative session was about to end for the year. The politicians couldn't write any more laws— but they still had time to amend a bill that was already in the works.
    Assembly Bill 84 was a nice little proposal that would have banned local governments from giving taxpayer money to political action committees.
    Well. The politicians decided that was a legitimate use for tax dollars, so they gutted the bill. I don't mean they voted against it. I mean they gutted it. They took an eraser to it and, on orders from Big Labor and the chain grocery store lobbyists, two Assembly Democrats inserted all-new language preventing local governments from OK-ing any new Wal-Marts or Costcos.
    That's right. They took a bill that would have banned cities and counties from using tax dollars for political campaigns, and "amended" it into a bill banning box stores that sell food.
    It's tough to get teary-eyed over a law banning Wal-Marts, but let's face it. It's places like Wal-Mart that help keep consumer prices down across the board. You'd better believe the big chain supermarkets don't want any more Wal-Marts.
    Even if Gov. Davis had signed it into law— he vetoed it Wednesday— AB 84 wouldn't have achieved the desired result. Wal-Mart and the other big chains are rushing headlong to the Internet, and with politicians itching to pull the special-interest trigger, the threat of legislation like AB 84 will only speed their resolve.
    All the cities and counties that rely on tax dollars from brick-and-mortar Wal-Marts will come unglued when there are no more brick-and-mortar Wal-Marts because all the consumers are buying everything from Wal-Mart Online.
    Sears, Circuit City and Banana Republic are expected to crank up their online sales for the holidays. How long before Sears Online puts Sears in the mall out of business? Welcome to chain store cannibalism.

* * *

    I was in Revelation Dresses the other day. It's in Granary Square. No, I wasn't buying for me. I mention it because there, at the counter, was a place for you to write down your e-mail address, so they could send you a monthly e-mail newsletter.
    Visions of Kent Burnes, the small business guru, came rushing back.
    If you're in small business, Burnes said during his annual visit last week, you should make good use of technology. Collect people's e-mail addresses when they walk into your store, and e-mail them occasional thank-yous and sale notices.
    Repeat business is a dozen times cheaper and easier to cultivate than a new customer, Burnes said, and with e-mail, keeping in touch is essentially free. Good job, dress shop.

    Leon Worden is The Signal's business editor.

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