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Welcome to justinrussell.com! Be sure to check out the newly-formatted and newly-updated front page for all the info about what I do, what I like, and how I waste/spend my time.

March 16, 2004 at 8:36 pm

Happy Pi Day!

Mmm, pi.

Image from my friend Matt LeClair’s Image Library, a site with hundred of CC‘d images.

March 14, 2004 at 2:42 pm

It’s pasta.. and some dressing, thing

Today’s culinary review: It’s Pasta Anytime (Fettuccine with Roasted Garlic Alfredo Sauce).

Lately I’ve been trying to find new things to eat in the room that don’t take a lot of prep. Since I decided that Easy Mac sucks, It’s Pasta Anytime seemed like the next choice. It’s definitely better than Easy Mac… the pasta is great, and it really takes no preparation at all. The alfredo stuff is kind of sketchy, though. I can’t nail the taste. It doesn’t taste like alfredo to me. [shrug]

It gets my I’ll Eat It If I Have Nothing Better award of the day.

March 13, 2004 at 2:25 pm

Why Target whips Wal-Mart, and…

Sunday was the grand opening of the new Bangor Target store. Bangor’s become a much more popular city for the national chains over the last few years – Circuit City, Best Buy, Filene’s, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and now Target. The city has pretty much established itself as the commercial center of central and northern Maine.

I’ll get this out in the open: I really like Home Depot, Circuit City, and Best Buy, but I hate Wal-Mart. Hate it with a the fire of a thousand suns. From what I’d heard, Target could very well be just another Wal-Mart attracting a couple hundred of those annoying northern Maine shoppers at a time. I decided to check it out last night. What follows is why I think Target blows Wal-Mart out of the water.

Better layout and easier to navigate. It means something when I can stand at the middle of a store and at least see the walls of the two ends of the store on either side of me. When you walk in, you can see the top of the walls in the back corner; it gives you some perspective about where you are in the store. Though Target is bigger than Bangor’s Wal-Mart square-footage wise, it’s a lot easier to maneuver; there’s at least some perspective on where you are as opposed to just seeing shelves nearly up to the ceiling everywhere. Target’s placement of “stores” (departments) is pretty intuitive, too.

Cleaner displays. Sure, the store’s only been open for about a week, but it really means something when the displays themselves look good… and when there’s enough concern to actually send employees around to pick up all the dropped products that aren’t where they belong. It’s also nice to see that the store allows some liberties for individual brands; Sony’s display in the electronics store is really, really nice.

Wider aisles. Target doesn’t put displays smack dab in the center of their aisles. This results in people actually being able to walk and drive carts through aisles (what a concept!). There are main “arteries” throughout the store, and then the aisles branch down into a couple levels of wideness. Seems to work pretty well with where people go.

Better quality, comparable prices. There are some great brands at Target, and the prices are just as good as Wal-Mart’s. I know… I checked afterwards. Target seems more upscale overall; I’m not sure if that’s because of all the things people have said to me about it or if it really is true. It certainly gives that impression when you walk in the door, though.

Price checkers and service phones. I was the type of kid who grabbed random things at Toys ‘R Us and run the barcodes under the price checker to hear it beep and see the price come up on the display. I like gadgets. But there’s more of a practical use; how many times have you seen something on a shelf in a store but it’s the one thing that just happens to have a price that’s fallen off? Putting price checkers along the aisles is a great idea. With each one is a service phone and a small trash bin; these are small things that really can lead to a better experience in a store.

iTunes Music Store gift cards. What can I say… I almost want to get one just to say I got one.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m definitely not saying that Target is perfect. A few things they could do to make their store even better:

Make the price checkers display store maps. Price checkers don’t do much when they’re just sitting there. At the same time, I felt a little lost when I was in the back of the store (not as much as in Wal-Mart, mind you, but still). If the problem is conservation of space, why not make the LCDs on the price checkers a little bigger and put a simple “You are here.” thing on them while they’re not checking a price?

Put baskets at the back of the store. If they’re there, I missed them. Call me lazy, but it’s a long hike to the front of the store from the back. On a busy day, I wouldn’t want to dodge the Indy 500 shoppers in order to get something to throw my stash into.

Point out specials and where they are. Truth is, it’s a big store. I think the Bangor Daily said it was 125,000 square feet. Specials seem to be just casually thrown with normally-priced items, and looking for something in a circular in a six-digit square footage store ain’t easy. Turn a few price checkers into 12″ LCDs and have an online circular; choose any special and it will give you a store directory (like Borders, or like what Staples used to have in its ink department) and lead you to the place where you can save your pennies for the gum at the checkout.

Get a better music selection. Target’s obviously not a music store (they’re not an action figure store, either, I’ve heard). Their music setup is great; you don’t need to comb through shelves after shelves of music to find what you want. It’s all at-a-glance. That raises the problem, though, of not having a lot of different titles. If you want popular music, you’re all set. Want The New Deal or As Fast As? Head to Bull Moose.

Provide a huge dart board on the ceiling and prizes for anyone who gets a bulls-eye. Staring at that logo too long made me anxious. Make it safe and give rubber darts to the kids.

After all that, though, you know what? Shopping at local (mom ‘n pop) stores is still better. Why?

You can only do so much about people. People are impatient. People are stupid. People sometimes don’t care if there’s anyone else in the store. They want their knickknacks, and they want them NOW. They’ll mow you over in the parking lot. They’ll charge at you with carts. They’ll stop in the middle of an aisle to talk with the friend they saw in Hannaford ten minutes ago and talk about what’s new with them. Local stores have less of a following, and this means that you can be in and out in a snap. Parking’s not usually an issue, and the lines at the checkout aren’t usually very long. Of course, not all people are bad…

You know the people who run local stores. They’ve done business for ten years. It’s a family thing. Their kid was probably on the same little league team as your kid. Or maybe they sponsored the little league team. Who knows… the fact is that you might be able to call the store owner by their first name. I’d be willing to be that it’s more likely to get a “Hey, Bob.” at the local bakery or coffee shop than at a local Starbucks’. The cashier and people around at Target were really nice, but you just can’t match the feeling you get at a local store. You might even get a deal from them every once in a while. You could even stop the owners in the middle of an aisle to talk about what’s new after seeing them in Hannaford ten minutes ago. (There’s a difference. There really is.)

You support the community. Businesses are usually involved. You keep the American Dream going strong. You take power away from the evil corporations that are increasingly dominating our way of life and every aspect of every day of our being. And stuff.

I bought about $7.50 worth of stuff: a tee-shirt (more on that later), some pen refills, and a tin of Altoids. I went to Wal-Mart afterwards just to give it a fair shot. Let’s just say that my non-buying streak continues…

One last thing; as I walked out of Target, looking over Hogan Road at night really made it seem as if I was walking out of a store in Portland or one of the lighter commercial areas in Boston. That’s one thing that I can’t decide whether it’s good or bad.

March 9, 2004 at 1:42 am

Houston, we have a LiveJournal

March 4, 2004 at 12:44 pm