Cars Losing Luster in Chicago

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Photo courtesy of Minesweeper.

All the data points to the end of the love affair Chicagoans used to have with the automobile. Total number of miles driven-down; number of newly issued driver’s licenses for young people-down; alternative methods of transportation around town-up.

A new report issued by the federally mandated Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning explored the issue of driving and cars in Chicago in order to prepare the city for the future and plan its budgets through the year 2050.

Head author of the report, Elizabeth Irvin, explained that, “After decades of persistent growth in commuting patterns, we seem to be at an inflection point.” She added that although we cant be certain that the trends we are seeing will be permanent, at least knowing those trends can enable us to discuss the issues and set priorities for spending.

The most interesting news in the report is that over the last ten or more years the total number of vehicle miles driven is in decline. The other notable trend is the decline in the acquisition of driver’s licenses, especially among teens. In 1990 55 percent of teens had licenses. In 2014 that number dropped to 48 percent.

Based on the data collected CMAP will develop a spending plan over the next two years. A first discussion is scheduled to take place at Northwestern University’s McCormick Foundation Center in Evanston. The question that will be discussed? “Have we truly passed peak driving or did recent economic conditions merely hit the pause button?”

Chicago City Council Considering Ban on Autonomous Cars

Stanford University driver-less car. Photo by Steve Jurvetson.
Stanford University driver-less car. Photo by Steve Jurvetson.

In what appeared to be a response to the launch of a driver-less service by Uber in Pittsburgh, two aldermen in Chicago proposed an ordinance in the windy city to ban such self-driving vehicles.

Ed Burke, one of the aldermen, said that since no technology is 100 percent safe, he would not like to see “The streets of Chicago used as an experiment that will no doubt come with its share of risks.”

The ride-sharing taxi service, Uber, initiated a pilot program in which the general public in Pittsburgh could use self-driving vehicles as an alternative to the traditional driver-operated cars. The driver-less cars all had drivers as back-up if anything indeed went wrong.

The proposal bans the operation of autonomous vehicles on any road, with a $500 fine for violations of the ordinance.

A hearing date for the proposal has yet to be scheduled, but the ordinance would first have to make its way through the finance and transportation committee of the Chicago city council.

Tentative Agreement Reached Between Southwest and Flight Attendants

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Photo by Ken Lund

Three years of steady negotiations between flight attendants and Southwest Airlines have ended as the two sides came to a tentative agreement. The Transport Workers Union of America Local 556, consisting of over 14,500 flight attendants, said they will not release the details of the agreement until the union’s executive board reviewed it, a necessary step before the agreement can be finalized.

Over a year ago over 87 percent of flight attendants voted against a previous tentative agreement. Southwest’s largest hub is at Chicago’s Midway Airport, and has 1,800 flight attendants housed in the Chicago area.

In the last few weeks Southwest has come to a tentative agreement with one of its labor unions three different times. All three agreements came after the departure of Randy Babbitt in late August. Babbitt was Southwest’s senior vice president of labor relations.

One reaction to Babbitt’s departure came from Southwest Airlines Pilots’Association President Jon Weaks, who said,

“We are glad to see his departure. His presence was a hindrance to negotiation progress.”

Cards Against Humanity Launches Blackbox Shipping Service

The Chicago-based company which created the popular parlor game “Cards Against Humanity” is starting a new business. Blackbox is a shipping-fulfillment service for independent artists.

Co-founder Max Temkin explained that Cards Against Humanity had already created the software and infrastructure to ship the game to customers in an efficient and affordable way. “Eventually that system got so good that word got out. Our friends started asking to use it.”

Temkin has a brand new political board game, “Secret Hitler” which required a massive shipping effort just last week. With a budget of $1.5 million raised on Kickstarter, “Secret Hitler” was sent by FedEx via Blackbox from its warehouses in Illinois, New Jersey and California to about 34,000 customers.

Blackbox works on a similar principal to a co-operative business, says Temkin. “The idea is that if every indie producer buys their own postage, warehouse space and packing materials, no one creator will ever have the scale and leverage of a big company like Amazon,” he says. “But if we all pool our resources; we get the best rates on everything. That lets Blackbox pass pretty huge cost savings on to the creators.”

Artists and product creators using Blackbox get a “buy” button for their websites. Temkin’s Blackbox then steps in and handles the checkout, sales tax, credit card processing, shipping and customer service. If you check out Blackbox’s website, you will see that the company has “warehouses all around the world and we figure out where to put things on a case-by-case basis.”

The cost of shipping using Blackbox is $5 per item plus 5% of the retail price to ship one item weighing one pound. That price includes everything, as well as customer service.

“Nobody has to pay upfront to use Blackbox,” Temkin says. “We handle payment processing for sales, so our fees and commission comes right out of that in real time.”

John Carrol Former Publisher of Chicago Social, Dies at 59

After serving for over 20 years as publisher of Chicago magazine, John Carroll died at the age of 59, on August 24.

Last year Carroll resigned from his job as president and group publisher at Modern Luxury Media. MLM publishes Chicago Social and a group of other similar, large format glossies all over the US, which specialize in cultural events and the social scene.

In order to sell his wares meant Carroll was a frequent attendee at art shows, gala dinners, and other Chicago social events. Owned by Atlanta-based Dickey Publishing, Modern Luxury also has magazines in Los Angeles, Aspen and Houston. They also have other magazines with their emphasis on interior design and wedding planning.

Carroll joined MLM in 2004. Before that he worked at another publication focused on social events, Chicago magazine, from 1992 to 2004.

Before resigning last year Carroll took leave from his job to deal with a serious health issue. According to Carroll’s daughter Megan Kulick, 31, her father had a terminal, degenerative disease, frontotemporal dementia, which effects speech and judgement.

“Even people who really aren’t people-people liked him,” Kulick said of her father. “We feel how much the city misses him.”

Healthy Salad Chain Sweetgreen Growing in Chicago Area

The line features over 30+ items that rotate all year long. Customers can choose from the 8 signature salads, 3 seasonal salads or customize and make their own. Photo by Eestroff.
The line features over 30+ items that rotate all year long. Customers can choose from the 8 signature salads, 3 seasonal salads or customize and make their own. Photo by Eestroff.

Come August 23rd, 2016, Chicagoans will be able to enjoy the good, healthy salad offerings at the healthfood and salad chain Sweetgreen.

The newest branch of this corporate-owned chain which has its roots in Washington, DC will be opening its doors on State Street in River North.

A second store is scheduled to open in the earlier part of 2017, at 1000 Randolph Street, in West Loop. Reports have it that a third location is being scouted in the Loop or another city area. The final goal is to have three Sweetgreens by next year in the greater Chicago area.

“We think it’s going to be a great market for us,” said Sweetgreen co-founder Jonathan Neman.

The company was launched in 2007 and is based in Los Angeles. It is backed by investors Danny Meyer of Shake Shack, David Chang of Momofuku and Steve Chase, founder of AOL. Sweetgreen is also located in Maryland, Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, as well as California and Washington, DC.

The River North location is the first branch to open in the Midwest, and the 50th store to open, period. Customers can expect to pay between $7 and $12 for a hand built salad with dressing and bread. Sweetgreen prides itself on its dealing directly with local farmers and having a supply chain that provides ingredients as fresh as possible. Each day food is prepared fresh, including the dressings, and the chain changes its menu five times per year.

Robert Jordan Retiring as WGN News Anchor

WGN-TV's Bob Jordan with Luella's Southern Kitchen general manager Tyris Bell. photo by Cindy Kurman, Kurman Communications, Inc.
WGN-TV’s Bob Jordan with Luella’s Southern Kitchen general manager Tyris Bell. photo by Cindy Kurman, Kurman Communications, Inc.

Popular Chicago TV weekend news anchor Robert Jordan announced his intention to step down from his job at Tribune Broadcasting WGN-Channel 9.

In an email to his colleagues Jordan, who is 72, expressed “deep and ambiguous feelings” about the move.

“There are not sufficient words to express my profound gratitude for your wonderful friendships to those of you whom I have known for so long,” he wrote. “It has indeed been my pleasure to have known you and to have been able to call you a colleague and friend.”

Jennifer Lyons, WGN news director, said about Jordan that he, “…has dedicated his career to informing Chicago for more than four decades. His dedication is unparalleled; he is truly a legend in Chicago broadcasting.”

His last weekend news broadcast is scheduled for September 25th, but viewers can expect to see him from now and again filling in for anchors who may be away on vacation during what is left of his year-long contract.

Rumors Rising that Cake Boss Might Settle Down in Chicago

Bartolo Buddy Valastro. Photo by Jen Knoedl
Bartolo Buddy Valastro. Photo by Jen Knoedl

Buddy Valastro, reality TV celebrity baker, is considering locating a new branch of Carlo’s Bakery in Chicago. Valestro, who is from New Jersey, has been enthralling his fans with his incredible baked creations at his bakeries all over the country, and he is now ready to bring his craft to the Windy City.

The headquarters of Cake Boss, Valastro’s own bakery, is in Hoboken, New Jersey, Valestro’s home state. There are now six New Jersey locations, one in Philadelphia, another in Las Vegas, and one in New York. He also owns nine bakeries on Norwegian Cruise Lines.

The reality TV show, called Cake Boss, takes place in the various Carlo’s bakery locations.
According to Nicole Valdes, Carlo’s spokesperson, “[Valastro] goes to Chicago multiple times a year and I think Buddy can’t travel anywhere without thinking of opening a bakery.”

This summer Cake Boss was stationed in Chicago for the TLC Summer Block Party at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Chicago Corporations Score Low Marks in Public School Support

According to inquires made by a new collaborative task force called Generation All, only 8 out of 300 school principals answered in the affirmative as to whether they had a corporate partner. Furthermore, there are 400 corporate headquarters located in the Chicago area, and a total of 250,000 businesses, and only 3 percent of the city’s more than 500 public schools are getting direct support from a corporate partner.

Yes, the Chicago business community does help the district-run public schools via taxes, but the truth is, they can do more.

School principals are facing steep budget cuts. The students often come from poor families, teachers are not happy, and administrators are feeling bombarded by growing debt that can possible lead to insolvency of the system.

Chicago Public Schools, simply put, needs help, and the corporate community can offer it, and make a huge difference to the future of the city. According to the principals, investing in schools pays off in a very real way for business. Better test scores, higher rates of graduation, more internship possibilities, and better qualified future employees, are all benefits of a well-endowed CPS.

Starbucks Base-Pay Going Up

Employees work inside the Starbucks at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in south Mumbai, India. (Erika Schultz/Seattle Times/MCT) Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Employees work inside the Starbucks at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in south Mumbai, India. (Erika Schultz/Seattle Times/MCT) Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Beginning in October employees at Starbucks, the giant coffee retailer, will be taking home about 5 percent more money in their paychecks. Howard Schultz, CEO of the Seattle-based company, sent a letter to workers last week explaining that the exact amounts of the raises will be determined by market as well as geographic factors.

There are about 7,600 Starbucks across the country. The company does not disclose the exact amounts of starting salaries for their employees, saying it is based on the specific market factors effecting each store individually.

Wages that companies pay for entry level jobs has been an important topic for candidates this election year. The Democratic Party policy platform will most likely include a desire to see a $15 federal minimum wage slowly implemented. Republican candidate Donald Trump has said he prefers the issue of minimum wage be left to individual states to decide.

I addition to wages, Starbucks employees have been demanding that the company give them more predictable and reliable working hours. A petition advanced by a Starbucks employee said that the company was reducing work hours to save on labor costs. The petition said that it is almost impossible to work more than a 25-hour work week, and that the cuts in labor was having a bad effect on worker morale and customer service.

Schultz, who has been in touch with Jaime Prater, the employee who started the petition, said that Starbucks is ready to work with their employees to give them the hours that they need. He added that the company was committed to helping its employees find the right schedule which will insure that they are entitled to worker’s benefits.