November 22, 2008

Discount bookstore open (briefly) at Regency Mall

Move over, Barnes and Noble and Martha Merrell's. There's a new bookstore in town.

This one has an exciting pricing approach: "80% off!" (And, shhhh! It's not advertised, but teachers and librarians will get another 15% discount just by showing ID.)

Regency Mall's new tenant for the space recently vacated by Linens and Things' bankruptcy, and then briefly occupied by Halloween USA, is Giant Book Sales, a "seasonal" retailer that has rented the space "at least until the end of February." It opened Wednesday, and was full of customers this morning.

Our Giant Book Sales store is one of anywhere between 20 and 30 here-today, gone-tomorrow retail outposts around the country, mostly in the Midwest and Northeast, operated by American Book Company of Knoxville, TN. They've sent two managers, Richard Thompson of Vermont and Erik Sczepanik of Texas, to open and set up the space, hire workers and get everything running. The chain specializes in publishers' overstocks -- and apparently in mall space remaindered as well.

What might you find in the cavernous space only half-filled by books stacked on four by four-ft. shipping boxes? "Every kind of book under the sun," says Thompson. "Coffee table books, sports, biographies, mass media paperbacks, a large selection of children's books -- even autographed copies sometimes."

The store started out with 48 pallets, each loaded with 64 boxes of books. "As sales progress, they'll send us more," he said. How long will the store be here? "A definite three months," Thompson said. "Longer will depend on sales." While many of the chain's stores stay open only three months, at least one was open for 18 months, he said.

Although he'd never been to Racine before, Thompson has had a long-time connection with the community. Since he was about 10 years old, he's collected Whitman Books (The Annette Mysteries, Sierra Summer, etc.) published originally by Western Publishing Co. "I have to admit, I was very excited to be coming here."

Even if Giant Book Sales remains at Regency Mall for the long-term, there will still be major changes at the west end of the concourse. For right across the aisle from the new bookstore is Steve and Barry's, the troubled sports apparel retailer that already has announced it will liquidate shortly after Christmas.

November 21, 2008

Beat the Obamas! Take Pebbles home now

OK. The Obamas are getting all the attention when it comes to bringing a dog into the family. So much for the mainstream media!

Now here's your chance to get a dog, make your kids happy, transform your home -- long before Barack and Michelle, and Malia and Sasha, even move into the White House.

Pebbles is a three-year-old, apricot-colored poodle; a quiet loving guy who won't even ask who you voted for. He's a quiet, loving male -- timid at first, then very affectionate, according to our friends at the Countryside Humane Society.

Pebbles was picked up as a stray in Milwaukee by the Milwaukee Animal Control Commission. He is looking for a quieter home with children 10 years old and up (Sasha is just 7, so the Obamas need not apply). He is neutered, vaccinated, micro chipped and heart worm negative and really wants to go home.

With you?

Visit Pebbles at Countryside, 2706 Chicory Road, or call (262) 554-6699.

Nov. 22, 1963: Where were you?

Tomorrow is the 45th anniversary of the day JFK was shot. Where were you?

This link aggregates stories by a number of journalists -- what they were doing, how they felt, how their lives have been changed by the horrible event in Dallas.

We welcome your stories as well, in the comments below.

November 20, 2008

New lows for some Racine-based stocks

Can you say "bread line," boys and girls?

That's our word for the day, as the Dow fell yet another 444.99 points Thursday, breaking solidly through the supposed 8,000-point floor to wind up at 7,552, and taking the stocks of most Racine-based companies with it.

All the way down to new 52-week, and even historic lows.

Among the casualties -- all double-digit percentage drops except for Lee -- were:
  • Case New Holland, CNH, which dropped $1.97, to $11.09 per share. Its 52-week high was $70 ... it seems a lifetime ago. In September, it was $37.
  • Twin Disc, TWIN, dropped $.91 to $4.04 per share. Its 52-week high was $37.46. Just two months ago it was at $18 and a local broker assured me it was a "buy."
  • Lee Enterprises, LEE, owner of the Journal Times, fell "just" $.09, to $1.24, but has touched $1.07 -- barely two cents above the New York Stock Exchange's delisting point of $1.05. Its 52-week high was $15.97.
  • Marshall & Ilsley, MI, fell $1.33 to $11.86. Its 52-week high was $33.04.
  • Modine, MOD, dropped $.53 to $3.52. Its 52-week high was $21.77. And in September it was a t$17.
Just remember: Some day we will look back upon today as a buying opportunity.

Property Transfers: Prices are falling in Racine County

First, here are the Property Transfers for Nov. 10-14.

Second, last week I compared a few sales prices to the county assessment and suggested that home values were not falling in the county. A few commenters with backgrounds in the real estate business jumped in to say that wasn't accurate, and a few days later the Wisconsin Realtors Association backed them up.

The median sale price in this year's third quarter (July, August and September) fell 6.6 percent to $154,500 compared to last year. The total number of home sales dropped from 597 last year to 484 sales this year; the 484 sales was the lowest total number for any third quarter dating back to 1997.

In other words, fewer people are selling their homes, and when they do, they're selling them for less than home owners were a year ago.

If you want to see the data yourself, click here.

Positively Racine: With CR 21, college is a real possibility

By Bill Griffiths

There is an exciting new program here in Racine to start some 8th graders thinking about college as a possibility and a goal. Each year 7th graders can apply and about 50 of them will have the opportunity to participate when they start the 8th grade. Other 7th graders can hope to get on the waiting list.

College Readiness 21 (CR21), which is about seven years old, first opened an office to serve Racine and Kenosha counties in January 2007. CR21 is administered by the Wisconsin Foundation for Independent Colleges (WFIC) located in Milwaukee, and is supported by foundations, grants, corporate and individual contributions. The goal is to help and encourage students, who may otherwise not have seriously considered college, to stay in Wisconsin for college and then perhaps become part of the talent pool for Wisconsin employers.

The program seeks out students living in Racine or Kenosha counties who are “first-generation college students” (whose parents have not graduated from a four-year degree program) and who currently qualify for free or reduced lunch programs. It is a five-year program that involves no cost for the students. The thought is that starting them in middle school increases their probability of completing the program, with the ultimate focus: helping the students be ready for college.

Today, according to the local program manager, Angela Peterson, a total of nearly 100 8th graders and high school freshman are now participating in the program here. In coming years, that will grow to approximately 250, as students progress through the five year program and new 8th graders enter.

There are a variety of components that CR21 offers, all designed to increase a student’s ability to successfully graduate from high school and then college. The program includes: supplemental academic mentoring and tutoring, guidance in developing life skills, time management skills and goal setting, coaching assistance to better prepare for ACT testing, several Saturday college tours each year, assistance in applying for college admissions, and scholarship opportunities through WFIC and others. For the fortunate students in the program, they start in the 8th grade and continue through four years of high school.

To learn more about the program, take a look at their website or call the Racine and Kenosha Program Manager, Angela Peterson at 635-3852.

Kohl: How about a few bucks for ... um, homeowners?

As Congress heatedly debates whether to give the auto industry a $25 billion or so chump change bailout package, Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, asks what to us is a rather obvious question about the banking bailout that already has gone down: What's in it for homeowners? (Answer so far: Nada, nothing, ничего, zip.)

Kohl today urged Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to consider doing something to help distressed homeowners, perhaps give consideration to a proposal by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to help them refinance into more affordable mortgages. Now that $250 billion has already been used to purchase preferred stock in healthy financial institutions, donchaknow, and God knows how much has gone to insurance giant AIG (none of which have used a nickel, pictured here for reference only, for the purposes promised) "to mitigate foreclosures or help homeowners refinance their mortgages as property values plummet."

Kohl's letter:
Dear Secretary Paulson,

Recently, Congress learned about the progress of the Treasury Department’s implementation of the Emergency Economic Stability Act of 2008 and the usage of the authorized funds. The Treasury has spent $250 billion to purchase preferred stock in healthy financial institutions and an additional $40 billion to AIG. However, none of the funds have been used to mitigate foreclosures or help homeowners refinance into more affordable mortgages -- the area many experts and economists deem the heart of the financial crisis.

The goal of the legislation was to stabilize our financial markets, free up credit and help homeowners avoid foreclosure. Not only did the law authorize the Capital Purchase program, which you have fully utilized, but it allows the purchase of troubled mortgages. The foreclosure crisis’ negative impact on our economy is dramatically visible and evident. FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair has warned that the country will see another wave of foreclosures in the next two years if no action is taken, resulting in an additional 5 million homes lost. Wisconsin has already seen record foreclosures and home values drop by 5.3%. Residents in my home state, along with the rest of the country, will not be able to weather another deluge of foreclosures.

It is time we start addressing the root of the problem afflicting our financial markets and not just its symptoms. I urge you to consider the proposal by the FDIC to help distressed homeowners refinance into more affordable mortgages. The FDIC model has worked for loans when it took over IndyMac Bancorp this past July. The proposal will allow families to stay in their homes and decrease potential foreclosures. Chairwoman Bair estimates this will cost approximately $25 billion and can easily be taken from the bailout money allocated to the Treasury Department. Most people would rather see the government spend $25 billion to help struggling homeowners instead of letting them lose an estimated $164 billion in home equity and life savings.

November 19, 2008

Rebate processor's bankruptcy may affect you

Bad news for those of you waiting for cash rebates.

You might be in rebate limbo. A major national rebate processor, who works for many national retail chains and brands -- Bed, Bath and Beyond; Home Depot; Menard's; Canon; Costco; Abbot Labs among them -- filed for bankruptcy this week.

What that means is that your rebate may not be on the way after all, or that check you got last week -- yes, that check still sitting in your wallet or purse -- may bounce when you deposit it, adding bad check fees to your loss of the rebate.

We got this unwelcome news from a local reader, who pointed us to this detailed story laying out the gory details -- and what you can do about the situation, maybe. You do have all your receipts, right? Good luck.

Thanksgiving Dinner for 1,000 -- from Caron Butler

Kevin Meiczkowski from the Racine County Food Bank,
and Joyce Ferrell, Bethany Van Koningsveld, and Sharon Van Koningsveld
from the Harvest Outreach Food Pantry prepare turkeys for distribution

Caron Butler of the Washington Wizards is providing Thanksgiving dinner to hundreds of needy Racine residents.

The former Racine resident and NBA All-Star has donated 200 turkeys to the Racine County Food Bank, and Harvest Outreach Food Pantry is handling the distribution of the turkeys to income-eligible local families for their Thanksgiving dinner. Families received vouchers for the turkeys through referrals from the Salvation Army.

Butler will also provide a full-course dinner – turkey and all the fixings – on Thanksgiving Day to more than 120 homeless men, women and children living at HALO homeless shelter, and for 50 residents of Bethany Apartments, which provides services, support and subsidized apartments for women and children who have suffered from domestic violence. Working with United Way of Racine County, which supports all three organizations with annual funding, Butler’s generosity will help nearly 1,000 people in Racine enjoy a memorable Thanksgiving Day.

“LIVE UNITED, the message United Way is bringing to the community, fit with my wish to provide an enjoyable and happy Thanksgiving to people in need this holiday,” Butler said. “Both HALO and Bethany Apartments work hard to provide shelter and supportive services to people facing difficult times. These organizations help individuals and families regain their self-esteem and develop the skills needed to live independent lives. I hope my small gift brings a bright spot during the holiday to these people who are working hard to become independent.”

Nor is this the first time Butler has remembered his roots. Just last summer, on Juneteenth Day, he provided 500 bicycles for local kids. See stories and pictures HERE and HERE.

Competition disappears in Racine media

A few weeks ago the J-S launched a redesigned Web site. There's nothing special about the new look - it's sleek, the colors are dulled down and blogs are featured more prominently. (The only thing I don't like is NewsWatch off to the right side. It feels dismissed there ... I liked it better front and center.)

But one significant change for Racine is Racine is no longer included on the site. On the old JSonline, Racine had its own section with a link on the front page. On the new site, Racine is no where to be found.

It's not much of a surprise given the J-S's decision to shutter its Racine bureau in Sturtevant. But the state's biggest paper - and the dominant source for news in southeastern Wisconsin - appears to have abandoned all Racine coverage.

At RacinePost, one of our daily jobs is to aggregate Racine news onto our front page. It's our effort to bring all of the stories about Racine into a single place, making it easy for readers to checkout what's going without visiting the individual sites themselves.

Lately, we've noticed fewer Racine stories online. Part of that comes from the J-S's decision to abandon our community. The loss of the weekly section has weakened news coverage in Racine, and left the JT with minimal competition. We work to offer a credible alternative to the local newspaper - given the stories they get from us, it's clear 212 Fourth St. is one of our key audiences - but we're not a full-time paid staff (at least not yet). So the loss of the J-S and its dedicated staff is an unfortunate blow to Racine. Add in the JT's shrinking space - and, one has to imagine in the current economy, it's soon-to-be shrinking staff - there is less oversight of our community and many fewer stories about the people living here.

You're reading our solution. RacinePost tries daily to offer competition to the established newspaper. It's my sincere hope others will take up the same banner and try to do the same. Maybe someone along the way can figure out how to make some money and we can return to an era when five, six, even 10 newspapers competed for readers.

If I had control over the JT, I'd split employees into competing groups and have them fight for readers. There would be 4-5 separate news sources under the JT banner, and the daily paper would be a composite sketch of everyone's work. Successful reporters would be rewarded with bonuses and more resources to report the news. Unsuccessful reporters would be shown the door. (Note to Rick Parrish: This model would work. Feel free to call me for the plan.)

The competition model works in the news business. It pushes everyone to work harder and write better stories. It's also a lot more fun. The loss of competition in Racine media is worrisome. Working in a vacuum, you believe you're doing a good job regardless of what you're actually doing.

So rise up Racine bloggers and reporters and take on the news of the day. Do it in your own voice on your own timeline. There's nothing special about being a reporter, you just have to take a few minutes to research and write. So start a blog and give it a shot. You just may be the one to save our daily newspaper.

Walden III takes 1st place in Academic Decathlon

Walden III School took first place in the United States Academic Decathlon Monday, Nov. 10, at Gateway Technical College. Walden III competed against Washington Park High School and Kenosha Bradford High School.

Academic areas that were covered include: math, economics, art, music, social science and language and literature. Students competed as a nine-person team and by grade point average. Walden III was represented by two teams. Team one consisted of: Kiefer Baker, Sam Braun, Lucas Breit-Nicholson, Armand Grabowski, Jeremiah Jeffery, Caracal Keithrafferty, Rachel Pettit, Theresa Schmidt and Beau Wishner. Team two was represented by: Sabrine Ali, Bill Justus, Chris Roberts, Eric Sahakian-Fiegel and A.J. Stibbe.

Walden III will now move on to the regional competition in Waukesha. The school has advanced to the regional competition each of the last eight years and has gone on to the state competition in Madison three times in the last seven years.

Racine area well represented on state's budget-writing committee

Eastern Racine County will have a triumvirate of voices on the state's budget-writing committee next year.

The Democrats appointed Rep. Cory Mason and Sen. John Lehman, both of Racine, to the Joint Finance Committee, and the Republicans appointed Rep. Robin Vos, of Caledonia, to the 16-member Joint Finance Committee.

That's an extraordinary amount of power for one county, Lehman noted.

"I’m especially looking forward to working on a bipartisan basis with
Representatives Mason and Vos to represent our interests here in Racine County," he said.

Last budget, the city of Racine received $500,000 to work toward reducing its childhoood obesity rate. This budget, Democrats are aiming at building KRM from Kenosha to Milwaukee with stops in Racine and Caledonia. The trick is funding the train, which could be tough in a state budget with a $5 billion deficit.

But Democrats control 12 of the 16 seats on the Joint Finance Committee, which gives them free reign over the state budget. In recent budgets, Democrats and Republicans were evenly split on the committee 8-8 and were forced to compromise on nearly every contentious issue.

KRM was stripped from the budget by the Joint Finance Committee in the last budget. Vos and his Republican colleagues opposed the proposal as it was presented. They want local referendums on the commuter rail train.

Democrats took over the Joint Finance Committee after winning control of the Assembly on Nov. 4. They now control both the Assembly and the Senate, and the governor's office, giving state Democrats firm control over the budget process for the first time in over 20 years.

November 18, 2008

City of Racine accused of discrimination by public health administrator

The same attorney who filed sexual harassment charges against City Administrator Ben Hughes is now threatening to file a discrimination claim on behalf of Racine Public Health Administrator Janelle Grammer.

Attorney Nola Cross wrote a letter to the city on Nov. 11* alleging Grammer:
has been subjected to certain personnel actions based upon illegal age discrimination, prior Equal Employment Opportunity activity, and opposition to age and disability discrimination.

Cross threatened to file a complaint under state and federal law if the matter was not resolved internally.

The city Attorney's office said Tuesday they have hired Attorney Mark Olson, of Davis & Kuelthau SC, to represent the city in the case.

Cross is out of the country and unavailable for comment, her office said Tuesday. Cross filed a sexual harassment suit against Hughes in July. The city hired Olson to investigate and issued a report clearing Hughes of wrongdoing.

We were tipped to the story about Grammer's suit by an anonymous source, and confirmed it Tuesday morning with the City Attorney's office.

Grammer was not immediately available for comment.

* This story originally said the letter was sent on Nov. 13. It was sent on Nov. 11 but received by the city on Nov. 13.