No Magic Bullet Here

March 31, 2008
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Most Michigan retailers believe the federal government's plan to mail "economic stimulus" checks to taxpayers this spring will be of modest help to their businesses.

The monthly Michigan Retail Index survey, a joint project of Michigan Retailers Association and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, found that 53.2 percent expect it will provide some help and another 2.4 percent believe it will be a lot of help, while 44.4 percent say it won't help at all.

"Although a majority of retailers believe the tax rebates will provide some help, they don't see them as the solution to current economic problems," said James P. Hallan, MRA president and CEO. "They're looking for modest sales growth in the latter half of the year, not the next few months."

For February, the Index showed 29 percent of retailers increased sales over the same month last year, while 49 percent recorded declines and 22 percent saw no change. The results create a seasonally adjusted performance index of 42.2, down from 47.5 in January. A year ago February, the index was at 46.9.

Looking ahead, 39 percent believe their sales will increase for March-May, while 33 percent forecast declines and 28 percent project no change. The results create a seasonally adjusted outlook index of 50.0, down from 53.4 in January. A year ago February, the index was at 57.7.

  • Summer's coming. Really. It is. And guess what? WaterSki Magazine has named Grand Rapids among the nation's "top 10 places to ski and live" in its April 2008 issue. Impressed by the Grand City Show Skiers' willingness to "throw caution to the chilly wind and hit the water even on New Year's Day," the magazine cites Grand Rapids' local attribute as passion for the sport.

"My family and I live to ski," says Rob Maskill show director for the Grand City Show Skiers, "we ski at least three days a week for nearly 10 months of the year here in West Michigan. Water skiing couldn't be better anywhere else. It's a great family sport here."

The magazine also recognized the sport's visibility in the Grand Rapids area "where locals regularly grow up attending (show ski) performances.

Rick DeVries, president of the Grand City Show Skiers and the West Michigan Water Ski Association, noted the group performs several shows a year, including an annual stop on Reeds Lake on the Fourth of July and at the Coast Guard Festival in Grand Haven.

  • When West Michigan Whitecaps owners Lew Chamberlin and Denny Baxter were sitting around the table in the early '90s kicking around ideas for bringing minor league baseball to town, at the top of their list probably was not the idea that "Gee, we just have to do this because someday maybe we can have our own bobbleheads."

Well, fans will have the opportunity to join the Whitecaps promotions staff and choose the fifth bobblehead of the season to be handed out to the first 1,000 fans at a game in late summer. The Fan Vote Bobblehead is between the following candidates: a Chamberlin and Baxter double bobblehead, Whitecaps mascots Crash and Franky double bobblehead, radio announcers Dave Skoczen and Dan Elve double bobblehead, a Bobble Thumb sporting the five Midwest League Championship rings, and Whitecaps Flagman Jimmy.

"We started the idea of giving the fans a chance to pick their own promotion last year and it was huge success with the on-field host Bob Wells bobblehead," said Whitecaps Marketing Manager Mickey Graham. "We're looking forward to seeing what bobblehead the fans want this year."

It's a safe bet that memorabilia collectors, who have been known to line up at the park for several hours in anticipation of getting one of the rare pieces, will be more likely to turn out for one of the four other bobbleheads the Whitecaps will give away this season including the Gorkys Hernandez/Cameron Maybin back-to-back championship bobblehead (April 18), Joe Staley bobblehead (May 16), Phil Regan bobblehead (June 9) and Dave Rozema Karate Kick bobbleleg (July 9). But Lew and Denny are in the running, anyway.

The winning bobblehead will be announced at a later date and given out on Aug. 26 when the Whitecaps host the Great Lakes Loons at 7 p.m.

  • Talk about turning lemons into the proverbial lemonade. East Grand Rapids has turned a high-profile incident into a public relations coup.

On Sept. 26, 2006 peaceful picketers were stopped by the East Grand Rapids police when protesting the visit of Vice President Dick Cheney.  The individuals involved appealed to the American Civil Liberties Union to protect their right of free speech and assembly.  Upon review of the East Grand Rapids ordinance, the West Michigan Branch wrote a letter to the city expressing the opinion that the ordinance was not constitutional. 

After discussion with the local ACLU Lawyers Committee members and a legal review of their own, the city rescinded the ordinance.  Their action firmly established East Grand Rapids as a City where free speech and assembly is honored and observed.  The city's stance was reaffirmed when President George Bush came to speak at East Grand Rapids High School on April 20, 2007; protesters were allowed to freely express themselves without police harassment.

For these "positive public decisions," the Western Michigan Branch of the ACLU recognized officials of the city of East Grand Rapids last week "for their commitment to the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights,"  awarding the 2007 Civil Libertarian of the Year Award to East Grand Rapids. 

Accepting the award on behalf of the city of East Grand Rapids was Mayor Cindy Bartman.

  • Yahoo! is visiting Grand Rapids in April to tout the new Yahoo! Search Assist feature that it says gets consumers from "to do" to "done" in one search. A Yahoo! branded Air Stream trailer will travel to events at Van Andel Arena and Fifth Third Ballpark to serve items from McFadden's Saloon, one of the most highly searched restaurants in Grand Rapids with chef Ryan Wabeke of McFadden's in attendance. The trailer will be at the Grand Rapids Griffins game April 4 and at the West Michigan Whitecaps' debut game April 7.

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