Nevada City’s lone ice cream store closing

images-1Here’s a small-town scooplet and another sign of our local economic meltdown: The Confectionary Mine in downtown Nevada City is closing.

It is the lone store in the historic district dedicated to ice cream, an important item for a walkable, tourism oriented city such as my hometown.

The highly visible corner store at 236 Broad St., at Broad and Pine, specializes in handmade ice cream bars, drumsticks, handmade chocolates, coffee drinks, milkshakes and toys.

The ice cream and other items are being sold at 50 percent off. The store could close as early as this weekend.

You might want to get down and support the owners and help them clear out the ice cream cooler at half off. We will. My wife, son and I frequented the place when it wasn’t half off.

Ice cream sales typically are a recession-proof business, but the Confectionary Mine depends on tourists coming to our small town.

Broad Street — the showcase of downtown Nevada City — is looking awfully bleak nowadays: The storefront across the street has long been vacant and the Broad Street Furnishings building remains empty.

As I’ve already reported, Amigos & Co. has opened in the Dos Banditos space, and Nevada City Seafood is looking to open on Pine Street.

But the downtown buildings that are empty are among the highest profile ones in town. It’s a sad state of affairs.

It’s too bad more landlords can’t cut their tenants some slack on the rent.

It’s also sad how the merchants can’t work together to make the city better. There’s so much infighting. As one put it: “We thought we were moving to Mayberry, not Stepford.”

For the most part, the Chamber and Downtown Association need “new blood” too, with fresh, innovative ideas. Trouble is, we’re an insular bunch and not open much to new ideas.

It’s elsewhere too: Look what it took to shake up GM’s entrenched management: The U.S. government.

Sierra Sun drops Saturday edition for Facebook

The Sierra Sun in Truckee has quietly dropped its Saturday edition: It now is down to just two days a week as a print edition, compared with five days a week in print in early January.

The 140-year-old paper is now promoting a Facebook page and weekend e-edition that starts May 4 instead.

The paper is updating its Web site daily, it says. It has cut staff, though.

In mid-January, the Sierra Sun dropped from a five-day a week frequency to three days a week.

This time around the paper was less transparent about the cutback of its Saturday print edition.

A note on the front door of its Web site still reports that the paper is publishing Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. But its Facebook page, which the paper is promoting, points out that the paper is only publishing on Wednesday and Friday.

A small notice appeared in the print edition of the newspaper some weeks ago, but it was not highlighted or explained at sierrasun.com.

Newspapers never did a very good job of covering themselves. When you do that, you risk losing credibility with your readers.

I’ve been a reader of the Sierra Sun for many years; longer than The Union, in fact.

I also expect The Union to begin promoting a Facebook page, like the Sierra Sun, and they already have announced a weekend e-newsletter.

I’m not sure I get the Facebook page idea: Sure you build a loyal fan base. But you also risk cannibalizing your Web site as the “start page.”

The Sierra Sun, for example, is posting its stories on its Facebook page. The links go to the paper but just the “story” page, not the “front door,” where the most expensive ads run.

Newspapers have enough trouble monetizing their Web site to begin with. As they cut back in print editions, as the Sierra Sun has done, you need to rely more heavily on Web ad revenue.

Nobody has figured out how to monetize a Facebook site, including Facebook.

The issue came to light this week when Facebook entered funding discussions. The venture capitalists were valuing Facebook at much less than its management thought it was worth.

The background is here.

Pondering Crime Victims’ Rights week

On the same day the county celebrated National Crime Victims’ Rights Week in a candlelight vigil, we learned this:

A Grass Valley man charged with gross vehicular manslaughter was released from custody after a county superior court judge sliced his bail from $100,000 to $25,000.

Edward Anderson allegedly was driving drunk when he struck a car driven by Nevada City resident Claus Sievert, as The Union reported in this high-profile case.

“We are here and Claus Sievert is not here,” Nevada County Deputy District Attorney Kathryn Francis said, arguing against a bail reduction, partly on grounds of public safety. “I think Mr. Anderson will agree his judgment was abysmal.”

Anderson admitted to drinking a half-pint of whiskey and driving with his son in the vehicle, as the paper reported.

Judge Candace Heidelberger sided with the deputy public defender. She did, however, add conditions that included no driving and no alcohol.

The public defender called the prosecution “hypocritical,” because it allegedly did not ask for an arrest warrant in the case.

Anderson is due back in court on May 7 as the case continues.

Heidelberger was appointed to the post after Judge Al Dover retired, well before his term expired.

Justice is a balancing act for sure, but I wonder what the victim’s family thought.

This issue of victims’ rights surfaces often, as does the issue of electing rather than appointing our judges.

Early retirement by elected officials can undermine our elections process with too many appointments. Most judges wind up being appointed now, raising some concerns about accountability.

Raising controversial issues always strikes a nerve — at the courthouse in particular — but they should continue to be raised and discussed by “we the people.”

Watching ‘TV’ at the dinner table

photo24The world is a much different place than when most of us were growing up.

Watching TV at the dinner table was a treat for me: We set up some TV trays and sat in front of the black-and-white tube. Color was commonplace, but we had an old Zenith 19-inch set.

We watched shows such as Mannix, Get Smart and Batman, as well as Monday Night Football with Howard Cosell.

Nowadays we’re watching “TV” at the dinner table on an iMac. (This refurbished model was less than $1,000 and is our main home computer).

We’re watching a video stream from MLB.com in HD: The Dodgers versus the Padres. I’m a big fan of Dodger announcer Vin Scully, and it’s a treat to listen to him announce ballgames. I like the Giants, Dodgers and Cubs, an odd fan.

But I’ve been listening to Vin since i was a young child; I used to bring the radio to bed with me. Now I can listen to him anywhere. To our 7-year-old boy — of Gen Z or Gen 9/11 — this is no big deal.

Enjoy the rest of your week, but don’t sit in front of the “boob tube” too long.

‘Spoiled Spa’ opening in Pine Creek in GV

A day spa called “Spoiled Spa” is opening in Pine Creek Shopping Center as early as next month, next to Jamba Juice, sources say.

Call it a “twofer”: an economic bright spot and a small-town scooplet.

The contractors, including Gallup Construction, are finishing up the interior. It’s always good to see busy contractors and new buildings going up — without “stimulus” funds, no less.

Spas are growing despite the recession. There were 18,100 spas, including day spas, in the United States as of last June, up 24 percent from the previous year, according to the International Spa Association. Spas generated $10.9 billion in revenue in 2007 — the latest available figures — up from $9.4 billion the previous year.

Employment growth also is in the double-digits from year-to-year.

A spa fits well with our demographics, too. Bon Bon Salon in Grass Valley is doing well.

Good luck to this new local business.

I first blogged about this back in February, when I noticed the construction work underway. It’s amazing what you can unearth just driving to the grocery store.

The Union’s sister paper in shootout in Vail

Here’s something you might not have heard about: The newspaper wars in Vail, pitting The Union’s sister paper the Vail Daily against a well-financed startup, are getting much uglier. And the battle could impact overall revenue at the Swift newspaper chain.

The Vail Mountaineer — started by the Vail Daily’s former owner and founder, no less — attacked the chain-owned daily in a front-page article last week, accusing it of being a “price-gouging monopolist,” which had engaged in “unfair and unethical business practices,” according to an account in the Aspen Daily News.

The column discussing the newspaper wars is here.

The stakes are high for the Swift newspaper chain: The new competition in Vail — one of its flagship markets — impacts overall revenue. Colorado is a big market for Swift. As reported, Swift has been cutting costs throughout its chain, like many newspapers.

“The Mountaineer’s front-page blast accused the Vail Daily of cutting secret deals with advertisers to radically lower rates, as long as those advertisers promised not to deal with the Mountaineer and to shut up about the rate deals so other advertisers would go on paying the high monopoly rates,” according to the account.

“It also accused the Swift chain with offering Starbucks free advertising in exchange for keeping the Mountaineer from distributing there,” it continued.

It has long been “far cheaper” to advertise in Aspen than in “monopoly” towns such as Vail and even Glenwood Springs, according to the Aspen Daily News. Swift also owns the Glenwood Springs paper.

The owner of the Vail Mountaineer, Jim Pavelich, started the paper in 1981 and sold it to Swift 12 years later. A non-compete clause has expired.

Pavelich said he started the paper with the goal of “dismantling” Swift’s monopoly in Vail, according to the Aspen Times.

Both papers in Vail are free tabloids. Swift has introduced free tabloids in some of its other markets, too, such as the Sierra Sun in Truckee and other Tahoe papers.

But there’s another side to the story.

For his part, Pavelich has a “troubling history surrounding his own journalistic standards,” according to the Times. “So unsettled are those standards that the editor of his paper quit last December.”

The Mountaineer also has accused the Vail Daily of serving the needs of sales at the expense of journalism, according to the article.

As the Times put it: “Vail grew by cheerleading its own ski resort ambitions. Anybody with a history there might confuse promotion for ‘hard news.'”

The column concluded: “The fate of both journalism and monopolistic advertising rates are unsettled in Vail. But good journalists will write about it.”

I used to ski at Vail all the time as a teenager, when we lived in Denver. It seemed like such as quaint place. Back then, the lift tickets were only $9 a day.

Will ‘tea party’ protestors cash stimulus checks?

images1Some 50 million retirees, including the ones in our county, will receive a one-time payment of $250 in May as part of the “stimulus” package enacted in February.

People who get their Social Security or other benefits electronically will get this payment electronically, and others will get a check.

The goal is to get Americans to spend money to stimulate the economy when many people are reducing spending.

I wonder how many people who boarded a bus to Sacramento earlier this month for a “tea party” tax protest, as well as others across the nation, will take a stand and refuse to cash their checks.

Most of them were outspoken against the “stimulus” package.

The media who covered the protest with such vigor might want to ask, too.