Finance news. My opinion.

July 26, 2014

Embattled grocery chain weighs proposal to buy it

Filed under: house, prices — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 10:39 am

WEST BRIDGEWATER, Mass. (AP) — Board members of the beleaguered Market Basket grocery store chain say they will “seriously consider” a proposal from its fired chief executive to buy the company as the chain faces a workers’ revolt that has paralyzed the stores.

The board issued a statement Friday after meeting to discuss the company’s future as thousands of employees protested the firing of a popular chief executive, Arthur T. Demoulas.

For more than a week, warehouse workers have refused to make deliveries to the chain’s 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine us fast cash. Many customers have boycotted the stores in support of the workers.

Arthur T. Demoulas was fired last month by a board controlled by his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas.

The board said it will evaluate Arthur T’s offer, as well as prior offers and future offers.


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July 19, 2014

Lumière Place reopens but testing continues on slot machines

Filed under: marketing, news — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 10:48 pm

Updated at 4:30 p.m. 

Slot machine testing is happening Thursday at the Lumière Place casino, which state gaming regulators closed Wednesday night as a result of what is described as a system failure.

Missouri Gaming Commission officials shut down the casino at 11:45 p.m., about four hours after the slot machine problems began, said Leann McCarthy, the commission’s spokeswoman. Regulators ordered the entire gaming floor closed even though the problem was limited to the slot machines.

Lumière Place officials said in a statement “a system failure” of the slot machines began just before 8 p.m. The casino began manually paying customers their slots winnings as workers tried to fix the problem.

The casino on the St. Louis riverfront re-opened before 7 a No teletrak payday loan.m. Thursday. McCarthy said no shutdowns were contemplated Thursday as testing of the slot machines continues.

A Lumière spokeswoman said Thursday afternoon that the company’s IT workers are still trying to determine the cause of Wednesday night’s failure.

Lumière Place officials also said in their statement they are sorry for inconveniencing customers.

Tropicana Entertainment has operated Lumière Place since April 1, after it completed its $260 million purchase of the casino and hotel complex from Pinnacle Entertainment.


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July 18, 2014

Jamestown Mall quietly closes its doors, planning for a rebirth of the site begins

Filed under: Uncategorized, management — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 7:44 am

FLORISSANT • With the Jamestown Mall quietly locking its doors, officials hope the passing creates an opening to transform a site that has long troubled north St. Louis County residents and leaders.

“The goal is to put the property in a condition where we have reasonable hope to develop it to serve the citizens of North County,” said Andrew Ruben, a senior vice president of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

The County Planning Commission is expected to begin the process Monday by approving a declaration to mark the 1.2 million-square-foot parcel as a “blighted area.”

That measure will signal the first step to what could be a comprehensive redevelopment plan.

Studies have recommended a mixed-use conversion to accommodate housing developments, senior living units and approximately 200,000 square feet of retail shops.

The planning commission recommendation will be passed along to the County Council.

The possibility of condemning the site to pave the way for redevelopment will entail gaining state approvals and could drag on for years.

“The estimated timetable is 10 years,” said Ruben, adding, “We will do everything in our power to expedite the process but this is a complicated and long-term project.”

Carolyn Marty, president and CEO of the Greater North County Chamber of Commerce, sees widespread support for a radical transformation for a retail site long in decline.

“From the chamber’s perspective this is the path we want to see happen,” Marty said. “Someone needs to move forward so we can bring economic development to that area of North County.”

County Executive Charlie Dooley said the county is seeking to blight the area because the mall’s business model stood in the way of redevelopment.

Jamestown Mall ownership is divided among five different parties. One company owns the majority of the mall proper; the rest of the property is divided among the corporate owners of the anchor stores and other investors Faxless payday loans. Dooley said the owners have not responded to county requests about redeveloping the property.

Mall security and maintenance will for now continue to be the responsibility of the five owners, Ruben said.

But, as Dooley explained in a letter inviting residents and businesses to share their thoughts on the future of the property: “St. Louis County cannot move forward in any productive manner in terms of future development of the site unless we actually have some control over the property, which currently remains in the hands of private owners.”

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at the North County Recreation Complex, 2577 Redman Road.

Assistant Blackjack Fire Chief Ankeneth Corbin promised representatives of the fire district will attend.

The district, Corbin said, “has multiple areas of concern” about what lies ahead — including compensating for the absence of what was once a major source of revenue.

The district has additional misgivings about safety after young people turned an abandoned section of the mall into an illegal haunted house last year.

Corbin said an illicit venue that operated until authorities learned of it on a social media site raises concerns that homeless people or other individuals will find a way to get into the empty mall.

Some contend the mall was doomed from the start by a lack of foresight.

The building went up near the terminus of North Lindbergh Boulevard in an area where the addition of nearby housing never reached projections.

Unlike many malls, Jamestown was not built near a major interstate highway or mass transit.

County Planning Director Glenn Powers believes the physical placement of the mall on a plot where it was obscured by a corn and soybean field also contributed to its decline.

Powers also questioned why the sinkholes and underground caves that eventually threatened the mall infrastructure were not discovered when the site plan was developed.

In its final years the mall was further bedeviled by power outages, the loss of heat and an exodus of retailers — large and small.

The death knell was sounded when Macy’s, the last of the Jamestown anchor stores, closed its doors earlier this year.

The mall was 41 years old when its few remaining tenants departed the building last week. The UniverSoul Circus, scheduled for next week in the parking lot, will go on despite the demise of the mall.

“It was wonderful in its heyday,” Marty said.


July 15, 2014

Computer programs may be factor in slow jobs recovery

Filed under: money, uk — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 2:15 am

WASHINGTON • One morning last month, a group of job seekers gathered in a cool basement meeting room under a Washington condominium to hear a talk and share stories.

The mid-career professionals included an intelligence analyst, an engineer and a woman who had run her own legal practice. They were frustrated with their inability to breach a nameless, faceless online-search process that seemed insensitive to their accomplishments and impossibly discriminating.

“Everybody is looking for the striped unicorn with blue eyes,” said Joel Sarfati, executive director of 40Plus of Greater Washington, host of the meeting. “It drives us crazy.”

Expanding use of technology that uses ultra-specific criteria to screen and winnow candidates may be perpetuating one of the most unusual features of the slow rebound in the U.S. labor market: Despite a steady increase in openings since the recession ended in 2009, these positions are being matched with job seekers less efficiently than in the past. For each 100,000 new openings, for example, companies have hired about 48,000 people, compared with about 54,000 following the 2001 recession.


Software provided by Taleo, a unit of Oracle, allows recruiters to conduct “precision matching” through a “profile-based recruiting system” that uses “advanced search and artificial intelligence to find and short list top talent,” according to a brochure on Oracle’s website.

For workers and job-seekers with exactly the right skills industries need today, the software programs can be a boon, filling their email with notes from recruiters, talent scouts said. There’s also a benefit for companies in lower talent- acquisition and training costs.

There are also disadvantages for other job prospects: A candidate with some, but not all, of the required attributes may be eliminated or moved down the list. This may be one reason why people out of work for 27 weeks or more still represent about a third of the total unemployed, compared with an average of 19 percent between 2004 and 2007. The share is down from about 37 percent in June 2013.

“It takes a lot more search to get these jobs,” said Robert Brusca, a former economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York who is now chief economist at Fact & Opinion Economics in New York.

That may help explain why some indicators on Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen’s jobs dashboard still are out of sync with past rebounds. She will give her semi-annual testimony before the House and Senate this week, and part of her remarks will focus on labor conditions.

Fed officials have kept their benchmark lending rate near zero since December 2008 to stimulate growth, which has helped lower the unemployment rate to 6.1 percent in June from a post-recession peak of 10 percent in October 2009.


There are many theories about why the labor market is less efficient now in matching buyers of skills with sellers. Economists ponder the possibility that it reflects industrial shifts that may require retraining workers. Or the unemployed may have unrealistic expectations about the wage they should receive and are holding out for a better offer that might never come. Another theory is that extended unemployment benefits delayed the need to search.

For Gene Curran, the owner of Victory Realty Group in Baltimore, it has been difficult to find dedicated people willing to work for an entry-level wage and prove their value over time with the company. Some “maintenance techs ask me if we will pay them under the table” so they can remain on unemployment. The answer is “absolutely not.”

Curran says people’s motivation and “labor quality” are some of the biggest issues slowing down hiring.

Economists also question whether some portion of job postings represents prospecting by companies still unsure about the economy’s future, not real offers — in effect, warehousing and not really adding positions.

Independent recruiters also speculate that businesses aren’t ready to start spending on training and have a tentative interest in hiring so their listings read like quests for an off-the-shelf, perfect employee.

Some postings “God couldn’t fill himself,” said Robert Funk, chairman and chief executive officer of Express Employment Professionals in Oklahoma City. “Most people don’t have all of those qualifications.”

Of course, the shift in the relationship between job vacancies and unemployment, a curve named after the British economist William Beveridge, could represent all of the above.

“There are all kinds of things changing in the American labor market and you see this in the Beveridge Curve,” Brusca said.

The curve in the latest recovery has shifted out to the right, a graphic representation of a statistical fact: There’s a higher level of job vacancies for a given level of unemployment.

“The search and matching process is less efficient, for whatever reason,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist for JPMorgan Chase.


For Sally Richards, the lawyer at the 40Plus meeting, what has changed is mainly the way a professional looks for work and contacts companies.

Richards owned and managed the staff of a law firm in Ohio that grew in two decades to more than 250 clients, including a hospital that helped her specialize in health care. She moved to Washington last year and has been job hunting for the past six months. Lately, she is focusing on personal contacts and networks, having been frustrated by the online-application process.

“Each place you apply is using a system to eliminate your ,” Richards said. “You may have 99 percent of the qualifications, but they may reject your application.”

Robert Brandau, president of McLean, Va.-based recruiter Increasing Revenue Inc., hosts a group called Beltway Job Search Partners. On Saturday mornings, he says, their meeting room is stocked with highly-qualified professionals who have had jobs for decades. What many of them need to learn is “pretty much everything has changed” in the way one finds work.

“You have a lot of job descriptions that are not realistic,” he said.

Software from businesses such as Taleo, along with social-media sites run by companies including LinkedIn Corp., provide recruiters with tools to manage an applicant pool or seek candidates.

A demonstration of LinkedIn’s “Recruiter” software program, used by some 25,000 companies, shows that a hiring manager can mine the website for prospects by location, title, education and skills. Without even posting a job opening online, a recruiter using LinkedIn can locate profiles on the social network of people who already have a job yet fit a specification. It also gives recruiters access to connections they share with prospects in case they want to tap a reference.

While companies have used software tools to manage recruiting for decades, the scale of the online job market is “far bigger” than ever, according to Josh Bersin, who founded Bersin & Associates, which provides research on the labor market and advises some of the world’s largest businesses on talent recruitment. Billions of people are on social-media websites, giving employers greater knowledge and access to candidates, while “the level of  scanning and indexing is far better.”


The latest tools are so powerful and new that businesses still are learning how to use them and typically over-specify candidate requirements, creating an “over-focus on the equivalent of the resume and not on the real person.”

“Most success is not based on somebody’s specific skills,” said Bersin, whose company was acquired by Deloitte Consulting LLP, where he is now a principal. “It is based on skills and attitudes.”

Richards, the attorney who would like to offer her health-law skills to a nonprofit in Washington, said her mission now is being able to connect directly with the “employer or hiring person.”

Success in this job market “is all about networking” with people who can assess a candidate’s fit with their organization, not plugging data into a software program, she said.

Ilan Kolet reported from Ottawa. Chloe Whiteaker contributed from Washington.


July 13, 2014

Former Nike missile site in Hecker sells for $227,000

Filed under: lenders, management — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 10:55 am

HECKER • A former Nike Hercules missile site four miles south of here sold at auction Saturday for $227,000, the auction manager said.

Wayne Keller, managing broker of Buy-A-Farm, said the auction lasted roughly 20 minutes, and had only four or five bidders. Others, hoping for a bargain, were quickly priced out when the starting bid of $70,000 rose in increments of $10,000.

Keller said that buyer Ron Mertens, a Smithton businessman, had no specific plans for the property — yet.

The 14-acre site, officially Nike Missile Site SL-40, boasts three underground bunkers, complete with working elevator pads, as well as three surface-level buildings. From 1960 to 1968, the site contained dozens of nuclear warhead-equipped missiles, part of the era’s defense against Soviet bombers.

It is well-preserved, having been used for several years by the Career Center of Southern Illinois for automotive repair classes and more recently leased for storage and a workshop.

Keller told the Post-Dispatch last month that potential buyers considered using the site for a plant testing facility, warehouses, a home and a museum.


July 11, 2014

Businesses, residents hope to bring new life to Hyde Park neighborhood in St. Louis

Filed under: money, news — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 8:23 pm

Julie Longyear started making aromatherapy candles at home part time in 2000. Four years later, she incorporated what would become Blissoma, a botanical skin care products maker. After several successful years, her business outgrew the 1,000-square-foot basement where she made lotions, soaps and other goods.

Longyear considered a building on Keokuk Street in south St. Louis, a gutted shell that needed a complete rehab. Even with a listing price of $80,000, it was too expensive.

Her real estate agent suggested she look instead at Hyde Park on the city’s north side. There, in the 1400 block of North Park Place, Longyear found a 4,000-square-foot, move-in ready building. She paid just over $120,000 — a good deal in 2007 before the real-estate bubble burst, she says.

Even though she was motivated by dollars and cents when she chose to look in Hyde Park, she’s glad she did.

“In the beginning, we were driven by cost concerns, but once I took a look, I felt like this was a place I could contribute to the redevelopment of a neighborhood,” Longyear said.

“It’s just palpable,” she said. “You can really feel the possibilities here.”

Named for one of the royal parks of London but settled by Germans, Hyde Park occupies a slice of the city’s north side, bounded by Interstate 70 to the east, Palm Street and Natural Bridge Avenue to the south, Glasgow Avenue to the west and Ferry Street to the north. It’s just north of the Old North neighborhood and outside the footprint of developer Paul McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration Project.

Like much of north St. Louis, Hyde Park has seen employers large and small vanish over the years and with them went jobs and opportunity. The Hyde Park Brewery, sold and shuttered in 1958, is a distant memory. Meat packing plants, such as Krey and Gruensfelder, were closed by the late ’70s.

As other employers left the north side and manufacturing faded, so too did Hyde Park. Between 1990 and 2000, the neighborhood’s population decreased by 24 percent, from 4,917 to 3,741. The losses accelerated in the next decade: Between 2000 and 2010, the population fell 29 percent to 2,668. Empty homes and vacant lots increasingly became a part of the landscape.

Against this backdrop of empty and crumbling homes and factories, entrepreneurs, like Longyear, saw possibility.

Eleven years ago, Denise Ulmer and her husband, Dan, opened the Cornerstone Café, at 1436 Salisbury Street. Dan retired from the IRS; Denise managed the snack shop at a public swimming pool.

The couple never really had any ideas to open a restaurant, Denise Ulmer said. “It’s just kind of funny; he saw this empty building, and he thought it would be a great place for a restaurant.”

The café today operates at a profit, with the Ulmers and several of their children working there. The café draws visitors but also has a lot of local repeat customers that Ulmer feels a close connection to, nearly tearing up when talking about a longtime customer who recently died.

“We love this area,” she said. “The people are so wonderful here, and I don’t ever remember it being anyone but good people here,” she said.


Vanity Gee, program manager for Rebuild Foundation and Art House, said Hyde Park has plenty of misconceptions. “A lot of people who don’t live here have misinformed beliefs about what this neighborhood is like,” she said. “That could deter some businesses from opening here.”

The Rebuild Foundation, at 1419 Mallinckrodt Street, is a Chicago-based nonprofit that operates a community art center for children and adults, and provides entrepreneurial education.

The neighborhood is ready for businesses to move in and grow, she said. The area needs a grocery to allow residents without cars to shop without paying convenience store prices.

Mostly though, Gee believes the best thing that new businesses could offer Hyde Park is jobs. “What is needed is jobs, long-term permanent jobs,” she said.

“Not only do we need job skills training, but we need job placement,” she said.

Directly across the street from the Ulmers’ Cornerstone Café is one of the newest businesses in Hyde Park, the Sun Café, which opened in February. The café, at 1435 Salisbury Street, is operated by Sun Ministries, a nonprofit group established by Terry Goodwin, a former pastor cash advance loan.

The café is the most public face of the group that provides services to the community by helping them learn marketable job skills with on-the-job training, fostering entrepreneurship and encouraging business and home ownership, Goodwin said.

The group helps residents get GEDs, driver’s licenses and obtain job skills by working at one of four businesses owned by the ministry, including the café.

All of the businesses are nonprofit, and the workers who manage them are volunteer missionaries.

“The goal is not to be profitable, the goal is to provide $10-per-hour jobs,” Goodwin said.

“It has to be sustainable so we can keep the lights on, but everything above that goes into creating jobs.”

Julie Longyear of Blissoma also has been busy creating new jobs in Hyde Park, adding three full-time staff in the last month. Blissoma’s products are selling well, Longyear said, with both nationwide and international sales.

Blissoma is doing well enough that Longyear projects the business may soon need more space than can be provided at her current location, and she has started looking at buildings on the market.

She would like to stay in Hyde Park if possible but says there may be some roadblocks to making it happen, saying it is difficult to get construction loans in an area where few similar sales prevent banks from determining collateral value.

Longyear — who also lives in the building her business occupies — said she was lucky the first time she bought in Hyde Park as she found a turn-key building that did not need significant renewal.

“It was a lot easier since this was both my business and my home, and it cost less than either one alone would have cost in another part of town,” she said.

Goodwin of Sun Ministries agreed that it could be difficult to buy a house or other property in Hyde Park unless a person has sufficient cash in hand to pay for renovation out-of-pocket, this despite the fact that restorable buildings can be purchased for as little as $5,000.

The mission itself has purchased several residential properties in the area with the goal of renovating them for use by the organization’s missionaries. With several newly renovated buildings in the neighborhood, banks could have a better guide to property value in the area in the future.


Terrance Holmes, a lifelong resident of Hyde Park and co-owner of Got U Faded, a barbershop at 1430 Salisbury, says business has improved since others have started moving to the neighborhood.

“It’s good to see other entrepreneurs open up, it’s a win-win for everybody,” he said.

For many years, he never even knew the names of fellow business owners in the neighborhood, Holmes said. Now, they communicate and share ideas.

Both Longyear and Goodwin believe there is potential for everyone to thrive in the neighborhood, both longtime residents and newcomers.

One of Sun’s goals is to help in the development of low-income housing and is planning to hold home ownership workshops for current Hyde Park residents.

Longyear has said that in her time in Hyde Park, her neighbors have been very welcoming. When she was looking for building, neighbors even stopped by to try to persuade her to move in, she said.

Anthony Estelle, who described himself as a lifelong resident of Hyde Park, said in the past 10 years, things have gotten better around the neighborhood. Crime is down, and he even sees more children playing in the park and sidewalks.

He would like to see every house in the neighborhood with a family living in it, he said, but knew that it would take some time for the neighborhood to heal.

“Every building here touched somebody’s life in some way, and when you look at them, it seems to twirl you a little bit, but you still come back to the reality of it: We can’t save everything, but we can save what’s around us,” Estelle said.

“Ten years from now, I’d like to walk the street and see every house smiling back at me.”


June 25, 2014

China Local Debt Growth Slows as Economic Expansion Cools - Bloomberg

Filed under: loans, money — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 2:49 pm


June 22, 2014

Filed under: news, prices — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 9:21 am

All those poles and street lights at Weston Rd. and Dennis Ave. are more eyesore than art, readers say.

But some also said we shouldn’t judge artwork that is not quite finished and may be a brilliant addition to the community, once the “illuminated grove” of lights is turned on.

Our Wednesday column was about 10 cement utility poles that recently went up in a small space on the northwest corner of Weston and Dennis, adorned with 36 street lights at various heights and angles.

Toronto Hydro, which is responsible for street lights and poles, was as mystified by them as we were. It investigated and found out it’s an art project commissioned by the city.

We were told the $250,000 project was created by two prominent artists to “evoke the area’s industrial heritage and natural environments, and function as a notable gateway to the Weston-Mt. Dennis community.”

That lit up many readers, most of whom agreed with us that squeezing so many poles and lights into such a small space is dumb and ugly, no matter how pretty the lights may be at night.

“Wasteful and hideous,” said Keiron Spence. “No beauty in this at all. Why not string up $100 of Christmas lights and call it a masterpiece?”

Albert Roffey offered a list of reasons why it’s objectionable, adding that it “looks ugly” and “shows that the city is run by a bunch of lunatics cheapest personal loan rates.”

Greg Sheehan noted that if local residents had been asked, they may have preferred that the $250,000 be spent on parks or other street improvements, and not on a “modulated cloud of light.”

Gordon Mack Scott said we should have kept our opinion to ourselves until the project is finished and questioned our ability to comment on artwork that is beyond our comprehension.

“Would you offer an opinion on a new statue, when only the plinth was in place? Perhaps your legitimate comment in this matter might involve the lack of a nearby sign identifying the project,” he said.

“I would never ask your opinion on a cake that was only half-baked,” said Sheila Rose. “Please go back to this location when the artists have finished their work and take a second look.

“You may still dislike it, but at least you will have seen the finished piece.”


June 14, 2014

Grain higher, livestock higher

Filed under: money, mortgage — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 6:25 am

CHICAGO (AP) — Grain futures were higher Friday on the Chicago Board of Trade.

Wheat for July delivery rose .75 cent to $5.86 a bushel; July corn was 3 cents higher at 4.47 a bushel; July oats were 2.75 cents higher at $3.4725 a bushel; while July soybeans advanced 10.50 cents to $14.2575 a bushel.

Beef and pork were higher on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange free business cards.

August live cattle rose 1.57 cents to $1.4662 a pound; August feeder cattle was 2.30 cents higher at $2.0815 a pound; while July lean hogs rose 1.08 cents to $1.2 a pound.


April 18, 2014

Brewers seeks to rekindle Belgium’s love of beer

Filed under: Uncategorized, house — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 3:18 pm

DWORP, Belgium (AP) — The ruby lettering on the front of the old corner pub “In de Welkom” has peeled almost beyond recognition. Owner Leza Wauters, a tough 87-year-old, is holding on to her business but can’t say how much longer. Sooner or later, yet another bar with a warm “Welcome” will be gone.

Serving local geuze, triples and pils beers for generations, the pub has embodied what the drink means to Belgians — bringing together families and friends with cheers of “sante” and “gezondheid,” gulping down tasty suds before ordering more.

Now, the tables are often empty, a sign of the hard times many pubs like these have fallen upon as Belgians have stopped drinking beer like they used to. The beer industry, meanwhile, has increasingly relied on exporting the world-class beers to far-flung markets.

Not good, they say here.

The Belgian beer federation is trying to rekindle local interest in the drink with a “Proud of our Beers” public awareness campaign, including a tricolor national flag with the middle yellow turned into a glass of beer.

“Belgian beer made in Belgium but not drunk in Belgium is not really Belgian beer anymore,” said Gert Christiaens, the owner of the Oud Beersel brewery, which won a silver medal at the World Beer Cup last week with his geuze, a sour beer made through natural fermentation.

“If it is not in their roots anymore and they cannot pass it on to the next couple of generations, then we’ve lost. We cannot claim the heritage of Belgian beer if nobody knows about it,” he said.

Beer consumption in Belgium is still relatively high — at 74 liters (16 criminal records.2 gallons) a head annually. But that is a 27 percent drop since 1992.

In just about any town or village, pensioners can point out the places were bars used to be, and are now gone. Guidea, the research institute of the industry, says the number of drinking establishments has declined from 38,128 in 1983 to 17,512 in 2012, the last year on record in this nation of 10.5 million.

Exports, meanwhile, have risen, from 5.47 million hectoliters in 2000 to 11.69 million a dozen years later to account for roughly two-thirds of production now.

Sven Gatz, the head of the Belgian Brewers federation, says the overall trend is not good for the local industry.

“You cannot be a strong beer country only exporting beer,” he said at his gilded, baroque headquarters on one of Europe’s finest squares, the Brussels Grand Place, proof of the exalted status beer has in this country.

It’s not only about boosting current sales but about preserving for the future the identity and national heritage that had made the Belgian beers famous in the first place, he argued. In a globalized market, that identity is valuable.

Leza Wauters remembers the good times well. “Oh, we had more than 50 cafes in Dworp,” she said of the bucolic village 15 kilometers (10 miles) south of Brussels, part of a hilly area of pastures whose landscapes, and beers, figured in the paintings of the famous artist Breughel. “It was incredible - it was almost like everyone had a cafe.”

Now the village’s pubs can be counted on two hands, she said.

Her granddaughter Barbara Danis fondly remembers time spent at the “In de Welkom” but recognizes its days may be numbered. Most clients are of an older generation that used to congregate daily in the pubs but that is now fading away.

“You used to have card players who came here every day,” she said. Now, her grandmother complains, those games are over.

Younger clients are tough to attract because they prefer to enjoy drinks at home. They move around mainly by car — and have to heed modern drunk driving laws — whereas clients in older times would walk to their local pub. Laws prohibiting smoking in pubs have also hurt business.

Siene Verhelst, who ducked into the “In de Welkom” after a walk in the surrounding woods to order an amber Westmalle trappist beer, pondered: “You are lucky to be here, because this can be over next week.”

Part of the decline in interest in beer was also due to the growing industrialization of beer production that often alienated locals.

“In the 1960s to the eighties, the bigger breweries took over the midsized breweries, the midsized breweries took over the small brewers and there was consolidation,” said Gatz. That has reduced the amount of choice and severed the sense of identification a local population had with their local brew.

The world’s largest brewer, AB Inbev, is an extreme example. Part of the Belgium-based conglomerate originated in the country but it has become so large that most of its brands are foreign — Budweiser, Corona, Beck’s criminal record search.

There is some hope, however, that the beer culture might be revitalized by what is, ironically, a global trend — the surge in microbreweries.

Next door to Dworp is Buizingen, where Kloris Deville and his dad Bart have turned Den Herberg — “The Inn” — into a thriving little pub over a half dozen years with heaving weekend clientele, partly because they started their own microbrewery in the back.

Bart Deville says he’s produced up to a dozen new beers and is finding huge demand — he has a huge storage room full of a new brew for which he still has to find a fitting name.

Microbreweries have found success across the globe, but Belgians are inspired by their particularly rich and long tradition.

It is what moved Gert Christiaens to drop a career in the telecoms services and become a brewer. Twelve years ago, at the age of 25, he was shocked to hear a bartender tell him that his favorite geuze would soon be extinct, as the brewery had closed down.

“A couple of days later I rang the brewery,” he said, and now Christiaens brews the Oud Beersel gueze himself, winning global prizes along the way and expanding his business to make it sustainable.

“I did not want this heritage of Belgium to disappear,” he said.


AP Video journalist Mark D. Carlson contributed to this story


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