In previous posts we mentioned that Amazon Fresh was going into Country Club Center as a replacement for the shuttered Montgomery Wards/Walmart Store and then later pointed out that the promise has yet to come true.
The other day we got a comment from a reader who wondered if Amazon has backed out of the deal for the spot on the corner of Watt and El Camino. They have their spiffy new building on Watt at El Camino. But it is as empty as the Macy's building across the street. It appears to be just a tax write-off opportunity for an out-of-state company with more money than God. Amazon has apparently drifted away from the notion of self-checkout ("Just Walk Out") shopping.
According to the Business Insider, Amazon is not happy with its concept of Just Walk Out grocery shopping - the costs to create Amazon Fresh stores have been sky high and the Amazon Fresh stores that have been opened have not produced the desired revenues. The concept involves using a "Dash Cart" that would read the UPC codes on the items you take off the shelves as you shop and bag your items. You leave the store and get an emailed receipt sometime after you get home; hopefully the charges are accurate (and good luck with that). The Dash Cart, though, is essentially a grocery cart with a server that communicates with sensors and network switching devices installed in the ceiling of the store. And that takes miles of network cables and wiring and a ton of faith in the reliability of the system and its myriad parts. Anyone who uses a computer at work knows such a system depends on having an IT Guy handy for the inevitable system glitches and for parts that need to be fixed or replaced. Amazon Fresh stores don't have IT Guys at the customer's beck and call. Instead they have maybe one customer service employee at the door whose primary tasks involve product returns that are delay-prone due to the lack of receipts. So the Suits at Amazon HQ up in Seattle pulled the plug on a whole bunch of their new stores, including ours.
Furthermore, the Country Club Center site is less than ideal for the Just Walk Out concept. Just Walk Out might be OK in densely-packed downtowns where workers seek 2 or 3 grab-and-go items for lunch. And it might work in great big apartment complexes with masses of just-in-time, processed-food-obsessed residents within walking distance. But that's not Watt and El Camino, where the commercial real estate industry values the high numbers of passing vehicles per hour. Just Walk Out is a lot more complicated for suburban grocery shopping that typically involves way more than 2 or 3 items. Meanwhile, it is sad but true that a number of walk-up shoppers in the Country Club vicinity are the kind who are inclined to just take stuff off the shelf and walk out.
So now our community is stuck with another failed "something is better than nothing" commercial real estate ghost. This one, all shiny and new, is just as useless as the Saving Center up the street that's been falling apart for lo these many years. Amazon is able to shrug it off; we aren't. Who can be held accountable for that? Well...you could point the finger at the lack of imagination in the commercial real estate industry, which keeps doing the same thing over and over that used to work in the 1960s but doesn't anymore. Or you could assign fault to the County for its lack of vision, its constant kowtowing to the whims of the market, and its groveling to the wishes of developers who could not care less about the community. To be fair, though, doesn't the blame rest on our collective shoulders for standing by and letting it happen? Can we really expect people who lack passion for our community to act in our best interests, especially if we don't call them out for it? Ours is an unincorporated community that does not have local control. Are you OK with that? If not, are you willing to work with others of like mind to achieve control of our own situation? Municipal incorporation won't be easy or cheap, but it can happen if enough people want it.