CompUSA Goes Buh-bye!

December 7, 2007

My friend Rick Yaeger just tweeted some astonishing news about the national computer chain CompUSA. Apparently, after the holiday buying season is over, all 103 of the stores will be closing. For good. From Yahoo:

“Consumer electronics retailer CompUSA said Friday it will close its store operations after the holidays following sale of the company to Gordon Brothers Group LLC, a restructuring firm. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

CompUSA operates 103 stores, which plan to run store-closing sales during the holidays.

Privately held CompUSA, controlled by Mexican financier Carlos Slim Helu’s Grupo Carso SA, said discussions were under way to sell certain stores in key markets. Stores that can’t be sold will be closed.”

All I have to say about this is that thank GOODNESS Apple recently announced plans to open an Apple retail store here next spring/summer. Between January and the opening of the new Apple store however, there will be a huge hole for local merchants to fill. Best Buy will probably pick up a great deal of the slack, but the business potential for the new Apple store in Greensboro just got a whole lot brighter. As a side note, Twitter & Twitterrific wins points once again for the first point of contact for me with breaking news items.

Regular visitors to my blog know that I occasionally dabble in submarine sandwich reviews. I’ve not reviewed a new sub place in a while, so this should serve as a stopgap until the next write-up. In all of my reviews, I use a “Yummie Scale” to rate the overall taste, appearance and value of the sub. At the bottom of this scale is Subway which rates a 1. At the opposite end of the extreme is Dibella’s Old Fashion Subs based in New York and Ohio which rates a 9. I grew addicted to Dibella’s when I went to school at R.I.T. and have never found anything that comes even close to them anywhere else. My friend Talos recently went up north for Thanksgiving and was kind enough to bring back Dibella’s subs for all of us at the Iconfactory, which gave me a chance to do this detailed guide explaining just what makes Dibella’s so good.

With my Dibella’s Godfather sub in hand (thanks to Talos), I made the rounds to some of the sub shops I frequent around Greensboro. The three that I chose were Giacomo’s Italian Market on New Garden Road, Subway (does it matter where?) and Jimmy John’s at the Quaker Village Shopping Plaza. I ordered the same basic Italian sub at each location to try and level the playing field as much as possible. The first tell-tale sign of a good sub is the cross section. Click the thumbnail image here to get a detailed look at the four subs by cross section as well as how they stack up by price.

Everyone from students to working folk appreciate the value of a buck. How that buck stretches when it comes to subs varies from place to place. This photo shows the dramatic difference of just what six bucks will get you around the Triad and how that compares to Dibella’s. If anyone knows a place in Greensboro or Winston that has 14″ subs for $7.50, please write and let me know.

The key to any good submarine sandwich is the bread. In my opinion, as your humble sub reviewer, sub rolls should be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Some places like Subway have what amounts to pathetic excuses for bread and it’s important that you know the difference. The sub places around the Triad seem to all use similar bread recipes and it’s starting to tick me off. If you own a deli, for the love of the sub, look here and study well. Our stomachs will thank you later.

So there you have it. The next time I get a chance to write up a Triad Sub Review, you can refer back to this handy comparison chart to get a better sense of all those things I’ll be talking about. Of course, you may not even enjoy submarine sandwiches, in which case you probably didn’t even read this far in the first place. What do I look like a mind reader?

If you listened to Brad & Britt’s “interview” this morning of Ann Coulter, then what you heard wasn’t so much of an interview, so much as a 15 minute joke published over public airwaves. Brad & Britt evidently tried to take the “high road” and not go toe to toe with this disgusting excuse for a pundit and what we got was the usual hate spewing rhetoric that went unanswered and unchallenged while she shopped her latest book.

I called into the station to give my thoughts on the entire matter, but when I asked the producer who’s idea it was to put her on, he told me that they try to showcase both sides of the “argument” to try and be fair. I laughed so hard at the notion Ann Coulter and “fairness” used in the same sentence that I simply hung up. I’d love to know when 101.1 FM Talk has ever had anyone on Brad & Britt’s show from the left who is as extreme as Coulter. Because for the 2 years I’ve been listening, I can’t remember them interviewing anyone who called for the murder of public officials on the right, or who issues unilateral statements of hate against all Republicans. If I’m wrong, please let me know.

The worst part is that after she was off the air, the duo spent the next half our segment berating her and claiming that they needed a shower. So they’ll talk smack about her when the segment is done, but not while everyone is actually listening. Brilliant. I love Brad & Britt in the morning, but not when they do crap like this. Very disappointing.

FM Talk 101.1 Dumps Fox Noise

September 10, 2007

Imagine my surprise when I tuned into Brad & Britt this morning and the familiar Fox news bumper with the laughable “Fair and Balanced” tag line was replaced with the soothing tones of ABC News. Yes, it seems that FM Talk 101.1 WZTK has opted out of their contract with Fox to supply them with their on-air news updates in favor of the “World leader in news.” I called the station to confirm and they indeed told me that their contract with Fox was done.

I never personally heard an on-air Fox report on 101.1 that seemed overly biased, but I have witnessed it many times on Fox News. Personally, any company that decides to deny Rupert Murdoch even the tiniest piece of our world’s media inter-web, is okay by me. Now if we could just get them to do something about Michael “Weiner” Savage…

Greensboro Gets StreetSmart

September 2, 2007

Mercedes-Benz and Smart are currently touring the country to give eager fans of the Smart Fortwo an early look. Various models of the automobile have been a hit in Europe since it debuted in 1998. Its micro size gives the car an ability to park almost anywhere, which tends to come in handy on the narrow streets of European capitals. The “StreetSmart” tour, as is being called in the U.S., finally came to Greensboro this weekend, and so my friends Talos & Rachel Tsui and I packed up and headed out to the Shops at Friendly center to get a good look and test drive the Fortwo.

The sign-up and waiting period for the test drive lasted 2 full hours. Thankfully the weather was cooler than it’s been in recent memory, with gray skies that kept the beating sun off of us and the hundreds of other people waiting to get their hands on the wheel. We queued up through a high-tech trailer lined with safety videos and technical illustrations of the car as we wound our way out back, closer and closer to the car. The entire event reminded me of being in line for Space Mountain at Disney World, except there were no screaming kids and it was free.

The Fortwo has what Smart calls “automated manual transmission”. If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Once inside the car, the Smart representative informed me that the transmission does more work for you than a manual, but I quickly found it isn’t an true automatic either. With the push of a button, you can leave the car in “automatic” and it will shift in and out of the appropriate gears. However, at any time, you can begin to shift manually using either of the paddle shifters nested on the steering wheel, or via the more traditional shifter on the floor. I quickly found that shifting manually was not only more fun, but resulted in a smoother drive as well. I’m told the car is still geared for European roads and the shift timing will be improved for automatic mode prior to its official launch.

Overall I was surprised at how roomy the car was. I’m a big guy, and yet I had enough space to be comfortable, and was able to see out over the ultra-small hood and side windows easily. I had the pleasure of driving the cabrio convertible, which was especially fun on the streets behind the Shops at Friendly. According to Smart, the car will start at prices under $12K and should get an average of 40 mpg in the city, which is pretty good. The European market also has the option of a diesel engine, which I’m starting to get keen on thanks to more info from my friend Corey. No telling yet if the diesel version will be available in the United States.

All in all, the Smart Fortwo was a pleasure to drive and look at. Although the visual design of the Smart can’t help but bring a toy to mind, the car itself does not feel toyish in any way. The controls, materials and handling are all what you would expect from Mercedes-Benz. As an in-town commuter car, I think it would be ideal. Trips to work, the grocery store, and errands would all shine with the Fortwo. Obviously I’m not sure how it would hold up on long trips, or extended drives on highways crowded with impatient drivers. It was encouraging to see so many people waiting in line to test drive the Smart. Given the ever climbing price of gas, and the U.S.’s seemingly endless need for huge SUVs, the Smart may very live up to its name and help bring Americans, driving stylishly, into the 21st century.

Twice this week, my friend Talos spotted a Google Car cruising the Greensboro streets. The first time was at the intersection of Wendover and Penny, and the second was further up Wendover near Spring Garden. Both times he managed to snap picts of the high-tech automobile thanks to his trusty iPhone. The gadget blog Gizmodo first reported on Google’s picture-snapping auto fleet some time ago. The company has been criss-crossing the nation to document street views of major cities for its online mapping site.

So if you’re driving in the Triad and spot a car with a strange looking periscope thing strapped to its roof, make sure you smile nice and pretty for the camera. You never know, you might be immortalized forever on the pages of the world’s most popular search engine. Remember, no road rage people!!

Un-Friendly Avenue

August 24, 2007

Tonight after work I swung down Friendly Ave. to pick up dinner from P.F. Changs at the Friendly Center Shopping Plaza. The good news is the road work that has been going on for the better part of a year two years seems to be coming to a close. The bad news is the section of West Friendly from Westridge Road down to the Shops at Friendly Center is a classic example of civil planning gone horribly wrong.

Although the city technically widened Friendly by 2 full lanes, driving on it actually feels more cramped and crowded than it did before. This is because of the new median divider the size of the Neutral Zone that somehow made its way smack-dab into the middle of this once beautiful thoroughfare. Left turns can only be taken at certain points along the median, creating an almost one-way street effect that is anything but pleasant. God help the poor folks who live along this stretch of Friendly. Getting to and from their homes must now be a little slice of paved hell. If I was in their shoes, I’d be down at City Hall raising cain like there’s no tomorrow.

Sometimes I just don’t understand why cities decide to alter roads, change traffic flows and generally screw things up for us little people. If Friendly had simply had one lane added to either side, and left the center turn lane alone, the new construction would have been quite welcome. Instead we have confusion and bottlenecking. I was looking forward to the completion of Painter Blvd., but now I’m not so sure.

This was going to be a nice, in-depth post about the brand new Fresh Market that opened today at Jefferson Village on New Garden Street. The store completed its move from Quaker Village and had its grand opening this morning. I was looking forward to taking loads of great, colorful pictures to show off how awesome this new location was and expounding on the wonderful customer service that the Fresh Market is known for.

Two things conspired against this. The first was a manager who seemed more interested in speaking with Fresh Market big-wigs and employees than customers, told me she’d “prefer that I not take pictures”. This was only after I told her it was for my local blog. Had I been an employee or a member of the press, then I could have snapped away I suppose.

The second was that after wandering for a good 45 minutes, I simply wasn’t that impressed. Sure the store is brand new, and has much more space, has better parking and looks wonderful, but there was nothing new. My wife and I were really looking forward to the market expanding their meat offerings to include venison and bison, having new fresh salad recipes, and some new exotic produce. None of this materialized however, which was disappointing to say the least. For selection, Whole Foods in Winston Salem seems to have the Fresh Market beat. Its distance, price, and tiny isles work against them however and we’ll most likely stick with our FM.

Taken as a whole, The Fresh Market really is a wonderful place to shop. It might be a bit more pricey, but the quality is well worth it. Plus, it is staffed by some of the nicest people in Greensboro (with the exception of the afore mentioned manager). The sushi lady and elderly bagging gentleman (wish I knew their names!) bring a smile to our faces each and every time we walk in. We’ll be back, I just wish I could have shown you the place. I suppose you’ll just have to go visit it for yourself, which I guess is the point.

It’s All Real-ative

April 30, 2007

On Saturday, Mindy, Rachel, Talos and I, had fun joining thousands of North Carolinians checking out the Greater Greensboro Builder Association’s 2007 Parade of Homes. We visited many impressive houses during the day, but the jewel of the parade was the 8600 sq. ft. property from R&K who’s listing price was $1.5 million. Houses in this range are always impressive, but this one stood out from all others in recent memory.

Obviously $1.5 mil. for a home is much more than 95% of us can afford. The house at Toscana Trace featured three full kitchens, a basement “playground” including a movie quality home theater, home gym, full bar, billiard room, wine cellar and a patio that was both huge and beautiful. Hundreds of people were filing in and out of the house admiring every aspect of it. We heard “ooohs” and “aaahhs” the entire time and left in a state of amazement. $1.5 million dollars evidently gets you a heckva lot of very cool house these days. That is unless you live someplace like, oh say, California.

I had been posting some picts of the house on Twitter Saturday night and friend Arlo Rose responded that the price tag of $1.5 mil. barely gets you a foot in the door in California. I knew prices there were high from Craig, who lives in Laguna Beach. But after a bit of research, I really wasn’t prepared to learn just how much the people of California pay just for the privilege of living on the west coast.

This 1040 sq. ft. home in sunny Palo Alto that Arlo sent me lists for almost the exact same price at the 8600 sq. ft. mansion in Summerfield. Yes, you read that right, this 2 bedroom home is only 1040 square feet. Its kitchen is about the same size as the Toscana home’s screened-in porch. If you’d like to see what passes for a “Patio” in California, just click here. Step out the back door, take 12 paces and you’re nose to nose with your neighbor’s fence. Not exactly the sprawling back yard one had hoped for. Click the image to the left to get a detailed view of the house’s “master bath” where the toilet is evidently 3 inches from the jetted tub.

People who live in California will tell you they wouldn’t trade it for the world, but I think all that sunshine is starting to go to their head. How else do you explain people wanting to live where wild fires and mud slides happen at the drop of a hat? Who cares about the high cost of living when you’ve got earthquakes to worry about? Sure NC gets the occasional hurricane every now and then, but the Triad itself is far enough from the coast not to have to lose any sleep. North Carolina may not be nearly as glamorous as sunny CA, but our beaches are just as pretty, we’ve got wonderful mountains and friendly people. I might just be a crazy “hick”, but if I actually had $1.5 mil. burning a hole in my pocket, I’d rather have a house like the one on Toscana Trace. Maybe that’s just me.

This past Saturday, Anthony and I headed toward downtown Greensboro and Tate Street to check out the submarine offerings of Manhattan Pizza and Subs. The shop was recommended to me a couple of times and I finally decided to check it out. I was looking forward to visiting a sandwich shop that was outside my normal hunting grounds, but I’m sorry to report that what I found left both of us less than enthusiastic.

The Location

Manhattan Pizza and Subs is located practically on top of the University of North Carolina Greensboro’s campus in the heart of Tate Street. Being so close to the college, Manhattan seems to have a clientele built in, which might help to explain how the place stays in business. When we arrived, we actually almost missed the restaurant completely. Manhattan’s street sign is faded and worn, with only a single large neon “Subs” sign on the building itself. If I had not been looking for it, I think we would have driven right by. This isn’t something a restaurant owner wants to hear, but I’m afraid it’s the truth.

Like the sign, the interior of Manhattan was a bit worse for wear. Its obvious the shop has been around a while and the seating, while spacious, was a bit on the run-down side. It seems as if the “high traffic” location next to UNCG has taken its toll on the little sub shop over the years and for some reason, the owners have not kept up with renovations. The entire dining area could use an update or at the very least a good scrub down. This, plus the fact that the dining room seats both smoking and non-smoking customers, lowered my expectations right away.

The Subs

As usual, I spied the classic Italian deli style sub on the menu and ordered an 8″ hoagie along with the Manhattan Special. The only difference between the Italian and the Special was the addition of roast beef on the latter. The size of the sub and its appearance seemed decent, especially considering the price. Both subs were just $4.29 and had a good amount of meat and cheese. Compared to the $6.00 sub I ordered at Giacomo’s from my previous review, I thought I was in for a bargain.

Unfortunately, unlike the fresh ingredients at Giacomo’s, the meats and cheese used by Manhattan were not particularly flavorful. The roast beef wasn’t very rare and didn’t pack a lot of that herby flavor you expect from a good deli roast beef. In fact, the addition of the roast beef didn’t seem to make any difference in taste from the Italian Sub and the Manhattan Special, both came with lettuce, tomato, onion and house dressing. The dressing itself tasted like a store bought Italian salad dressing and definitely over powered the natural tastes of the sub. When all was said and done, I would have gladly paid a bit more to have higher quality meats and cheeses on my sub instead of the rather bland fare we received. On the bright side, the bread Manhattan offers was indeed nice. I dare say it was homemade and was crunchy, fresh and just right for a sub roll.

The Wrap Up

There is a big part of me that would just like to report that Manhattan was a decent place to eat this past Saturday. The owners were pleasant and friendly, and seemed to care about the food they served. Manhattan has continued to offer up sandwiches and pizza to the good students of UNCG despite the fact that there is both a Subway and a Jimmy John’s Subs not half a block from their front door. I would have no problem recommending them and looking past the decor of the shop if the food had been outstanding, but it just wasn’t.

While Anthony and I ate, several students came and went. Many seemed to be ordering slices of pizza or munchie foods like cheese sticks and onion rings. Manhattan is what it is – a college joint. It caters to students on a budget and offers quick, standard food fare to those on the go. Due to its proximity to the campus, I suspect it will do brisk business into the future, but its simply not good enough to travel more than a mile or so for. As we were leaving Tate Street and heading back home, we drove past a place called Yum Yum’s that was packed to the gills with people. I’m told that its “the place” to eat for UNCG. I wonder if they have subs…

Think I’m off my rocker about Manhattan? Wanna send me to your favorite Triad sub shop? Post your suggestions in the comments thread and give me the low-down!