All this, of course, is due to advances in drilling technology coupled with high global oil prices, a synergistic pair of circumstances that have increased production - and employment - in a number of key areas nationally, including the nearby Eagle Ford shale, for which the increases in productivity have just been jaw-dropping.
And then there's the curious case of the Webster Steak and Shake, which was recently constructed in fine franchise form, but then never opened. It sits there not far from us (you can see it as you drive on NB IH-45 near the new NASA Road fly-over) like a virginal retail monument to... something we're not quite sure of.
What could these two things possibly have in common?!
Well, there's a chance that they are all part of the same tightly-interconnected phenomenon that sent me hiking to no less than three different Clear Lake grocery stores last week in order to obtain the type of milk that I buy for my family (organic skim).
|None whatsoever. I'm not trying to accuse any one g-store in particular here - this is happening with all of them. I've greyed out identifying marks in these photos so as not to appear to be picking on any retail chain in particular.|
|I'm a great fan of this brand of granola bar because they are reasonably priced while at the same time lacking the usual low-nutritional-quality carbohydrate fillers that characterize so many other brands. But finding them on the shelves? Difficult.|
|This scene may not look significant to you until you understand why it's only ONE lineage of this pomegranate juice that is missing here (and which is almost impossible to obtain locally, by the way). The product that usually fills the gap to the left is the plain straight-up stuff - the pure pomegranate juice. The others are diluted with other juices such as cherry or grape. Pomegranate juice is extremely expensive but is widely believed to convey significant health benefits, so the consumers who spring for it are educated and not so dumb as to spend their money on a cut or watered-down version of the product, which is arguably what these other choices are.|
- They might all reflect workforce availability which has been impacted by the lure of great jobs and good money in the revived Texas oilfield, both within the producing areas themselves, and in spin-off industries, of which Houston has a mother lode.
- It has been speculated that the Steak and Shake was built but then failed to open because the operators may be having difficulty finding the people they need to staff it.
- I suspect (but have no proof) that this lack of stocking across multiple grocery stores may also reflect significant staffing problems. It does not matter what time of day I shop: if I go early in the morning, the shelves are empty from the night before, and no staff can be seen actively stocking them. If I go mid-day, a few stocking clerks can be seen in the store, but many shelves are still empty. I have not been able to identify any local store where I can pick a specific time of day or a day of week and consistently find product on the shelves.
- Tellingly, I now tend to see staff working to stock shelves during peak grocery rush hours - which is extremely inconvenient as huge fork-lifted pallets of stock block grocery aisles and exacerbate shopper congestion in the stores. I suspect this might be happening because the managers cannot find a sufficient number of staff who are willing to work the night shift, which is the time when most re-stocking traditionally occurred.
There are shortages of other products as well, including certain meats, cheeses, and snack foods, but they all have one thing in common: the products I've found to be missing (including the sub-set depicted above) are generally higher-quality, more nutritionally dense than the bulk of the factory-farmed, highly-processed, mass-produced big-brand alternatives that comprise the bulk of any given grocery store's offerings. So there may be a two-fold issue manifesting here - an employment shortage PLUS the fact that the Clear Lake's healthiest consumer segment is chronically underserved in the marketplace to start with.
And we were painfully aware of that second part already, of course. Several years ago when HEB Clear Lake Market opened to great pomp and ceremony, I attended a "grand opening" meet-and-greet that was held by their corporate management staff (not the store management - the higher-ups). I spoke to this one important-looking lady in particular and asked the following question:
"It's great that you've moved into this new space, but why, why, why didn't you make it into a Central Market instead of into an ordinary HEB store?!?!"
She looked at me with this grin that was both cheery and absolutely dismissive and replied,
"Our market research indicates that this is not a health-conscious community."
I was completely stunned. Struck dumb. I was so shocked by the directness and decisiveness and lack of political-correctness of her reply that I couldn't even muster a feeble rebuttal. I simply wobbled away like a cartoon character whose head had just been clashed between two cymbals.
|I couldn't find an example cartoon showing my beloved Bugs Bunny, so here's a low-res partial screengrab from this site.|
I'm not sure how this conclusion was reached. Here in "greater Clear Lake" we have a highly educated population concentrated largely in the medical, petrochemical, and space sciences industries, and yet what falls out of who-knows-what formulaic analysis is this notion that our scientifically-apprised residents prefer to stuff their collective faces with cheese puffs and the like.
Meanwhile, local competition for nutritionally-dense alternatives is becoming downright ridiculous. I know what health-conscious people have started to do, because I've started to do it myself: once you locate a desired product that is actually in stock, you simply buy out the entire shelf, because you know it's not going to be there on your next trip to the store. But this, of course, makes things worse for everyone else who is attempting to buy normal weekly quantities of those same products.
So on every recent occasion where I've gone shopping only to be greeted by this particular comestible consumer vacuum, I have muttered under my breath, "D*mn the Eagle Ford, anyway, for doing this to local labor supply!" but grocery stocking labor is probably only part of the supply and demand equation here.
At any rate, if this were our worst problem in life, we'd have to declare ourselves to be in pretty fine shape. Still, I look forward to a future when we have better access to the healthier alternatives that so many of us obviously demand.
|Some people hear this message from their doctors.|
The rest of us simply use common sense, and we try to grocery shop accordingly, with only limited success.
(Microsoft clip art.)