Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Debit Hangover

Campus Corner has been a popular nighttime destination in Norman for decades.

Signs advertising daily discounts can be found outside of almost any Norman bar.

“If they want to, college kids can drink cheaply all day long,” said John Howell, manager at Blu Fine Wine and Food. And, for the most part, he’s right. Adults age 19 to 25 often take their tiny paychecks straight to the bars, priding themselves on finding two very important things; discounts and a good time. And yet, the two are seemingly unable to coexist in todays clubs and bars. Josh Brimer, a senior at OU and active member of Delta Upsilon fraternity, said that he rarely looks at the number on his bill at the end of the night. “I just hand over my debit card and sign my name when I get it back.”

Countless online articles rail early Twenty Somethings for spending their entire paychecks on restaurants and bars. said that the age group spends as much as 200 dollars a week on alcohol alone. The Baby Boomers would be aghast at such a price tag. According to a 1970 Census, the average beer in their day costed 37.5 cents. For men, who WebMD said will be legally drunk after about five beers, that’s a whopping 2 dollars tab. Howell said he knows what is changing. “If you go to a bar and buy an Absolut Soda for 10 bucks, and you and your date have three drinks each, you get a 60 dollar bar tab and don’t even have a buzz. You wonder, ‘How have I spent that much?’ It’s because we have to pay our rent.”

With the rise in popularity of the ultra modern, ultra hip lounge bars, comes a rise in drink prices. Manager Hunter Mankin of Seven47 said that their customers often don’t realize how much money went into creating the upscale atmosphere of the club. “We have six flat screen TVs, all with a separate cable box. Those aren’t free. Neither is the modern leather seating or the cleaning crew or the track lights.” Howell said the million-dollar atmosphere created is often only unconsciously evaluated, and patrons only go as far as liking or disliking it.

Howell explained that, in business 101 terms, bars often take a large sum of money to build an upscale environment, and they jack up the prices on drinks to pay that money back. Mark Graves, assistant manager at Cellars Wine and Spirits, said he doesn’t see the logic in spending 20 dollars on two drinks just for the atmosphere. “I could spend 200 dollars [at Cellars], then throw a party at home for me and all of my friends, and still have a lot left over.”

Also, the cost of getting a drink to a customer’s table is summed up in one word; taxes. Howell goes into depth about all of the taxes he must pay to get alcohol to Blu. He said there are shipping fees, taxes for storing the liquor in warehouses, taxes for bartering the liquor overseas, taxes for sending it on a train, fees for sending it from one store to another, and an Oklahoma-specific tax that is five percent higher for liquor than food. “It’s a miracle that for a little over five dollars, you can have a 20 oz pint of beer, considering what it took to get it here,” he said.

While the state Liquor Control Board shows that drink prices have increased the most in the last 10 years, Mankin said he’s only noticed a definite change in spending since the economy crashed. “People used to spend 50 to 100 dollars a night, and now the average bar tab is around 20 dollars.” Makin also noticed that lately, Campus Corner isn’t popular until two hours later than normal; around 12:45 or 1 a.m. “In the [fraternity] house,” Brimer said,” most guys will go to someone’s place, do shots, drink a bunch of cheap beer with their date, and then just go to the bars to dance. They don’t really drink a whole lot while they’re out.”

Makin says this is the best way to save money when a twenty something wants to have a good time. “I know our drinks are pricey, but you’re not coming here for that. Do what you need to do before you get here, then we’ll provide the music, food, and atmosphere you can’t get at home.”

Howell disagrees. He said that the best way to avoid overspending is to pay with cash, because the money a customer spends is more tangible. And he adds that, even though it seems “grandma-y”, searching the local paper or event magazine for drink specials is the best way to keep a bar tab down to the minimum. “Everyone’s got the same mousetraps to get you in the door. As long as you take advantage of those, and only those, you’ve got six ways to Tuesday to have a good night.”

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Everyone’s heard the old moniker “Adapt or die”. Its necessity created a mainstream in which many big fish swim comfortably, and all smaller fish stayed out of the way or inevitably succumbed to the circle of life. In the way of groceries, organic produce is standing the test of mainstream life. Teetering between the ease of convenience and the ethics of sustainability, many Oklahomans work to find ways to make their products more accessible to a superstore world.

Kathy Downing and her husband own a sustainable ranch near Tulsa, and said that selling food cheaply is difficult because they are a small, family run business. “We just can’t afford to charge the same prices as the industrial farms,” she said, “but at the same time, we don’t want to take the ethical shortcuts they do to be able to offer that price.” Downing said that she feels the extra price is worth it, to save yourself from all of the toxins you’d put in your body if you ate industrial meats.

“It’s really hard for a kid in college with no money to buy 7 dollar loafs of bread every week,’ says Roger Sawkins, a senior at OU. The price seems to have been a main deterrent for many who wish to purchase sustainable foods. Sara Kaplan, co-owner of Native Roots Market, says that she thinks that for some, it will always come down to price. “But if they truly care about their health, it will save them money in the long run,” she adds.

Doug Rader, an employee of Native Roots since it’s opening, said he definitely notices a difference between the regulars and the ones who only come in sporadically. “Those that buy food unprocessed and unpackaged, they’re the ones that have the best skin, they’re the ones that have the most energy, they’re the ones who aren’t as sick as often,” he said. When asked about his own eating habits, he confessed to still enjoying resteraunts and fast food every once in a while. “Late at night we don’t have any options except for Taco Bell, McDonalds, and I-HOP, so it’s difficult to work organics into that,” he said.

The sustainability committee at the University of Oklahoma noticed this problem as well, and decided to be the ones who ignite change. Along with many other green efforts across the campus, they began buying the eggs and meats from local farmers, such as the Downing family. Downing said, “It’s been great working with a major client like OU, but of course we’re so excited that we get to be apart of improving the quality of the food those kids eat every day.”

Kaplan said they are taking steps to improve the convenience of organic foods as well. "We've just begun selling frozen organic pizzas made by a friend of mine," she said. Rader said he thinks this is a good way to ease people into the organic mindset. "It hopefully helps them say 'Hey, organic pizza really isn't that hard to make', and then hopefully they'll make it a part of their everyday lives."

Rader also said he thinks that for organic foods to become mainstream, shoppers will need to change the way they view food selection. "People are so used to going to megamarts and getting everything in one store and having it look fresh," he said, "but they need to remember that, in nature, fruits and nuts and berries and buffalo are never found in the same pasture." Hopefully, he said, we can reclaim our roots to nature and become better, healthier, happier people.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010