Wine country goes back to basics — and online — as pandemic upends business

Selecting a bottle of wine to share over dinner was easy enough before the pandemic. Anyone might worry about paying too much or sounding silly when ording a fancy-sounding choice, but the ritual of picking a bottle to share, or glass to sip, had a way of making any meal out feel special.

That was until about five months ago. Now the idea of ordering wine, dining out or engaging in routine social gatherings, like birthday parties or anniversaries, involves weighing the potential risk of a run-in with the novel coronavirus, which the U.S. still struggles to tamp down.

The crisis has led U.S. households to rein in spending, hobbled entire industries and threatened the ruin of jobs. In other words, it’s the kind of public-health and economic shock that’s one for the history books. It might even be driving Americans to drink more.

The problem is they’re drinking more at home. And that’s had a sobering effect on much of the U.S. wine industry, which after a near quarter-century of growth, saw domestic wine sales drop 5% over the past 12 months to about $48 billion in June, according to data from industry research firm bw166.

Experts singled out March 20 as the day everything changed, when California, Illinois, New York and other states issued stay-at-home orders that came thundering down across the nation, forcing bars, restaurants and wine-tasting rooms and other nonessential businesses to shutter as authorities raced to control a wave of COVID-19 infections.

“When you add both the shutdowns of tasting rooms and closures of restaurants, 44% of sales fell out from underneath the wineries in one night,” Rob McMillan, an executive vice president and founder of Silicon Valley Bank’s wine division, told MarketWatch.

“It was a bad day to wake up.”

Like many other industries, wineries remain in the midst of an upheaval sparked by a global pandemic that’s been brutal on lower-income workers, but sparing Wall Street, where U.S. stock benchmarks, including the S&P 500 index,
trade near record territory.

It’s not that consumers stopped drinking wine. Rather, diners who might in better times split a bottle at a restaurant, suddenly were rushing their carts through big-box stores and grocery aisles to fill up on necessities, including wine.

“Nationwide, retail sales blew up,” said Gary Obligacion, the general manager at the Post Ranch Inn, a luxury resort in Big Sur, Calif., that overlooks the Pacific Ocean, of the shift to at-home wine drinking at the onset of the pandemic. “People were in panic mode,” he said.

Post Ranch and its Sierra Mar restaurant recently reopened after a nearly three-month shutdown. For now, that still means only serving guests staying at the resort, who can order meals in their rooms or book at the Sierra Mar’s outdoor deck. But the restaurant’s thick, multipage wine book has been replaced by iPads that, like any wine bottles purchased for a table, are sanitized within view of diners.

“It’s all being done in a format for peace of mind around health and safety,” said Mark Buzan, Sierra Mar’s wine director, of the new protocols that make “any romantic notion about bringing a dusty, old bottle up from the cellar to present to a guest” a thing of the past.  

Two U.S. wine industries

The puzzle for smaller, premium winemakers to solve has been how to reach customers when retail sales have been booming, but mostly benefiting the nation’s wine Goliaths.

“There’s two wine industries,” McMillan said. “Roughly 75% comes through the largest 13 wineries,” he said, pointing to top sellers that include the E&J Gallo Winery, The Wine Group and Constellation Brands STZ. “They make wine, sell it to wholesalers, restaurants or grocery stores, and then it goes to the consumer,” he said. “The smaller wineries don’t get much wholesale attention.” 

What has been working, for some smaller producers, has been efforts to reach customers directly to spur sales, including online through their own websites, instead of relying on restaurants and others to create a buzz.

That’s meant repurpurposing staff and going back to the basics, including hitting the phones to drive sales. “It’s not like small wineries figured out overnight how to do outreach for online retail,” McMillan said. “For some, the only thing on their website was a shopping cart icon.”

This chart breaks down how sales have shifted at many U.S. wineries after shelter-in-place orders took hold, as producers ramped up business through wine clubs, online and over the phone.

Wine buying shift in 2020


Further into summer, as more restaurants reopened under new social-distancing rules, off-premise alcohol sales remained robust.

Spirits have led the charge higher, with sales jumping 29.3% for the week ended July 18, versus a year prior, while wine sales rose 19.7%, according to the latest data from Nielsen.

“A lot about wine is the story,” said Russ Colombo, a senior vice president at Baker Boyer, a lender in Walla Walla, Wash., focused on financing smaller wineries in the region. “The first bottle you sell or place at a restaurant is difficult enough,” he said, but after that “it’s all about momentum.”

For winemakers able to drum up their own support and sell directly to customers, a bonus is that they don’t have to pay a middleman, which can mean about twice as much profit for a producer when compared with wholesale transactions, Colombo said.

On the other hand, Colombo also called wineries “one of the toughest things to finance,” not only because of the fierce competition, but also because winemaking takes talent, a long view and probably luck.

“Winemakers are good at agriculture,” he said. “But for higher-end red wine, even before it hits the market, it could be two years. And in those two years, the world changes a lot.”

Wine Facts

One boon for smaller producers during the national tug of war over reopening, face masks and social-distancing restrictions has been visitors flocking to nearby wineries and vineyards for a bit of respite.

“Most high-end wineries that have tasting rooms are going to the reservations system,” Colombo said, adding that catering to fewer customers due to health-and-safety rules has been a positive for sales. “Winemakers, they find they can spend more time with their customers, tell their story and establish a personal relationship.”

And yet, there’s plenty of uncertainty. The earliest part of the 2020 harvest has kicked off in California’s wine country, while the state on Thursday reached the grim milestone of becoming the first state to report 600,000 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic was first detected in the U.S. earlier this year.

“What I can tell you is that it’s been an excellent growing season. The crop loads look average to high and you have to find homes for all of that fruit,” said Jennifer Putnam, chief executive at Napa Valley Grapegrowers. “But it’s a pretty intricate dance we do. You have to have a healthy workforce, good weather and people supporting Napa Valley agriculture and wines.”

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‘Fortnite’ maker accuses Apple of illegal monopolistic practices in tech battle royale that appears headed for a courtroom

The maker of “Fortnite” has launched a Battle Royale against Apple Inc., accusing the tech giant of seeking to “unlawfully maintain its monopoly.”

Epic Games said Thursday it filed legal papers against Apple

after the iPhone maker booted the company’s hit game “Fortnite” out of its App Store, and a lawyer representing Epic confirmed that the complaint was filed in the Northern District of California. Apple removed the game after Epic began offering players a discount on in-game purchases if they opted to make a direct payment and not buy their digital offerings through the App Store.

The game maker came prepared for a fight, debuting a video that spoofs Apple’s classic 1984 advertisement, which urged customers to oppose conformity and prevent International Business Machines Inc.

from dominating the computer market. Back then, Apple warned that without a change, the year 1984 could mirror George Orwell’s dystopian “1984” novel; Epic Games cautions in its ad that 2020 could come to embody “1984” as well.

Apple charges developers 30% of purchases made through the App Store, and 15% after the first year of subscriptions. This has been the focus of antitrust investigations into the company, which is worth nearly $2 trillion thanks to the money it collects from the iPhone and the apps and services that are delivered through it. Epic has long tried to avoid paying such fees, previously launching its own store to get around Alphabet Inc.’s


similar Play Store that is bundled with Google’s rival Android operating system.

Google booted Fortnite from the Play Store late Thursday after Epic Games rolled out the same discounted direct-payment option on its app for Android users. Those with Android devices will still be able to play the game by downloading it through Epic’s own app store, but they won’t be able to play through the official store offered by Google, which also keeps a 30% cut of digital purchases made on apps downloaded through the Play Store.

“While Fortnite remains available on Android, we can no longer make it available on Play because it violates our policies,” Google said in a statement quoted by The Verge.

See also: ‘Fortnite’ spurned Android, then Google found a major security flaw in its app

Fortnite had racked up more than 125 million app installations and more than $1 billion in player spending on Apple iOS devices alone through mid-May, according to mobile-app research company Sensor Tower.

After Epic publicly announced Thursday morning that it would offer users on Apple’s iOS operating system a discount on purchases made through their own store instead of through Apple, the Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant removed the app from the App Store. In response, Epic filed a lawsuit against Apple that says it seeks “to end Apple’s unfair and anticompetitive actions that Apple undertakes to unlawfully maintain its monopoly” involving app distribution and in-app purchases.

An Apple spokesperson said in a statement that Epic Games introduced the feature without the company’s approval and did so “with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments.”

The statement also said that Apple will “make every effort to work with Epic to resolve these violations so they can return ‘Fortnite’ to the App Store.”

An Epic spokeswoman confirmed the suit in an email to MarketWatch.

As part of its blitz against Apple, the company has launched a page on its website with the tagline “#FreeFortnite” that tells customers to use this hashtag in support of Epic by engaging with the App Store’s official Twitter account. The hashtag was trending on Twitter within an hour of the site’s launch.

Epic says on its website that players who’ve already downloaded “Fortnite” to their Apple mobile devices “should have no issues continuing to play Chapter 2 – Season 3’s 13.40 update.” Once the new season begins, Epic expects that players will be able to play the older content but not access new material.

For more: Apple and Facebook could be most vulnerable among the antitrust suspects

Apple’s fee policies around the App Store have come under increased scrutiny from both developers and regulators recently. Big developers including Spotify Technology SA

have looked for ways to avoid paying Apple a cut of subscription fees, and the developers of Hey, a new email app, publicly battled with Apple in June after the email service rolled out its app without an option to buy subscriptions from within the app. Apple and Hey’s developers eventually reached a compromise.

Regulators and lawmakers in the U.S. and Europe have also questioned the company’s App Store policies and whether they stifle competition.

Epic argues in its complaint that Apple “harms app developers’ relationship with their customers” through its mandatory involvement in all transactions since customers “often blame Epic” for problems related to payments. “In addition, Apple is able to obtain information concerning Epic’s transactions with its own customers, even when Epic and its own customers would prefer not to share their information with Apple,” the complaint said.

Evercore ISI analyst Amit Daryanani said in a note to clients late Thursday that Apple collects an estimated $30 million monthly from Fortnite. The company generated $13.2 billion last quarter in revenue for its services segment, which includes the App Store. He expects the legal battle to be “a multi-year process that is appealed at every level of the US court system.”

Apple shares rose 1.8% Thursday and have gained more than 50% in the past three months as the Dow Jones Industrial Average

, which counts Apple as a component, has added 20%.

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Judge denies delay for Uber and Lyft, which could result in California ride-hailing shutdown

Lyft and Uber on Thursday lost an appeal to extend a 10-day stay on an injunction granted by a San Francisco Superior Court judge Monday.

AFP via Getty Images

The countdown to a ride-hailing shutdown in California is on after a judge on Thursday denied appeals by Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. to extend a stay of an injunction ordering the ride-hailing giants to classify their drivers as employees.

On Wednesday, Uber

and Lyft

said they would shut down ride-hailing services in the state if they lost their appeals to extend the stay.

“I am unconvinced that any extension of the 10-day stay is required,” Judge Ethan Schulman said Thursday in denying the extension. He ruled Monday in a lawsuit brought by the state attorney general and three cities that the companies must classify their drivers as employees, not independent contractors, to comply with Assembly Bill 5, a California law that was passed last year and became effective Jan. 1.

“This was just another delay tactic by Uber and Lyft,” said John Cote, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera of San Francisco, one of the cities that sued to force the companies to comply with AB 5 while Uber challenges the law. “The court saw right through it.” 

See: Uber and Lyft must make drivers employees because California law has ‘overwhelming’ edge, judge says

A Lyft spokeswoman said Thursday the company will file to extend the stay with a state appeals court, and that if it is unsuccessful, the company will suspend operations in California. Uber will also file an appeal, and it will shut down ride-hailing in the state if that appeal is denied, a spokesman confirmed.

Some San Francisco residents said a shutdown would be inconvenient, especially during this pandemic.

Kevin Murphy, who works in retail, said he has been taking Lyft to and from work lately because it is faster and feels safer than taking public transportation. Besides, there aren’t as many bus routes available right now.

How does he feel about the legal fight between his city, the state and Lyft and Uber?

Drivers “seem underpaid. A lot of them seem to work really long hours,” Murphy said. “And a lot of them come from far away — from Sacramento, Monterey, all over the East Bay.” On the other hand, he said, Uber and Lyft seem to “make enough money as it is.”

Anne Ahola Ward, a small-business owner in San Francisco who uses Lyft to get to appointments and other destinations that are too far for her to walk to, said: “I manage to pay my workers a salary and give them benefits. You should take care of the people that are core to your business.”

She added that Uber and Lyft would “have no business without their drivers.”

The ride-hailing companies once shut down for six months in Austin, Texas, over a fight to require them to do background checks on drivers. They have also threatened to go dark in other cities — but not a whole state —over various regulatory battles, union groups point out.

“Time and again in other states we’ve seen these threats evaporate as soon as the companies get what they want,” Art Pulaski, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the California Labor Federation, said in a statement Thursday.

Lyft’s California ride-hailing business makes up 16% of its overall rides business, while for Uber that number is 9%.

Uber and Lyft, along with other gig-economy companies, are also asking California voters to decide in November whether they should be exempt from AB 5. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said Wednesday that the company’s ride-hailing operations could shut down in the state at least until then.

It is unclear what Uber intends to do with its growing Uber Eats business, which also uses delivery workers the company considers independent contractors. A company spokesman said Thursday the company understands the California attorney general “only decided to sue ride-hailing companies.”

The California attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lyft shares fell more than 5% Thursday after reporting earnings Wednesday afternoon, while Uber shares fell 1.2% to $30.46.

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The extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits expired — but gig workers and self-employed Americans still qualify for benefits

For the first time during the pandemic, weekly jobless claims dipped below 1 million, but there are likely many more Americans who qualify for unemployment benefits who didn’t apply.

When the $2 trillion CARES Act passed in March, self-employed, independent contractors, gig workers and other nontraditional workers became eligible for unemployment benefits. Even though the federally-funded $600 a week in enhanced unemployment benefits, which was also part of the CARES Act, expired on July 31, these types of workers can still collect state-level unemployment benefits through the end of the year.

‘There is definitely a chance that the loss of the $600 is changing claimant behavior’

— Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project

This nuance may have been lost in translation when the $600 benefit expired, said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy organization focused on workers’ rights.

“There is definitely a chance that the loss of the $600 is changing claimant behavior,” she said, meaning that unemployed workers may have wrongly assumed that they would no longer be eligible for unemployment benefits after July 31. A total of 10 million Americans have already been approved for unemployment benefits who otherwise would have been ineligible if not for the CARES Act, Evermore said.

Unemployment benefits are based on how much money a worker earned while they were employed. For traditional salaried workers, that amount gets automatically reported to state workforce agencies. But self-employed and gig workers often lack the ability to provide an exact net earnings amount, Evermore said.

“But if they can prove that they worked and got income or were offered a job and that job offer was rescinded due to COVID-19,” she said, they can collect what amounts to half of the average weekly unemployment benefit in their state.

In all 50 states and Washington D.C., the minimum amount is over $100 a week

In many cases that will enable them to collect more in unemployment benefits than they would if they had a traditional job where their earnings were reported automatically, Evermore told MarketWatch.

At a minimum, gig workers, independent contractors and other self-employed workers can collect the equivalent of the average weekly benefit in their state. In all 50 states and Washington D.C., the minimum amount is over $100 a week, according to the Department of Labor. That’s especially important because it means these types of workers will be eligible for an additional $300 a week under President Donald Trump’s executive order. (Anyone who gets at least $100 in unemployment benefits from their state would qualify for the extra $300.)

However, it could be some time before these workers actually get those benefits. State governors have said that state workforce agencies are not properly equipped to quickly implement the changes Trump’s executive order calls for.

Evermore said she hopes that Congress will consider extending the period of time gig and self-employed workers can collect unemployment benefits, but she is “worried we will reach a deadlock on this in December like we are seeing now with the $600.”

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Coronavirus update: Global cases top 20.6 million and U.S. suffers biggest one-day death toll since May

The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus illness COVID-19 world-wide rose above 20.6 million on Thursday and the U.S. suffered its biggest death toll since May with almost 1,500 fatalities counted in a single day.

The U.S. has averaged more than 1,000 deaths a day for two weeks, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. Wednesday’s deaths were mostly concentrated in Sun Belt states that saw the worst case spikes in June and July, the New York Times reported. A Times analysis of data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that at least 200,000 more Americans than usual have died since March, or about 60,000 more than the official data is linking to COVID-19. The findings were in line with a report published by “The Conversation.”

See also:The ‘excess deaths’ tally in the U.S. is 204,691 in 7 months — so COVID-19 deaths might be undercounted

While case numbers are stabilizing in some regions, the high number of deaths suggests the pandemic is far from under control. President Donald Trump continued to push for schools to reopen on time and in person on Wednesday and to urge football players to “go play football.”

Ahead of Trump’s briefing, former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, made his first public appearance with Sen. Kamala Harris, his newly announced running mate. The pair slammed Trump’s management of the pandemic, pledged to bring back lost jobs and prop up the middle class.

“I’m ready to get to work,” said Harris. The U.S. leads the world in coronavirus cases “because of Trump’s failure to take it seriously from the start,” she said.

In other developments:

• Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis compared the challenge of reopening schools with the obstacles faced by the U.S. Navy SEAL team that assassinated Osama bin Laden in 2011. “Just as the SEALs surmounted obstacles to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, so too would the Martin County School system find a way to provide parents with a meaningful choice of in-person instruction or continued distance learning,” he said at a briefing, according to a transcript published on Florida’s government website

See now: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis likens reopening schools to killing Osama bin Laden

• Dr. Michael Osterholm, epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, repeated his message that the U.S. needs to shut down again and go back to Square 1 in dealing with the crisis, which he acknowledged is “shocking news” that people “don’t want to hear.”

“The bottom line is that if you look at the country, we are an anomaly among the higher-income countries of the world in that we never did lock down sufficiently; we only slowed down to get the virus activity by May to a so-so level,” Osterholm said in an interview on MSNBC. “Other countries worked harder to get the viral activity more fully under control. ‘We walked away after 80% containment.”

Don’t miss: Dr. Osterholm: Americans will be living with the coronavirus for decades

• India now has the fourth highest death toll from COVID-19 in the world, after passing the U.K. overnight, the Johns Hopkins data shows. India has 2.4 million cases, or third highest after the U.S. and Brazil, and 47,033 deaths.

• There was bad news from China where two people who were confirmed to have had and recovered from the virus have tested positive again, according to media reports. A 68-year old woman in the Chinese province of Hubei, where the virus was first detected late last year, tested positive this month after recovering from COVID-19 in February.

A man who was confirmed to have the illness in April also tested positive again, although media reports said he was not suffering any symptoms. Other anecdotal evidence relating to patients retesting positive after apparently recovering have made health experts concerned that the level of protective antibodies developed to fight the virus may quickly fall away and leave patients at risk of reinfection.

• Germany reported 1,445 new COVID-19 cases in a single day, the highest number since May 1, according to the Robert Koch Institute. “This trend is unsettling,” the RKI said in a statement. “We absolutely have to avoid a further accentuation of the situation.”

Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine Westphalia in the West and Hamburg in the North are showing the biggest increases in new cases. Germany has been widely admired for its success in containing the pandemic. The country has 221,219 confirmed cases and 9,217 deaths for a mortality rate of 4.2%, Johns Hopkins data shows, or 11.11 deaths per 100,000 people. That compares with the UK’s 14.8% mortality rate, equal to 70.37 deaths per 100,000 people. The U.S. mortality rate is 3.2% or 50.75 deaths per 100,000 people, the data shows.

Latest tallies

There are now 750,371 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 world-wide, the Johns Hopkins data shows. At least 12.9 people are confirmed to have recovered.

Brazil is second with 3.16 million cases and 104,201 deaths.

India is third, followed by Russia with 905,762 cases and South Africa with 568,919. Mexico has 498,380 cases and 54,666 deaths, the third highest in the world.

The UK has 315,581 cases and 46,791 fatalities, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world. China, where the illness was first reported late last year, has 89,045 cases, and 4,697 fatalities

What’s the economy saying?

The number of Americans applying for jobless benefits fell below 1 million in the latest week for the first time since the start of the pandemic, signaling a steady if slow revival in a battered U.S. labor market, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.

New applications for unemployment benefits, a rough gauge of layoffs, declined to 963,000 last week from 1.19 million at the end of July, the Labor Department said Thursday.

It was the second straight large decline, raising questions about whether the end of a temporary $600 federal unemployment stipend prompted more people to return to work or start looking for jobs again. New claims have tumbled by almost 500,000 in the past two weeks.

Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast 1.08 million new claims in the seven days ended Aug. 8. These seasonally adjusted figures reflect applications filed the traditional way through state unemployment offices.

See also:Fed’s Barkin says economy could suffer relapse without more Washington stimulus

“The drop in claims reflects economic reopening, but it also suggests the expiration of federal supplemental unemployment benefits may have convinced some people to stop collecting and find work,” said chief economist Chris Low of FHN Financial. “Alternatively, people could be falling off rolls because they no longer qualify for assistance in the absence of the emergency expansion of eligibility.”

Separately, U.S. import prices rose 0.7% in July, the third straight monthly gain, the Labor Department said Thursday. The increase in import prices over the past three months is the largest since 2011.

Despite this advance, import prices declined 3.3% over the past year. The gain in July was led by fuel prices, which rose 6.9% in July. The gains over the past three months in imported fuel prices is the largest since 1990.

Still, fuel prices are down 32.8% over the past 12 months. Import prices excluding fuels rose 0.2% in July. Export prices rose 0.8% in July and are down 4.4% over the past year.

See also:The economic recovery is faltering, the most accurate forecasters say

Here’s the latest news about companies and COVID-19:

• 3M Co.

said it saw “broad-based improvement” in sales trends in July. The company said total sales for the month increased 6% to $2.8 billion. Among its business segments, sales increased 29% in health care, 9% in consumer and 6% in safety and industrial, while transportation and electronics sales fell 7%. The monthly update comes after 3M reported in late-July that l second-quarter sales fell 12.2% to miss analyst expectations. 3M has been reporting monthly sales to provide transparency, while the company is unable to provide financial guidance given the uncertainties resulting from the pandemic.

• 1Life Healthcare Inc.
manager of the One Medical doctors’ offices, reported a narrower-than-expected second-quarter loss and sales that were above forecasts. One Medical, which charges membership fees in return for same-day appointments and other perks, said it ended the quarter with 25% more members, or 475,000. It ended the quarter with $664.4 million in cash and equivalents. The company guided for a membership count between 486,000 and 496,000 for the third quarter, and between 505,000 and 515,000 by the end of the year. For the third quarter, it called for revenue between $84 million to $89 million, and adjusted Ebitda between a loss of $12 million and a loss of $7 million. The company did not provide revenue, margin, or adjusted Ebitda guidance for full year 2020 “because of uncertainties around the duration and extent of the continued COVID-19 pandemic and related community self-isolation practices,” it said.

See: Cisco looking more to software, but road is slower due to the pandemic

• AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. shares
the biggest cinema chain operator in the U.S., said it would reopen its doors on Aug. 20 to celebrate 100 years in business with plans to charge the 1920 price of 15 cents a ticket. The company was founded in 1920 with a theater at 12th Street and Grand Boulevard in Kansas City, Missouri, according to a statement. “One hundred years later, as AMC reopens its doors to U.S. moviegoers for the first time in more than five months, AMC is celebrating its history with a throwback to the year it all started by offering “Movies in 2020 at 1920 Prices,” said the statement. Because of the pandemic, capacity will be significantly reduced to achieve social distancing. The company is expecting to open about two thirds of its more than 600 cinemas in the U.S. in time for the Sept. 3 release of Warner Bros. “Tenet,” following the Aug. 28 release of “The New Mutants.” The remaining cinemas will reopen as soon as state and local officials allow. The Aug. 20 event will be followed by other promotions that will include bringing back films including “Black Panther,” “Back to the Future,” “Ghostbusters,” “Grease” and “Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back” at an admission price of $5.

• Outdoor retailer REI said it is walking away from its nearly completed corporate campus in suburban Seattle and will shift headquarters operations to sites across the Seattle area as the coronavirus pandemic affects how it does business. The Kent, Wash.-based company said it is in talks with “multiple interested parties” to sell the 380,000-square-foot building and 8-acre campus in Bellevue, the Seattle Times reported. “The dramatic events of 2020 have challenged us to re-examine and rethink every aspect of our business and many of the assumptions of the past,” Eric Artz, president and CEO, told employees in a Wednesday video call. REI’s 1,200 headquarters employees have been working remotely since March 2 as the company navigated the pandemic, the closure of its more than 160 retail sites March 16, and a dramatic decline in revenue.

• SmileDirectClub Inc.

reported second-quarter sales that were above Wall Street expectations but GAAP EPS was below forecasts “Our performance in the quarter, and more importantly since the quarter, reflects the strength of our teledentistry platform, along with the flexibility and agility of our business model; both in the context of our COVID-19 recovery efforts, and our traction toward our long-term growth and margin targets,” Chief Executive Officer David Katzman said in a statement.

• Tapestry Inc.
the parent of the Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman brands, posted a smaller-than-expected loss and better-than-expected sales for its fiscal fourth quarter. “While the backdrop remains volatile, it has not changed our long-term objectives,” Interim CEO Joanne Crevoiserat said in a statement. “Rather, it has been a catalyst to accelerate our strategic agenda. Through our Acceleration Program, we are transforming into a world-class consumer centric organization that is more agile and data-driven with a digital-first mind-set.” The company returned to positive growth in mainland China in the quarter and reopened the majority of its directly owned stores that were closed during the pandemic. It ended the quarter with $1.4 billion in cash, including $700 million from a revolving credit facility. The company expects to return to top-line growth in the second half of fiscal 2021 and to achieve bottom line growth in fiscal 2021, 2022 and 2023.

• Uber Technologies Inc.

Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi could shut down the company’s ride-hailing operations in its home state of California after being told he must treat drivers as employees in the state. The ruling comes as ridership is hurt by the pandemic. “If the court doesn’t reconsider, then in California, it’s hard to believe we’ll be able to switch our model to full-time employment quickly,” Khosrowshahi said on MSNBC. A judge ruled Monday that Uber and Lyft Inc.

must reclassify drivers based on a court decision made more than two years ago that was codified into law in California last year. State and local officials sued Uber and Lyft earlier this year to get them to comply with the law, leading to the judge’s temporary injunction ahead of a trial in which Uber will seek to claim the law is unconstitutional.

For more, read:Uber and Lyft say they may shut down in California if forced to classify drivers as employees

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