Massachusetts’ most offbeat business stories of 2014
This year’s Demoulas drama had all the elements of a major motion picture: Average workers triumphed after putting their livelihoods on the line in a bizarre supermarket saga. The chaos was punctuated by protest songs on YouTube, produce shelves packed with beer, and a stuffed giraffe that emerged as a solidarity symbol. But the fight over Market Basket’s future wasn’t the only offbeat news in 2014 to prove business is often stranger than fiction. Here’s a rundown of some of the oddest:
The stuffiest land-deal restrictions
You might expect some strings attached when you buy land from the Christian Science church. But you couldn’t blame execs at Pritzker Realty Group if they were a little startled by the limits placed on a Dalton Street site they acquired near the Mother Church to build a hotel. No drugstores or doctors’ offices. No ground-level liquor stores or bars. And no pornography on hotel room televisions, unless it’s the “type normally offered in five star (or comparable rating) luxury hotels” in Boston and New York. The deed was a little sketchy on exactly what constitutes “five star” porn.
Wackiest start-up idea
In 2014, local entrepreneurs proposed a hands-free umbrella and a vibrating “love stone.” But special props should go to the mad brains behind the Pavlok, a wristband that hits you with an electric shock anytime you fall short of your goals. Laugh if you want. But those shocks must have worked: Pavlok raised more than $250,000 on a crowdfunding site. The device is described as a “personal coach on your wrist.” We’ll just call it masochistic.
Strangest use for a giant power plant
When you think power plant, the first thing that comes to mind is a musical melody, right? Oh, wait . . . Electronic music composer Howard Stelzer turned the still-operational Brayton Point coal plant into a giant musical instrument by recording ambient sounds at the site and turning it into a 49-minute album available for streaming. Runner-up: North Shore college kids briefly converted the Salem Harbor plant’s turbine hall into an oversize art gallery.
Least important trademark effort
Berkshire Bank successfully sought trademark protection for its slogan, “America’s Most Exciting Bank.” It’s unclear what makes Berkshire so exciting, and it operates only in the Northeast. But it’s a safe bet the bank won’t see any challenges to that honor from any other corner of the country, either.
Best job in the Boston area
Forget about the openings at the Chamber of Commerce or the Mass. Competitive Partnership. They can’t compare to a job posting at a new shopping center in Somerville. With the Legoland superstore opening at Assembly Row, the call went out for a Lego master builder. A New York Senate staffer won, but not without competing with 59 other aficionados before a rapt audience of 8-year-olds at the Boston Public Library.
Most topical school performance
Students at Algonquin Regional High School got a crash course in capitalism, along with musical theater, by performing a version of “The Pajama Game” that was inspired by the Market Basket story. Teenagers at the Northborough school explored a similar theme two years ago, when they performed a musical written about the arrival of a Wegmans supermarket in their town, the first in the state. Maybe next year, the T-Hawks can put on a show about why private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management decided to gobble up so many other grocery chains.
Most offbeat location for an Olympics event
As word of the proposed Olympics venues trickled out, there were few surprises. Field hockey at Harvard Stadium. Check. Judo at the convention center. Makes sense. But what about women’s volleyball? Massachusetts has plenty of beaches with stunning backdrops. Organizers, however, want to set up the nets on Boston Common, of all places. At least the spectators will be able to wave as the Duck Boats drive by.
Toughest interpretation of state ethics rules
Four Wellesley firefighters had to return cruise tickets to Ellen DeGeneres after the television star tried to reward them for saving a golden retriever from the icy clutches of the Charles River. At least Crosby, the dog, got to keep the bright orange, doggie-sized life vest from the show.
The best only-in-Massachusetts traffic accident
With all the crashes that occur in and around Boston, it was only a matter of time before we had one that made us proud of our home state. There it was on the television news, putting our seafood industry in the spotlight: a truck that spilled $100,000 worth of lobsters in Westwood. The truck got into trouble because its driver tried to squeeze under a low railroad bridge. It’s a gamble that Storrow Drive motorists know all too well.
Most unexpected celebrity cameo
Papa Gino’s fans paid no mind to the Tedy Bruschi cardboard cutout at the pizzeria in West Warwick, R.I. — until it started talking to them. The former Pats star watched from a hidden camera, teasing customers through a microphone. The Boston ad agency Full Contact came up with the idea. But what would you expect from the ad agency responsible for the cardboard cutouts of David Hasselhoff that were constantly stolen from Cumberland Farms locations two years ago?