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Thursday, Dec 25, 2014
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Mullins: Good news and bad for Amazon shoppers

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There’s good news and bad news for shoppers as Amazon and Florida have agreed on a deal letting Amazon build warehouses here in the state.

First the good news: Packages from Amazon should arrive faster than before, because Amazon right now has no physical operations here. (FedEx, UPS and the Postal Service do most of their deliveries.)

New warehouses in Tampa, Orlando, Miami or Jacksonville could cut delivery time by a day or two for some items because Amazon can start building and stocking local warehouses with everything from huge high-definition TVs to shoes. I’d look for same-day delivery of some items in some markets at some point soon.

The second bit of good news: This could put Florida in the running for Amazon’s hottest new service. That’s fresh grocery delivery of everything from cereal and milk to produce and meats — right to your front door.

Amazon first launched the “Amazon Fresh” grocery service in its hometown of Seattle, and recently expanded it to Los Angeles. It has a fleet of bright green delivery vans, and they’re ready to go.

Amazon announced a target of 40 more U.S. markets, which would put Tampa in the running for the service — whenever Amazon gets around to deploying here, which is less than clear.

Unfortunately, there is some bad news for shoppers. As of now, you can buy anything on Amazon and there’s no state sales tax. Buying a $10 book is one thing, but taxes add up fast when you’re looking at a $100 pair of running shoes or a $1,500 HDTV.

Local taxes can vary from 6 to 7 percent or more, depending on where you live. Amazon and its customers enjoy that tax-free perk because the company has no physical presence in the state. Third-party shipping companies do all the local deliveries, and Florida can’t tax a company that isn’t here.

That same tax-free perk also drives other retailers nuts because they can match Amazon’s prices online sometimes, but then at the moment of truth when the customer at BestBuy.com types in his or her credit card or a Walmart shopper reaches the store cash register — bam! — there’s the sales tax.

Once Amazon builds a set of warehouses and starts employing people here, the state can start requiring the company to collect and remit sales taxes.

Typically, when Amazon enters a new state with warehouses, it receives a few years respite to get up and going without collecting sales taxes. Exactly how this will play out in Florida isn’t clear, but the governor did tout 3,000 new jobs from Amazon.

“Amazon will begin collecting Florida Sales tax at such time as it is required under current Florida law,” Gov. Rick Scott’s office said in a statement.

County leaders are trying to bring at least one of the warehouses to the Hillsborough County area.

However, if you have something sitting on your Amazon wish list and don’t want to pay sales taxes, I suggest you order it ASAP.

In other retail, restaurant and trend news around town:

We took a mid-construction tour of the Aloft hotel that’s being built at the former Mercantile Bank building at Ashley Drive and Kennedy Boulevard downtown, and I will say this: Wow. For starters, the structure is built like a hardened bunker. Back in the day, IBM had the building made to support massive mainframe computers, so the floors are foot-thick concrete and the building supports are gigantic cement and steel pillars. That lets developers blow out all the walls and create a pristine grid of glass. The best part will be the rooftop deck we walked around eight floors up. Contractors will enclose half the roof for an indoor, air-conditioned bar, and the rest of the space that faces the river will be open air. The view looks both ways down the Hillsborough River, across to the University of Tampa and over the Tampa Tribune building to Davis Islands. You can sip a cocktail at dusk and watch the cruise ships float out to sea. If construction goes according to plan, the hotel will likely open in summer 2014.

Oh 3D TV, when will thy fruition meet thine promise? First, TVs years ago started offering 3D images with either polarized glasses or (migraine-inducing) “active shutter” glasses, thrilling the propeller-head TV fanatics. Second, makers of movies and video games all started offering 3D, which clogged half the theaters in America, but that’s another issue. Third, sports channels started filming things like the Olympics and soccer in 3D, so you could see Princess Kate in 3D watching the games. Even Bright House and Verizon opened up channels for ESPN to stream 3D. Then ... nothing, at least in the TV market. Demand among the viewing masses never blossomed into a fruitful landscape for advertisers to harvest, ergo, ESPN just confirmed plans to pull the plug on its 3D channel by year’s end. A newsroom colleague of mine notes one potential cause. He watches TV with an iPad in his lap, and who wants to glance back and forth with a clunky set of glasses on?

Speaking of TVs, remember the days when people spent $3,000 or $4,000 on a “high-definition” TV? Well, now you can again! The next generation of high-definition TVs are starting to appear in retail stores, called “4K” because they have a bazillion more pixels than earlier HDTVs. Sure, there aren’t any TV channels broadcasting 4K signals yet, and there aren’t many DVDs in 4K resolution, but whatever. The TVs are now at places like Best Buy for you to go see. I did. And my semi-professional reaction was “Meh.”

The detail, for sure, was insanely clear, especially on footage that Sony shot with 4K cameras to display on their 4K TVs. It makes other TVs look El Cheapo, and 4K TVs will “upscale” plain-old HD images into 4K detail.

But there’s one major drawback: Motion. The TVs are still so-called 120 Hz, which means the screen “refresh” is only so-so compared to an off-the-shelf $1,500 HDTV with 240 Hz, and the motion is nowhere near as smooth as basic plasma screens. All this for $5,000 for a 55-inch TV or $7,000 for a 65-inch.

Smart people in the TV world whom I respect say I should hold off judgment of a new technology, and the staff at Best Buy say the 4K TVs are selling like crazy. So clearly other people feel they’re worth the money.

Time to make the “cronuts.” You read that right, cronut. New York City is abuzz about a bakery that cross-bred the flakiness and airiness of a croissant with the deep-fried awesomeness of a doughnut. Media reports say hundreds of people line up at the Dominique Ansel Bakery hours before dawn for their ration of three cronuts each, thus creating a secondary market on Craigslist for $40 apiece delivered. It’s not an easily reproduced item for mass production because it requires the skill of hand-making croissants with the baking delicacy of gourmet doughnuts. I’ve made something similar by flash-frying Pillsbury Grands dough in oil at 350 degrees, but this seems like artistry on another level.

Ladies, contain yourselves. Sarah Jessica Parker will soon have her own line of shoes at Nordstrom. Perhaps this should come as no surprise, guys, because every NBA player on Earth seems to have his own line of sneakers. Anyway, the “SJP” line of boots, flats and heels should launch in mid-2014 after the “Sex and the City” star finishes working with Manolo Blahnik CEO George Malkemus, with prices at about $200 to $400 a pair.

Guys, contain yourselves. Finally, there is a gadget to measure the level of propane in the grill tank — besides shaking the tank around to see if it feels heavy. Tool maker Trauma has introduced its “Levelcheck” for $90 that uses ultrasound to peer into the tank. An LED turns green when it senses liquid and red if it senses none. If you can use a stud finder, you can use this. Available at Uncrate.com and other sites.


rmullins@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7919

Twitter: @DailyDeadline

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