High Value, Chapter 12: Brad Riese

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Brad Riese rose and walked to the front of the room. His erect posture, smooth gait, and tailored sport coat projected a sense of both sophistication and confidence to the crowd. …At least, that was what he believed he conveyed, and there was nothing to suggest otherwise in the body language of the small-town folk assembled that evening.

As Riese strode past Brendon Klein, their contrasting bald heads told the tale: Klein’s was soft and mildly pocked, like his baldness was a result of getting old and giving up. Riese’s crown seemed like that of an athlete trying to gain an edge by reducing friction. Sleek, intentional, driven.

Granted, Riese didn’t know Klein, himself, so he wasn’t making the comparison—but everyone else in the room was. The assembled residents of Chippewa Lakes knew which of the two men represented the city’s past and which was its future.

That mood wasn’t lost on Riese. He had intentionally chosen a look for the meeting that leaned into his big-city credentials. He wasn’t worried about not relating to the community; what he was selling that evening was change. More than change, actually. He was selling progress, and who better to deliver progress than a sophisticated outsider with a “been-there-and-done-that” attitude?

“Good evening to all of you,” he began warmly, wearing a large smile on his face. “I am Brad Riese and I represent Prosperity Unlimited. We are very excited—” he paused and held up both hands, as if he were telling a tale about catching a large fish, “—very excited to open a High Value grocery store in Chippewa Lakes.”

Everyone knew why they were there, but hearing the words “High Value” from the man who could make it happen changed the room. At that moment, a new grocery store became a reality, no longer merely a coffee shop rumor. It was as if Sasquatch was not only reported to be real, but he was standing right there in the form of Brad Riese. The crowd leaned forward to listen.

“High Value is the area’s premier grocery store chain. We have over 50 locations and employ nearly 2,000 people, all working to bring the highest quality produce, meat, and groceries to the communities we serve. We think Chippewa Lakes is a fantastic place, and we want to be part of what you’re doing here.”

Riese knew from experience that it was best to avoid technical details. Just stick to the big picture. The message he needed to deliver to the community was simple: Having a High Value in your city makes you a winner. Approve our permit and we’ll build a High Value and then you will be a winner. This was Sales 101, not some quasi-legal process. Just make them want what you have and they’ll find a way to approve it.

“If I may, I brought some poster boards to share so that everyone can see what we’re proposing.” Though he phrased it like a suggestion, Riese didn’t wait for an invitation to proceed. Why should he? It was clear he owned the room. He turned and walked to the side, where a series of poster boards leaned face down against the wall. Riese grabbed the posters, along with a small, portable easel, and headed back to the podium.

He didn’t notice that Klein, who was innocently looking away from Riese, had shifted his legs and was now protruding somewhat into the path Riese had just traversed. With his hands full and his peripheral vision obscured, Riese tripped on Klein’s foot. Lacking anything to grab on to, he hit the floor hard, bending his posters and sending the easel flying.

Klein shifted back, lifting up both hands to give an “it wasn’t me” gesture. There were some laughs and gasps in the crowd, but nobody moved to help the outsider. Everyone was too busy gawking, waiting to see what would happen next. Riese crawled around on the floor gathering his stuff, salvaging some dignity by limiting the damage. In short order, he was up, the tripod was erect and the first poster—slightly bent—was displayed for the audience.

“Alright,” Riese said into the microphone with a deep exhale, searching for an upbeat tone. In the hundreds of meetings he had presented at over the years, he had never done something clumsy like that. Yet, he was a professional, and he knew what he needed to do: go on like it never happened. “Sorry about that. Let me share with you our concept for the Chippewa Lakes High Value grocery store.”

It was “the” Chippewa Lakes High Value. A fait accompli. At once, he again had their total attention. And he knew what to do with it.

Riese walked the audience through all the glories of a High Value grocery store. The assembled crowd could almost taste the organic produce, the freshly cut meat, and the many offerings from a fully stocked deli. There were nods of approval for the bakery, and the idea of custom-order cakes for special occasions made mouths water in anticipation.

“Here is where the floral and gift shop will be located, and, next to it, a full-service pharmacy,” said Riese, pointing to a section of the poster board that was indecipherable to everyone in the crowd. It didn’t matter; they all constructed their own mental image, and it was amazing.

“And, of course, High Value will have the first Starbucks in Chippewa Lakes.” This was said as if the small town would eventually have a second Starbucks, which now seemed almost possible. Riese was selling progress. He was a pro, and he knew that nobody remembered the fall he had taken moments earlier.

When he finished extolling the wonders of a new High Value grocery store, Riese thanked the chairman and said he was happy to answer any questions. The first question came abruptly from the commissioner sitting at the left edge of the table.

“Mr. Riese, would you categorize High Value as a big-box store?”

“Thank you for that question, Commissioner Bare,” only Riese didn’t pronounce Ashley Bare’s name with two syllables, Bar-eh. He pronounced it as it was spelled, Bare—the same pronunciation as the animal. Bear. Of course he did; how would he know any differently?

Yet, he knew as soon as he did it that something was wrong. The room that had been in the palm of his hand suddenly grew tense again, like a fuse had been lit. He felt it and proceeded with some caution.

“We can talk about whether or not something is a big box, a little box, or a medium box. What matters for us—the only thing we can rely on coming in front of you—is what the ordinance says. And the ordinance is silent on the definition of a big box.”

“Yes, but I’m asking you whether or not you consider it a big-box store.” Bare was going to get an answer.

“Um…Commissioner Bear, I…”

“Mr. Riese,” Bare interrupted. “My name is pronounced Bar-eh. Not bear. Please continue.”

“Okay. Thank you for that clarification, Commissioner Bare,” Riese recovered. “Respectfully, I’m not sure what my personal opinion has to do with the issue in front of us. Regardless of what I think, I need to follow your code.”

Bare stared at Riese, unwilling to bail him out by asking a follow-up question. Riese stood alone, an extended silence making his outsider status now feel awkward instead of formidable, as if he were the butt of an inside joke.

It was Hjerne who rescued him. “Mr. Chair, we can debate the definition of a big-box store, but beyond the legalese, the variances in front of us are the most pressing issue. Neither of them requires this commission to decide on whether or not this is a big-box store.”

The chairman, Keith Nair, looked confused about what should happen next. Riese didn’t feel like it was his place to intervene, though he hoped Nair would accept this landline and move the meeting along. Instead, it was commissioner Freehet who spoke next.

“I’m really interested to understand the utility situation on this property. Justin, do we have a sense of how they are going to connect to the city’s sewer system?”

Riese turned and looked at the city planner. Justin Stark leaned into the microphone. “Yes, Mr. Chair, I’d like to see if Mike can answer that question for us.”

“Mike” was Mike Avfall, the city’s public work’s director. In a larger city, such a position might have brought with it some competence, along with a degree of prestige. In Chippewa Lakes, it required neither. Avfall pretended to maintain a system that was built to not need much maintenance. He spent a lot of time avoiding work, and the rest of it on trying to make enough friends to stave off any potential groundswell to relieve him of his duties.

Avfall made his way to the podium. “Rob, I looked into it,” Avfall said, completely unconvincing, “and we can shoot a connection pipe right up along the highway and hook them up, no problem.” Avfall’s voice rose on the “no problem,” as if to project confidence. Riese could tell that nobody was buying it.

“I’d like to hear from the city engineer on this,” Freehet stated.

“Of course, Commissioner Freehet,” Riese replied, stepping back up to the lectern. He knew he was unlikely to get an approval that night, but if he could identify a path to approval, the meeting would be a huge success. “I’ll work with the city engineer and have a detailed plan for you at the next meeting.”

“I want to ask a question about the floral shop.” It was Bare, again. “Mr. Riese, we already have a florist in town. Do you think this city can support two florists?”

“Commissioner Bear,” Riese began to reply. Bare cut him off.

“My name is Bare, not Bear. Mr. Riese, I don’t appreciate your continued microaggressions. Chippewa Lakes has a Latinx family who operate a floral shop in town, and I’m guessing you and your corporation have not lost a lot of sleep pondering how they are going to feed their family once you put them out of business with your big-box store.”

Bare sat back in her chair and let out a deep sigh. Riese stared at her, blinking stupidly. This was not how he thought things were going to go—and he would soon discover that his night was far from over.

Read more High Value chapters here.

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