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How to find telling economic stories that many never see

This photo in Bloomberg Businessweek shows a midnight food-stamp run in North Bergen, N.J.

The recession has helped reporters focus on the harsh economic realities for people who are often invisible. Roben Farzad of Bloomberg Businessweek produced a short, yet telling, piece about how food stamps cause a monthly surge in retailers’ sales. He focuses the story on food-stamp recipients shopping at 24-hour Walmart stores to buy necessities at midnight — when their benefit cards recharge.

Roben reports in the story that William Simon, CEO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., told investors about the spike in sales during a conference. Quoting Simon, Roben writes:

 “‘About 11 p.m., customers start to come in and shop, fill their grocery basket with basic items … and mill about the store until midnight. Our sales for those first few hours on the first of the month are substantially and significantly higher. If you really think about it, the only reason somebody gets out in the middle of the night and buys baby formula is that they need it, and they’ve been waiting for it.’”

Roben Farzad, reporter, Bloomberg Businessweek

Roben Farzad

His story also says that “executives at Dean Foods and grocery chain Kroger have said as much in investor calls this year.”

Today’s Tip verbatim from Roben:

“It all goes back to the queries that Mickey Meece, an editor I worked with at The New York Times, told me to end each interview with: ‘Who else should I be calling? And what else should I know?’”

Coming Monday: Tips from a Boston Globe reporter who chronicled the food-stamp rush that rejuvenates businesses in one neighborhood.

In Economy, Featured, Retail | Lifestyle, Story ideas.

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