December 15, 2018

Some Said They’d Flee Trump’s America. These People Actually Did.

Unplugging and Yet Not

Just like late-1960s hippies, right? But living an untethered life has gotten easier now that many people need only a laptop and a fast internet connection to earn a living. Websites like Nomadlist help people decide where on Earth to go. The rise of Airbnb makes it easy to rent space in most corners of the globe with a swipe of your iPhone. Roving parents can find global play dates and moral support on Facebook groups like Worldschoolers, which has about 40,000 members.

Lainie Liberti, an administrator of the group, said it’s not just the tense political climate in the United States motivating people to leave. “People are not seeing a future,” she said. “People are starting to focus on living now and focusing on their children. They are re-evaluating what is important to them.”

Chelsea Gillespie with her daughter, Kailen, in Old Town Split, Croatia.

Ms. Quain, who worked as much as 100 hours a week running her own company, worried about the values she was imparting to her daughters. “I don’t want them to grow up to be worker bees,” she said. “I want them to grow up to be freethinking entrepreneurs.”

Like many of the new expats, she is home-schooling (“worldschooling” is the more popular term.) Her daughters are learning Spanish at a Medellin day camp and spend their spare time playing Minecraft and Roblox, video games they sometimes play online with other traveling children. She hopes eventually they’ll start their own YouTube channel, if someone will teach them. “Once I get my business up and running,” she said. “I’ll hire people to teach them how to do things.”

What It Costs

Ms. Quain expects to spend about $1,700 a month on housing, day camp, activities and a nanny in Medellin. Paul Kortman, who, with his wife, Becky Kortman, wrote “Family Freedom: A Guide to Becoming a Location Independent Family,” estimates that a family could travel indefinitely on $60,000 a year, a salary he says could be earned with a little ingenuity.

“All you need to do is have a laptop and be an intelligent person,” Mr. Kortman said. “You don’t need a specific skill set.”

It does help, though. Matthew Gillespie, 31, works remotely full-time as a web designer, allowing him; his wife, Chelsea Gillespie, 30; and their 2-year-old daughter, Kailen, to travel indefinitely through Europe, blogging about it at Unsettledown. They left San Diego last May, finding it too expensive.


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Burdened by high rent, along with car and student loan payments, they did not see a future where they could buy a home in the area and still pay down their debts. “Our family was telling us to settle down,” Mr. Gillespie said from Prague last winter. “We just didn’t see the value in that.”

Last spring, he and his wife sold their car, their furniture and most of their possessions for about $10,000. So far, traveling has been cheaper. In Croatia, for example, their expenses fell by 60 percent, allowing them to pay down their student loans faster. “If we can make it work, then we’re going to keep going as long as we can,” Mr. Gillespie said.

Mr. and Ms. Gillespie travel with High Sierra backpacks. Kailen has her own pack, too: a tiny one shaped like a bumblebee. They pared down their belongings to the bare essentials, although Ms. Gillespie did carry an orange Bebe skirt and Zara top around Italy all summer because she thought it would make for a great photograph in Florence (she got her shot and unloaded the outfit). “It was totally impractical,” she said.

Jessica and William Swenson traveled with their family to Bali, Indonesia. Credit J Swenson Photography

A nest egg makes such trips far less nerve-racking (just be wary of traveling somewhere like Monte Carlo and re-enacting that famous scene from 1985’s “Lost in America” when Julie Hagerty’s character loses it all at a Las Vegas casino).

Jessica and William Swenson are financing an 11-month around-the-world trip with their three small children through a mix of savings, inheritance, a severance package and the income from renting out their four-bedroom house with a pool in Livermore, Calif.

Last October, the Swensons set off for China, alerting local media outlets about their adventure. Mrs. Swenson, 34, a photographer, has an Instagram account and a YouTube channel called LetsAdventureSomeMore to document the whirlwind journey, and, perhaps, monetize it.

The family is traveling light, carrying only backpacks — even the children, Ezra, 8, Theo, 6, and Vesper, 5, have them — with a few changes of clothes. Mr. Swenson, 36, an accountant, bald with a full beard, wears a kilt. “He’s Scottish and loves the un-bifurcated life,” Mrs. Swenson said, speaking over FaceTime from an Airbnb in Bali, Indonesia. The family was waiting out a volcanic eruption, hoping their flight to Australia would not be canceled because of ash.

Sonja Jernstrom and her husband, Chris Jernstrom, with their two children in Bolivia.

Surprising Emotions

The Swensons embarked on the trip as a sort of lemonade-from-lemons move after Mr. Swenson’s job relocated, his mother died and the family’s live-in child care moved out.


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“We were like, ‘That removed all our obstacles,’” Mrs. Swenson said. But even though social media is accessible from around the world, they were also relieved to escape what Mrs. Swenson describes as “a general feeling of anger and bitterness,” that had descended on the progressive Bay Area in the months since Mr. Trump became president. “I’m not really political,” she said. “I try not to engage.”

Of course, sometimes people they meet abroad want to talk United States politics. This the Swensons deflect. “We kind of put the kibosh on it,” Mrs. Swenson said. “We’re here to be students, and not talk about horrible things.”

But not everyone who takes their life on the road does so to escape an unsatisfying one. Sonja Jernstrom, 37, and Chris Jernstrom, 36, left their home in Seattle in June to take a 14-month trip around the world with their two children, Ben, 7, and Emma, 4.

They’re driving through the Americas in a truck with a 70-foot camper before they head off to Asia, the Middle East and Europe. “It was an opportunity to take a midcareer break,” said Mr. Jernstrom, who quit his job in investment management; Ms. Jernstrom is a former environmental scientist. The family is financing their travels with savings and income earned renting out their four-bedroom house out on Airbnb.

Seeing Latin America has been eye-opening. When Mr. Trump was elected, “we both felt like, ‘Gosh, maybe we want to move to Europe,’” Mr. Jernstrom said from Chile. But “this trip has made me appreciate so much about how much we have in the U.S. It’s made me feel like I want to go back to the U.S. and make things better at home.”

Correction: April 14, 2018

An earlier version of a caption in this article misidentified a country the Swenson family visited in December. It was Indonesia, not Australia.

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The Dress Doctor Is In

Whereas a fashion business class may teach students how to design and market a product based on demographic trends, Ms. Jung’s students explore the psychology behind consumer behavior. “We talk about perceptions and standards of attractiveness,” she said. “Where these come from and how we use them to judge others.”

The London College of Fashion offers what may be the field’s most comprehensive academic program. In 2014, the school introduced graduate programs in applied psychology in fashion and in psychology for fashion professionals. Last year, the school started an undergraduate major in the psychology of fashion.

“The fashion industry speaks so much about memory, problem solving and nostalgia,” said Carolyn Mair, who founded the programs and now runs a consulting firm. “And yet in the industry, these psychological concepts lack academic rigor and training.”

Ms. Mair gave the example of sustainably produced clothes. Brands have been good at raising awareness of the issue, she believes, but not at influencing our purchasing decisions. “If the fashion industry was to work with psychologists who understand human behavior,” she said, “they could implement scientifically based behavioral change programs” to influence what consumers buy.

Ms. Mair, a psychologist with a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience, is careful to call herself a “psychologist who works in the fashion industry,” because the term “fashion psychologist” isn’t recognized by any official academic or licensing body.

Ms. Karen has a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Columbia Teachers College, but she is used to skepticism. Some people think she made up her name for the attention. (Though she did drop her surname, Brown, during a modeling stint in graduate school, her mother named her after the designer Donna Karan and Dawnn Lewis, an actress from “A Different World.”)

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These Triplet Models Want to Take This Town by the Throat

“You heard it,” said David Shamouelian, the owner and C.E.O. of Romeo Juliet Couture. “There was power behind these triplets.”

The Levesque triplets modeling different outfits in the Romeo Juliet Couture show.

It’s not the first time multiple births have graced the fashion world. Identical twins who go by the names Cipriana Quann and TK Wonder appeared in a recent Kenneth Cole advertising campaign. In October the designer Jun Takahashi cast five sets of identical twins to close his show at Paris Fashion Week.

But triplets are rarer than twins, and for the past two years these sisters, 24 and living in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, have convinced multiple designers, television producers and filmmakers that their showcases will be better with their participation.

They have come down the catwalk for designers including Adrian Alicea and Andre Emery. They have appeared on “Good Morning America.” There is reality-show interest, they said. “We aren’t allowed to say who just yet,” Arianna said with a grin.

In September they plan to introduce their own feminine, but not too girlie, clothing line of denim and trucker jackets, jumpsuits and florals. They have a studio in their three-bedroom apartment, where they photograph themselves and other models and actors for extra pay. They also act and have appeared in a few short films including the popular video for Circa Survive’s song “Premonition of the Hex.”

Arianna is the stylist and designer, Andrea is the photographer, and Athena is the lead actress. But they almost always market themselves as one.

“There are a lot of pretty blond girls, but there aren’t that many triplets,” Athena said. “We should use it.”

From left, Athena, Arianna and Andrea near their apartment in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens. Credit Caroline Tompkins for The New York Times

Many multiples try to differentiate themselves as individuals, but for marketing purposes this set is determined to be as identical as possible. If one of them wants a haircut, all must agree to get the same look. “I wanted bangs a couple of months ago, but my sisters told me they didn’t, so we couldn’t do it,” Andrea said. “They saved me.”


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They don’t always have to try that hard. The morning of the Romeo Juliet show they put on matching shoes, leggings and oversize sweaters without consulting one another, they said. The apartment is shared with Andrea’s cat, Arianna’s cat and Athena’s 55-pound dog. “The animals can tell us apart,” Athena said. “They know who their parents are.”

Since they were young girls, growing up in Hyannis, Mass., the sisters wanted to do things together. At 11 they wore shirts Arianna made out of old pillowcases to school. As seniors, they starred together in “Twelfth Night,” with Athena and Arianna cast as Viola and Andrea playing Feste, the singing fool. “Our teacher was so worried about how to give us all lead roles,” Andrea said. “He was so relieved when he found out I could sing better than them.”

After attending different colleges, study-abroad programs and graduate schools, they all moved to New York City to give modeling — something they had done for fun — a try professionally.

“Other careers were always something we could go back to,” Andrea said. “But modeling is something we can only do now. And it’s something I can do with my sisters now.”

And they have become more value as a threesome.

“We have done shoots with them individually, but the triplets is what makes a difference,” Mr. Shamouelian said. (Arianna also works part time as one of his assistant designers.)

“I don’t really know if I would have used them if it was just one because I tend to use models that are 5′9 and up,” Mr. Emery said. (The Levesques are 5-foot-6.) “But because they are triplets I knew I could be creative with them. I knew people would say, ‘Whoa, this is a new trend.’”

The triplets have a long list of bigger designers they want to model for, including Dolce Gabanna and Tom Ford.


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But there are downsides to the sisters working together, said Sara Ziff, the founder and executive director of the Model Alliance, a New York City advocacy organization for models.

“Booking triplet models is a very specific choice on the part of the client,” she said. “I imagine it might be limiting for the models themselves if they are always sold as a package deal.” (The triplets respond by saying that they encourage each other to get big gigs on their own. It will only elevate all of them, they reason.)

Ms. Ziff also worries that the presence of identical-triplet models reinforces a notion in the fashion world that all models should look exactly the same. “It’s arresting to see people as carbon copies. With hair and makeup, models are often made to look interchangeable, and their individuality is subsumed by the brand,” she said. “Having the same DNA takes that to another level.”

Mr. Emery, though, dresses the triplets differently, with one in a robe for his debut, another looking like she was headed to a nightclub. “I want them to have their own individual style and taste,” he said.

And the models insist they don’t care so long as the clothes fit well and are flattering.

“The only important thing is that we are either all the same or all different,” Athena said. “I just don’t like it when two people are the same, and I have to be different. We are triplets.”

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Entrepreneurship: Bringing a Personal Touch to Plus-Size Fashion

A 2016 study in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education found that the average American woman wore a size 16 or 18. Yet annual spending on larger-size apparel accounts for only 16 percent of the $112 billion market in the United States because the inventory was not available.

“We’re getting bigger, but the business hasn’t gotten bigger,” Marshal Cohen, a retail industry analyst at the NPD Group, said.

That has begun to change. Spurred by an underserved market, along with a heightened emphasis on inclusiveness in the fashion industry, new retailers are sensing an opportunity. E-commerce businesses that rent, as well as sell, larger sizes have grown. With some focusing on moderately priced clothes and others concentrating on the designer market, these sites are finding an eager audience. Social media influencers like Jordyn Woods and Tess Holliday and actresses like Rebel Wilson and Chrissy Metz have also raised the profile of this market.

Marita Aikonen, left, and Ms. Boujarwah of Dia Co., an online retailer of plus-size clothing for women. Credit Erin Patrice O’Brien for The New York Times

Retail giants are also expanding their presence in this market. In March, for example, Walmart acquired Modcloth, an e-commerce site that sold clothing in a range of sizes. Other e-commerce sites, like Stitch Fix, have also begun to offer larger sizes. But industry experts say large retailers lack the personal touch that shoppers seek.

“While Walmart and Amazon could be formidable competitors, this customer wants a company that understands her, and isn’t just selling to everyone,” Mr. Cohen said.

So some retail start-ups are trying to meet those demands. Christine Hunsicker, a tech entrepreneur, and Jaswinder Pal Singh, a computer science professor at Princeton, started Gwynnie Bee, a subscription-based clothing rental service.

“We became interested in apparel because of the size of the market and the need,” Ms. Hunsicker said.


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In the Gwynnie Bee model, women who wear sizes 10 to 32 receive regular shipments of clothing. Once it’s worn, no laundering is required; clients simply return the options to the company for a fresh selection. If the customer loves an item, she can buy it, Ms. Hunsicker said.

In contrast, Eloquii is a reincarnation rather than a start-up. The company was originally a brick-and-mortar retailer owned by the Limited, which, despite protests from a loyal customer base, shut down the brand in 2013, Ms. Chase said.

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The founder and chairman, John Auerbach, who has held a number of e-commerce positions, bought Eloquii’s assets from Sun Capital in 2013, including intellectual property and the customer list. Ms. Chase joined the same year. The company has already been through two rounds of venture capital financing, and now has backing of close to $40 million, Ms. Chase said.

Most of these businesses are focused on online customers, but some are experimenting with physical stores. Eloquii has opened three, in Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; and Washington. Two of them are pop-ups.

Most physical stores with plus-size apparel do not “offer a great experience,” Ms. Chase said, so Eloquii is focusing on fitting-room aesthetics and other amenities

The New York headquarters of Dia Co. The company offers clothing chosen by a stylist for women who wear sizes 14 and up. Credit Erin Patrice O’Brien for The New York Times

Gwynnie Bee had a pop-up store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan that “went really well,” Ms. Hunsicker said, adding that her company is trying to determine what role a store plays in its business model.

A bigger challenge for the companies is finding inventory. Designers have become more accommodating, spurred both by an untapped market and the desire to appear inclusive. But entrepreneurs are not waiting for manufacturers to make the first move.

New York Fashion Week, which officially began Thursday, offers an opportunity for these entrepreneurs to get noticed. Dia took out a full-page ad in The New York Times during New York Fashion Week last February, encouraging designers to look anew at the market with the line “Fashion she can’t wear is becoming a bit unfashionable.” The gamble paid off: Ms. Boujarwah said the ad had led to two new lines, one with Ms. Wilson, the actress, and the other with the designer Nanette Lepore.

Entrepreneurs are learning to be more flexible, too. For instance, Gwynnie Bee will add smaller sizes to its lineup after determining that designers would be more willing to work with it if it offered a wider range. The site, Ms. Hunsicker said, will include only items that are available in all sizes.


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Yet fabrication remains a hurdle for some. As a result, founders like Ms. Boujarwah of Dia, which counts Sequoia Capital among its investors, are designing their own products. Similarly, Ms. Hunsicker said Gwynnie Bee had, “for a number of vendors, taken on a lot of pattern design,” in addition to offering the site’s private label clothing.

“It’s their aesthetic and vision, and we’re helping to make it fit,” she said.

Many, but not all, of the sites primarily feature moderately priced clothes; as a result, those seeking designer apparel in larger sizes remained underserved. Enter 11 Honoré, which opened in August, shortly before New York Fashion Week last fall. The site was created by Patrick Herning and Kathryn Retzer, whose mothers wear larger sizes and often had difficulty finding higher-end clothing.

“We were adamant about building a luxury brand and bringing the best designers we could, including Michael Kors, Zac Posen, Badgley Mischka, Monique Lhuillier and Prabal Gurung,” Ms. Retzer said.

As they began formulating their idea, friends encouraged him to reach out to Kirsten Green, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist known for her retail investing acumen. They pitched their idea and obtained seed financing from Ms. Green’s firm, Forerunner Ventures, as well as from several others, for a total of $3.5 million.

Most of the companies do not yet offer intimate apparel, although Eloquii plans to offer lingerie in the future. To reach that market, Deborah A. Christel, a co-author of the study on women’s sizes, left her position as an assistant professor at Washington State University to start a company that would encompass all sizes for lingerie.

Ms. Christel said her company, Kade Vos, would begin selling next summer. “It’s my hope that one day, women’s clothes will just be women’s without referring to plus size,” she said.

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New Jersey Is Last State to Insist at Gas Stations: Don’t Touch That Pump

Mr. O’Scanlon said that he frequently pumps his own gas, ignoring the Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act of 1949, the statute that first forbade civilians from putting their grubby hands on the nozzle.

“I break the law in New Jersey on a regular basis,” he said. “Someone can come to my door and cuff me if they want.”

Two years ago in the Assembly, Mr. O’Scanlon was one of several legislators to sponsor a bill allowing self-service stations. It stalled.

One prominent opponent of the idea is the president of the State Senate, Stephen M. Sweeney, a Democrat, who remains immovable. In an emailed statement Friday, Mr. Sweeney said that he saw no good reason to change a system that worked.

“When we have winters like the one this year, I don’t see many men and women who want to pump their own gas,” he said. “It’s something that makes New Jersey a little more unique and the people of New Jersey like it that way.”

Polling and interviews suggest that the state’s natives agree. The actor Bobby Cannavale, who grew up in the state, said that it never bothers him, though he does forget every time he leaves and comes back, and has to be ushered back into his car by the attendant. He added that he sometimes gets nervous for a split second that he’ll never get his credit card back.

“You’re sitting in your car just handing a guy your credit card,” he said. “He can hand it to another guy in another car and you’re done.”


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Chris Christie proposed self-serve gas during his gubernatorial campaign in 2009, but dropped the proposal because the negative response from the public was so ferocious. At a town hall-style meeting in 2016, he said that it was a gender issue, citing a poll that indicated that 78 percent of women in the state were only too happy to stay in their cars.

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Ashley Koning, the director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University, said in an interview that the idea of pumping one’s own gas had never been broadly favorable in New Jersey.

“It’s kind of one of the third rails of state politics,” she said, noting that women and older people in particular enjoyed the service.

A December 2015 Rutgers-Eagleton poll found that almost three-quarters of the state’s residents preferred to have gas pumped for them, and that 84 percent of women preferred the service.

And when she takes off her polling hat, Ms. Koning said, she is one of those women.

“As a Jersey Girl, I’m definitely not for it,” she said. “Jersey is very proud and one of the things it’s proud of is not having to pump its own gas.”

Some pollsters have stopped asking the question altogether. Krista Jenkins, the director of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s polling unit, said that it had not come up since 2012 because “it hasn’t really been that much of a debate.”

In that year, the university found that 63 percent of voters supported the law and only 23 percent opposed it, with a similarly exaggerated gender gap.

Ms. Jenkins grew up in Southern California, and pumped her own gas.

“But,” she said, “in the dead of winter when you don’t have to get out of your car, it’s a lovely feature of living in the state.”

The response of some Oregon residents to that state’s loosening of restrictions may not encourage change in Jersey. A widely shared tweet highlighted comments on a local news story from Medford, in Jackson County, Oregon. Among residents’ concerns were “smelling of gas when I get it on my hands or clothes” and the potential health effects of breathing in small amounts over time.


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New Jersey legislators cited safety concerns when they passed the original law that barred residents from pumping gas almost 70 years ago. But when gas station owners challenged the ban in 1951, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that self-serve was indeed “dangerous in use.” And the ban held up, despite attempts to fight it in the 1980s.

In the rest of the country, self-service stations became the norm. Safer unleaded gasoline became more common, thanks to federal regulations, as did pumps that accepted credit cards. In most of the United States, that spelled the end of an era when attendants offered to wipe your windshield and check your oil while the tank filled up and you fumbled for a tip.

Mr. O’Scanlon is undeterred by the dual weights of history and public opinion. He said that he may bring a new proposal this year, just to keep the conversation alive. He said that economic arguments about jobs and safety are absurd, given that drivers in other states have been pumping their own gas for decades and lived to tell the tale.

“The only thing you could argue is that New Jerseyans are more flammable than people in the other 49 states,” he said. “Because we eat so much oily pizza, funnel cake and fries, maybe you could make that argument. Otherwise, it’s simply ridiculous.”

Correction: January 5, 2018

A previous version of this article described incorrectly a new law in Oregon. The new law allows residents of most counties with fewer than 40,000 people to fuel up their cars themselves, at any hour of the day, not merely between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

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In a Complex Tax Bill, Let the Hunt for Loopholes Begin

The provision, known as the domestic production activities deduction, gave companies a tax break on income they earned from making things in the United States. It was intended to help American manufacturers, which were struggling to hold their own against competition from overseas.

Then a raft of other industries heard about the rule as it was being devised and fired up their lobbying machines. Suddenly, everyone became a manufacturer.

Movie studios got the break because they produced films, and tech giants won it, too, for making computer software. Construction companies got it for making buildings, and so did engineers and architects for designing them.

Starbucks hired lobbyists to make the case that it, too, was a producer, because the company roasts coffee beans. Congress added language that allowed coffee shops to deduct a percentage of every cup sold if it was made with beans they roasted off site. It became known as the Starbucks footnote.

“This has been a boondoggle tax expenditure,” said Robert J. Shapiro, a former Commerce Department official who founded the economic advisory firm Sonecon. “It is a political lesson. You are always liable to create tax loopholes that grow.”

The government initially estimated that the 2004 law would cost a net $27.3 billion from 2005 through 2014. It ended up costing over $90 billion during that period, according to a congressional report.


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The Internal Revenue Service had to warn retailers that cutting keys doesn’t make you a manufacturer. Neither does mixing paint, putting plants in the sun to grow or writing “Happy birthday” on a cake you didn’t bake.

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But in more than a decade of battling with companies about the rule, the government gave up more ground than it won. One of its most epic losses came at the hands of a David-size challenger in Fullerton, Calif.

It all started in tax class. Dan Maguire, an accountant by trade, was sitting in a seminar about the new features of the tax code in 2005 when he first heard about the manufacturing deduction. He became obsessed.

“I’m thinking, ‘Gosh, as crazy as it is, this is a good deduction for Houdini,’” he said. Houdini Inc., better known as Wine Country Gift Baskets, is a plucky maker of assortments for special occasions that employs Mr. Maguire as its chief financial officer.

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Mr. Maguire filed for the deduction in amended returns for 2005 and 2006. The I.R.S. gave Houdini a refund of close to $300,000. Then, when it realized what had happened, it doubled back and audited the company, demanding that Houdini return the money.

“It’s the government — what do you expect?” Mr. Maguire said. “They aren’t exactly an efficiently run organization.”

When Houdini refused to give the refund back, the government sued the company in 2011.

At issue was a straightforward question: Does putting wine and chocolate into a basket amount to manufacturing? Federal lawyers sputtered at the thought.

“I can make a gift basket at home,” pleaded one government lawyer, according to a transcript in the case. “I can go to the store, and I can purchase these items and put them into a basket which I have purchased and put cellophane wrap around it, but in the process, I have not altered anything in it.”

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Entrepreneurship: California Marijuana Start-Ups, Shut Out From Banks, Turn to Private Backing

Companies like Big Rock, which has invested more than $10 million in the cannabis industry, are playing an important part in funding the industry’s growth. “Starting up a testing lab or a dispensary is extremely capital intensive,” said Stephen Kaye, Big Rock’s chief operating officer. Private firms can make decisions and move large amounts of money quickly, he said. He receives pitches every day from entrepreneurs, and is especially interested in medical research.

For Jody Hall, an entrepreneur in Seattle, joining an investment company has freed her to focus on her core business, rather than the myriad regulations that accompany its operation. Ms. Hall, who runs a conventional cupcake business, started a new venture, GoodShip, two years ago to make cannabis edibles. She found that she was spending “way too much time” getting advice from lawyers on what was or wasn’t allowed. Ms. Hall recently sold GoodShip to Privateer Holdings, a private equity firm, and is staying on. The cash infusion has given her more time to develop products, she said, and has accelerated her plans to expand to California.

While states are collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues from marijuana businesses, and a rising number of Americans favor legalization in some form, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s firm opposition to it poses a risk to cannabis-related companies. He could “shut the industry down tomorrow,” said Micah Tapman, co-founder of the Canopy cannabis accelerator and venture capital fund in Colorado.

Of course, there are other challenges. Evolving rules and regulations, like new packaging requirements, can add unexpected costs to processors and retailers. Companies forced to deal only in cash can run into safety and theft issues. Many small growers emerging from the black market “have no idea how to run a commercial-scale facility,” Mr. James of Marijuana Venture said.

Despite the hurdles and uncertainty facing the industry, Mr. Larson of Gateway has remained optimistic. “People are gaining confidence as legalization spreads, and the growth is going to be huge,” he said.

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Many Unhappy Returns? Online Holiday Shopping’s Big Hangover

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Online shopping would save us time, we were told. It would free us from the torment of malls, angry clerks and wasted Saturdays. But as the fantasy becomes real — e-commerce will account for $2.3 trillion, or one-tenth of all retail sales, in 2017, according to eMarketer — some shoppers are surprised to discover they are devoting as much time to returns as they once did to in-person shopping, with less fun.

“I’ve ended up keeping stuff because the return process was such a pain,” said Rob Cromer, an entrepreneur in New York City, using profanity.

Likewise, Ms. Nicolas is currently making peace with the fact that the three wooden cutting boards she bought for Thanksgiving, total cost $100, are hers to keep at this point.

Between Dec. 26 and Jan. 31, 45 percent of Americans will try to return at least one gift, according to Optoro, an e-commerce software company. Today, that gift is more likely than ever to have been purchased online: 2017 is the first year that a majority of Americans planned to do their holiday shopping on the web, according to Deloitte.

But while a handful of retailers receive nearly unanimous praise from shoppers for open-ended, friction-free returns of purchases made online (Amazon, Nordstrom, L.L. Bean, Madewell, among others), and many offer more generous policies during the holiday season, plenty still impose tight limitations and draconian requirements that seem designed to either discourage returns or drive traffic into their physical locations.

Forever 21 and Shopbop require customers to return items bought online within 30 days, and like Victoria’s Secret, Kohl’s and Rue La La, don’t always pay for shipping (Shopbop offers refunds for items returned within 15 days). Returns to Net-a-Porter must be made within 28 days, and within 14 days for Apple and Barnes Noble — a narrow window if you factor in packing and shipping. Many retailers will send multiple items from a single order in separate boxes, each of which could require its own label (and box) in case of return.

And while Amazon refunds your money the moment UPS scans your box for return, others make customers wait weeks to see the refund on their credit card — a period of uncertainty too agonizing for some.

“If I can’t go the store to return something, I won’t make the purchase,” said Lauren Nolte, a marketing executive in Los Angeles. “It’s like you have to make up your mind the second you get the item, then run to the post office or you’re out of luck.” And good luck finding a post office open before or after work.


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One can also feel sorry for the stores. Returns cost retailers $260 billion in 2015, according to the National Retail Federation. And about 30 percent of items bought online end up being returned, versus 9 percent of items bought in stores.

Retailers can ease the expense if they can convince customers to return Web-purchased items to stores in person. On average, returns to stores cost companies half as much as returns to distribution centers, and allow retailers to get the items back on shelves faster, according to new research from AlixPartners, a consulting firm. And driving shoppers into stores has the added benefit of possibly resulting in more purchases. (The good news for retailers: 62 percent of consumers prefer in-store returns.)

In November, Walmart raised some of its prices online to encourage in-store foot traffic and cut down on shipping costs.

Whether its attempts to discourage online returns will save money or simply drive away customers remains to be seen. “This is principally a reason why many retailers aren’t making any money,” said Mark A. Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School and a former chief executive of Sears Canada. E-commerce start-ups have the extra challenge of needing to build loyalty. “These are new businesses that are just learning what they’re in for,” Mr. Cohen said.

The unavoidable shortcomings of online shopping may make a high return rate a necessary part of the process. Trying on clothes isn’t an option, and colors often appear different in person, leading many shoppers to buy an item in multiple sizes or colors with the intention of sending back the misfits.

But there is also the growing problem of so-called wardrobing: buying an item to use once knowing it can be returned afterward. The classic example is a prom dress, but generous return policies are luring more people to try bringing back, say, the camcorder they bought to record the prom, too.

Some third-party vendors are eager to cash in on the inconvenience of returns. In 2015, two former Nordstrom employees started Happy Returns, a company that operates physical “return bars” in malls where customers can give back items brought from e-commerce retailers including Everlane, Chubbies and Tradesy for immediate refunds. Happy Returns has 50 locations and expects to open 150 more by the end of 2018.


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And in October, Amazon paid a reported $50 to $70 million to acquire Body Labs, a start-up specializing in technology that allows shoppers to create 3-D avatars for trying on clothes online.

While you wait for a better system to come along, there are steps you can take to cut down on online returns, said Eric Himel, a stylist whose clients include Giuliana Rancic and Kristin Cavallari. “Shopping is something you have to be in the right frame of mind for, and you have to dig in and do a little work,” he said. That means no more clicking and buying at midnight, or after a second cocktail, and always taking the time to read reviews, check the fabrication and make yourself aware of return policies.

Most important, Mr. Himel advised, remember that clothes modeled by professionals online may not look the same in your mirror. “It’s like I tell women, ‘Don’t go shopping with your girlfriend, because they’re always going to say something looks cute on you.’”

If you miss the cut-off dates, you can sell mistakes through secondhand marketplaces like Letgo, Vestiaire Collective or the TheRealReal. You’re not likely to get full price, but getting anything can feel like a triumph (though of course, you still have to pack it up and ship it).

“I’ll say to my husband, ‘See I made money!’” Ms. Nicolas said. “He says, ‘No you did not. You lost money today.’”

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Somewhere Between a Food Truck and a Food Tent, You’ll Find a Cubert

For the fall test drive, an Off the Grid employee drove the Cubert to Fort Mason on a flatbed truck, unfolded it, extended the flap that shields customers from inclement weather and made sure that the self-contained sinks and refrigeration unit were working. Ms. Miranda, a 26-year-old baker, arrived later that morning with her ingredients and a deep fryer that she connected to the unit’s generator.

When she was done for the day, she went home. The Off the Grid driver cleaned, folded and loaded the cube back onto the truck, and drove it to a storage space.

The Cubert eliminates hours of setup and shutdown. And Ms. Miranda left the cleanup and storage to someone else. Credit Jason Henry for The New York Times

Mobile food has grown exponentially since the Los Angeles chef Roy Choi hit the road in 2008 with his Koji Korean barbecue truck; there are now more than 4,000 food trucks nationwide, according to the market research firm IBISWorld.

The temporary-stall model has grown as well: For the last two years, Mr. Cohen — who started with three markets and now runs 15 (with as many as 60 weekly events in the March-through-October season) — has fielded about 350 applications for eight or nine open slots at Fort Mason alone.

Jon Feldman, Stumptown’s vice president in charge of wholesale accounts, sees potential for growth at sites where specialty coffee couldn’t go before. “It’s hard to do what we do from any old place: power and water requirements, space constraints,” he said. “With Cubert you can open a small coffee outlet in the middle of a field,” for, say, a music festival.

Brian Lewis, senior vice president for retail development and curation at Kilroy Realty Corporation in San Diego, plans to install a Cubert in a San Francisco office building early in 2018, to see if it can revive a moribund corner of a ground-floor plaza. He wants to replace a cafe in a Santa Monica, Calif., property with one as well, betting that the Cubert can give older properties an edge in what he calls “an all-out amenities war with our competition.”

The floor of the Cubert. Credit Jason Henry for The New York Times

If big companies bite, Mr. Cohen will be able to expand his transportation and support network beyond the Bay Area, though he is quick to reassure potential customers outside the region that hiring “a flatbed truck isn’t a big thing,” and that Off the Grid is ready to help purchasers find a local transport company. He is already thinking about ways to improve the basic Cubert, including climate control to make them cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.


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It’s a tantalizing notion to anyone who sells food outdoors, which includes farmers as well as purveyors of prepared foods. Michael Hurwitz, director of Greenmarkets for GrowNYC, was excited about the idea before he ever saw a photo of the Cubert. He thinks that farmers’ markets are ready for a gut renovation.

For now, Ms. Miranda is grateful simply to have been awarded a Cubert at Fort Mason in the spring, as a way of thanking her for trying it last fall. The cube made her life “so much easier,” she said, and made her dream of a bakery seem within reach.

“It would be a huge next step,” she said. “It’s not quite a food truck or brick and mortar, but it’s not a tent outside. It has a little more of that brick-and-mortar feel.”

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Entrepreneurship: Giving a Family Business a Jolt With Coffee That Empowers Women

So after taking control of the family business just under three years ago, she made the start of a sister company, City Girl Coffee Company, her primary focus. Unlike Alakef, City Girl is bold and risky, from its bright-pink logo and packaging to its business plan’s central tenet: fighting gender inequity in the coffee industry.

On average, according to the International Trade Center, women do 70 percent of the work in getting coffee to market but regularly cede or are barred from financial control, so City Girl gets its beans exclusively from farms and cooperatives that are owned or managed by women. In addition, the company donates 5 percent of all profit to organizations that support women in the industry, including the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, or I.W.C.A., and Café Femenino.

When consultants told her that “it’s great to have a mission, but it’s not enough to drive sales,” Ms. Bohbot insisted that an “unapologetically feminine” coffee brand would find consumers. Even so, the company’s success has exceeded her expectations: Sales — principally through City Girl’s online store and in the Twin Cities’ high-end retailers, including Kowalski’s Markets and Lunds Byerlys — are up 300 percent year over year.

City Girl aims to break into other Midwest markets, including Chicago, St. Louis and Des Moines, and then to select cities on the East Coast. Still, Ms. Bohbot is willing to be patient.

“If you blow up too quickly, you will sacrifice something,” she said.

She has played witness to a slow build before. When her parents, Nessim and Deborah Bohbot, moved to Duluth from Israel in the late 1980s, they were dumbfounded by their new neighbors’ preference for mass-market coffee brands like Folgers and Maxwell House, so they began roasting coffee in their basement. After locals started taking notice and wanting to buy the coffee, Alakef was formed.


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“People thought we were crazy,” Mr. Bohbot, 70, recalled with a laugh. “At first, people didn’t understand why they had to pay so much for specialty coffee when you could go to a gas station and get it for 20 cents a cup. We had to educate them.”

Back then, Alakef was one of only a handful of specialty coffee roasters in Minnesota. Mr. and Mrs. Bohbot, speaking from their second home in Nice, France, noted that theirs was also one of the first coffee companies to be certified organic by the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association. Now specialty coffee accounts for 55 percent of a national coffee industry valued at $48 billion annually, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s “State of the Coffee Industry” report this year. And as a share of cups, the report said, 51 percent of all coffee consumed in 2016 was considered gourmet.

Ezra Bennett monitors his computer as he roasts coffee beans at Alakef Coffee Roaster in Duluth, Minn. A sister company, City Girl Coffee Company, has exceeded sales expectations. Credit Jenn Ackerman for The New York Times
Alyza Bohbot came up with the idea for City Girl Coffee Co. when she learned that while women do most of the work in getting coffee to market, few are allowed to have any financial control. Credit Jenn Ackerman for The New York Times

Ms. Bohbot initially intended to study vocal jazz at Syracuse University but, after discovering she had vocal cord nodules, switched to retail management. In 2008, she moved to Boston to work in sales for the maker of Samuel Adams beer; after two years, she went back to school for a master’s degree in guidance counseling. In mid-2014, when her parents told her that they were contemplating selling Alakef, she thought for the first time about taking over the business.

Her parents were excited for her but reluctant to let her take over the business. “We wanted to be sure it was her passion,” Mrs. Bohbot, 65, said.

Returning home for a six-month trial period, Ms. Bohbot quickly realized she couldn’t bear to see the company trade hands. “That was my whole life” when she was growing up, she remembered thinking. “Wait a minute, we’re just going to walk away from it?”

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Only a few months later, in April 2015, Ms. Bohbot struck upon her idea for City Girl after attending an International Women’s Coffee Alliance breakfast at a conference in Seattle. There she learned of a Colombian widow unable to keep her family’s coffee farm simply because of her gender; in many countries where coffee is grown, women are silent laborers left out of decision making largely because of cultural norms.

“The women were out of the loop even though they were doing the majority of the work,” said Connie Kolosvary, program director for Café Femenino. Café Femenino, which was formed in 2004, not only pays a premium for beans from cooperatives that follow its strict guidelines to empower women but also pays its female members directly for their harvests.

With the men aware that more money is coming in simply because of female involvement, Ms. Kolosvary said, “for the very first time these women are now viewed as having a leadership role in their communities.”

The I.W.C.A., with legally recognized chapters in 22 countries, helps mobilize women in the industry and provides a platform for them to share the challenges they face. Josiane Cotrim, chapter president for Brazil, the largest coffee-exporting country, said the support of organizations like the I.W.C.A. meant “the woman was no longer the daughter or the sister or the wife of someone in coffee.”


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“We were women in coffee,” added Ms. Cotrim, who was raised on a coffee farm. “We had an identity.”

Ms. Bohbot, who serves as a marketing co-chairwoman of the I.W.C.A., said she, too, faced challenges when she entered the coffee world, though they were largely business-related. Some of her chief competitors have argued that City Girl’s female-empowerment message is little more than a marketing ploy. But “in this day and age, you can’t have a good product without having a good marketing story,” Ms. Bohbot said.

Also, buying coffee from growers run by women “adds a whole other layer of stress on our company,” she said. “We have to work diligently to reach out to all of our importers to use our connections to find this coffee and bring it in.”

Ms. Bohbot, who has made local philanthropy an increased priority at Alakef and will introduce new packaging and an updated logo there next year, said she got personal satisfaction from City Girl’s success and being viewed as a leader among her female peers.

When women in every industry are fighting daily battles to achieve equality, “I feel hopeful,” she said. “Women are vocalizing more than ever before. To speak out and not settle. To demand our place in society.”

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