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MISCmedia MAIL for 2/12/16
Feb 11th, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

A combined Valentine’s/Presidents’ weekend finds us mulling about the end of the Oregon siege at last; a GOP dirty trick against transit; deliberations about the latest anti-homelessness plan; the demise of the UW’s nuke; and fun with kitschy old Valentine’s cards.

MISCmedia MAIL for 2/5/16
Feb 4th, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

We head into a Seahawk-less Super Bowl weekend with footage of the TP’ing of Pam Roach’s office; a known creator of toxic chemical debris wanting to build a big biofuel refinery; a plea for understanding by the mom of a heroin victim; an attempt at increased state aid to the homeless; and the usual gazillion weekend activities.

MISCmedia MAIL for 1/28/16
Jan 27th, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

As the Oregon siege apparently winds down, we also discuss still more GOP pro-bigot tactics; past attempts to clear “The Jungle” homeless encampment; a “rebuilding year” at Boeing; and ancient relics found at Oregon State’s football stadium.

MISCmedia MAIL for 1/27/16
Jan 26th, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

A slow news day became a weird news night. We mention the tragedy at “The Jungle” and the mayor’s response to it; the strange (but predictable) twist in the Oregon militia standoff; more state Republican creepiness; the economic bigness of Seattle music (for everybody but musicians); and whether Seattle’s tech biz is immune from another “bubble.”

MISCmedia MAIL for 1/20/16
Jan 19th, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

As the Obama Era’s final year begins, we discuss gated lots for people who live in vehicles; plans to legalize extant pot-delivery services; big expansion plans for the Victoria Clipper; and the UW’s plans to raze more of its brutalist old dorms.

MISCmedia MAIL for 1/14/16
Jan 13th, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

A good friend of mine is trying to survive kidney disease while keeping her indie bookstore alive. Also: how to keep artists in town; a pact on reviving Ride the Ducks; mental-health crises; making tech products “For Women.”

MISCmedia MAIL for 1/12/16
Jan 11th, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

Bowie tributes from far and near top the e-missive today. Also: The Legislature’s back (seems like it never went away); citizen-made substitute sidewalks; a Rainier-branded beer product will be made in Washington again; the save-KPLU drive begins.

MISCmedia MAIL for 12/31/15
Dec 30th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

As we slide inevitably into the (hopefully) Sweet ’16, MISCmedia MAIL discusses a Mercedes commercial shot where the Mercedes dealership used to be; a dead orca and minor earthquake in B.C.; an Aurora streetwalker’s life (exactly as rough as you’d expect); a message to “targeted” young black males from Seattle’s “Youth Poet Laureate;” and a gazillion New Year’s options.

MISCmedia MAIL for 12/29/15
Dec 28th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

In the Toosday Nooze: Could Sparkling Ice turn Japanese?; could the “revenue neutral” carbon tax be anything but?; could Bellingham get its own version of Gas Works Park?; and remembering Lemmy.

MISCmedia MAIL for 12/22/15
Dec 22nd, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

A lot of solemnity in today’s news: An up-from-poverty role model with a horrifying downfall; more evictions of unauthorized homeless camps; a “tech support” scam victimizes PC owners. But we could get some pandas here!

MISCmedia MAIL for 12/18/15
Dec 17th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

Your 100-percent Star Wars-free MISCmedia MAIL discusses how extreme climate change would look like around here; the African-American exurban diaspora; the wrongness of calling an Asian-American woman a white man’s “sidekick;” and tons of weekend activity listings.

MISCmedia MAIL for 11/27/15
Nov 26th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

MISCmedia MAIL is back to accompany you while shopping and/or protesting today. We’ve got tons of weekend activities; Bernie Sanders as a symbol of global awakening; the truth behind Oregon’s greatest invention; and a meat vending machine.

THE BIG A GETS ‘REAL’
Nov 9th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

amazon books 2

Ninety years ago, the world’s largest shop-at-home company expanded into real-world retail in Seattle.

That Sears store lasted until just recently; a victim of large-scale corporate mismanagement.

Now, the world’s currently largest shop-at-home company has expanded into real-world retail in Seattle.

Amazon Books in University Village does not have, as Amazon.com once claimed to have, “Earth’s Largest Selection.” It’s more of a throwback to the days of B. Dalton and Waldenbooks.

Like those chains had been, Amazon Books is highly bestseller driven. Or rather, its stock is driven by two factors. Some are picked because of their actual sales on the Amazon site. Others are picked because of the amount of positive customer comments (and, in the case of new releases, requests) on the site.

It has everything displayed “face out,” not “spine out,” a display tactic already used at airport bookshops. (Even B. Dalton, onetime monarch of shopping-mall bookstores, shelved most of its titles the linear-space-saving “spine out” way.)

Besides further reducing the store’s selection, this shtick makes each title a “featured selection,” just as Amazon’s site gives even the more obscure books their own web pages. Each title on display gets its own display card, quoting from a customer review on the book’s Amazon.com sales page.

It’s cashless; credit and debit cards only.

Prices are the same as on the website, and thus can change even within the same day.

Amazon has kept most of its gazillion other product lines out of the store, with a precious few exceptions. There’s a selection of “Amazon Essentials” (electronics cables, chargers, and earphones). And there’s a display of the company’s house-brand e-readers, tablets, phones, and media players. These are items that really benefit from in-person demonstrations by in-person salespeople.

As a “retail theater experience,” Amazon Books has tall shelves and narrow aisles with plenty of intimate nooks and crannies, like a good bookstore has. There’s no space for live readings or signings; but the lighting is nice n’ subdued, and the shelves seem to be made of real wood.

In short: Amazon Books won’t change anyone’s opinion of the book industry’s current 500-lb. gorilla.

And it’s no replacement for the Barnes & Noble that used to be in U Village; or even for the small indie bookstore that was in the Village before B&N.

If you want a particular book (especially a more obscure one), and you want to possess it today, you’re more likely to find it elsewhere.

If you’re a purist book lover, and you want to browse and discover a title you’d never heard of before, you;ll still prefer the likes of Elliott Bay and the U Book Store.

But as “a clean, well lighted place for books,” it’s decent enough.

And, by devoting so much doting attention to each and every title in its stock, it may actually serious about selling books.

OTHER VOICES:

The PS Biz Journal quotes local indie bookstores as saying Amazon’s real-world outlet doesn’t threaten them.

BuzzFeed jams on Amazon Books as an opportunity to cajole you into supporting your local indie outlet.

A Forbes.com freelance “contributor” says Amazon Books could potentially be a savior of real-world book selling, if its data-driven product stocking reduces the costly returns that have plagued the publishing biz for so long.

AMAZON @ 20
Jul 7th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

an early amazon home page, via onemonthrails.com

an early amazon home page, via onemonthrails.com

One month ago, I asked you to turn back your mental clocks to the summer of 1995.

It was a time when Seattle still had a men’s pro basketball team and two daily newspapers. It was a time when Seattle bands still ruled the recorded-music sales charts (and a time when people still bought recorded music).

And, as I’d mentioned last month, it was a time when the whole World Wide Web thang was new and full of possibilities. Wired magazine’s pundits (a homogenous gang of “Grateful Dead fiscal conservatives”) lauded the dawn of a new golden age for media, the arts, medicine, and business opportunities unfettered by either governments or by the physical laws of planet Earth.

Amid all this hype, many “dot com” startups began.

Many of those ventures burned out in one to five years, having run out of money before they could turn a cool domain name into a viable business model.

There are (or were) websites devoted to chronicling the demises of other websites. Many of those obituary sites are also now defunct.

One of those first-generation dot-coms, however, has continued to live, and to expand in all directions like a wild Northwest blackberry bush.

And it’s done this without turning a real profit for most of its 20 years in existence.

Amazon.com Inc. has a lot of very patient investors. That, and its famous aggressive approach to everything it does (under such internal slogans as “Get Big Fast” and “It’s Always Day One”) turned it into one of the nation’s top 10 “technology” companies.

My readers here in Seattle don’t have to be told what Amazon has done for and/or to the city.

It’s brought thousands of swaggering “Code Ninja” programmer doodz into town (often for just one or two years), who’ve reshaped the local nightlife and bar industries while threatening the longstanding civic image of “Seattle Nice.”

It’s helped to accelerate the hyper-inflation of housing prices and the replacement of so many cool low-rise buildings.

It’s reshaped the Cascade (er, “South Lake Union”) neighborhood with its office buildings, and is doing the same to Belltown.

It’s made what was already one of America’s biggest book-buying burgs into a top center of gravity for book distribution and even publishing.

In the larger world, it’s become both loved and hated, often for the same things.

Along with most tech-centric companies, it’s been chided for its low hiring of non-white and non-male employees.

It’s become a symbol of economic inequality, paying many programmers six-figure salaries while being far less generous to its warehouse staffs.

Along with previous 500-lb. gorillas of bookselling (B. Dalton, Borders, etc.), it’s feared and despised by much of the old NYC publishing elite. Like those companies did before it, Amazon has been accused of setting its terms and expecting publishers to fall into line.

With the Kindle, it finally turned e-book reader devices into a real business. It helped to generate an explosion in online self-publishing, facilitating tens of thousands of author-entrepreneurs (who get nervous every time Amazon changes its terms).

Kindle, and the privacy it affords to its users, also helped turn “women’s erotica” into a major commercial genre.

In just about every other category of e-commerce, it’s instilled fear into competitors who don’t have the luxury of doing business for years without profits.

I shouldn’t describe Amazon as completely without profit.

It’s earning healthy margins on Amazon Web Services (AWS), its computing-services division, providing Internet “cloud” servers for other companies, including Netflix (a rival to Amazon’s own streaming-video venture), Spotify, and Instagram.

AWS’s web-page serving business is so big, and some of its clients are themselves so big, that up to one-third of U.S. Internet traffic at certain times of the day comes from AWS-hosted sites.

Another part of what AWS does is a modern, broadband-enabled version of what Boeing’s Computer Services division or Ross Perot’s old EDS company did—crunch numbers and process data for organizations that need stuff done by big computers, but don’t need to own their own big computers to get them done.

That business is almost certainly here to stay.

As for all the other big and little parts of this huge outfit, it all depends.

It can continue to “Get Big Fast” in new venture after new venture, as long as its shareholders (who include a lot of its own top employees, past and present) remain patient.

If they don’t, or if a raider like Carl Ichan muscles into the scene, Amazon might one day have to sell or drop some of its costlier or newer lines of business, raise prices and “Prime” membership fees, pause some of its ginormous office-building plans, hold back on some new projects, and shed some of its 20,000 staff in the Seattle area (out of some 165,000 worldwide).

And if that happens, you could see a local recession comparable to the 1970 Boeing Bust.

You might claim you’d like to see Amazon’s influence on Seattle wane. But a crash would hurt a lot of people.

BUSES, BANKS, AND THE BUILDING BOOM
May 22nd, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

Still more classic places and things are going away from our once-sleepy city, as it loses more and more pieces of its built heritage to an urban building boom the likes of which Seattle hasn’t seen in nearly a century.

We’ll start this journey with a street feature almost everyone in the city has seen and even used, but to which few might fave given any thought.

The bus stop “island” on Pine Street between Third and Fourth avenues is one of the last standing relics from downtown’s once-prominent streetcar lines.

Those long, track-bound vehicles generally ran in the middle of four-lane streets, and of course couldn’t pull over to the curve to add or subtract from their passenger loads. Riders got on and off the streetcars from raised concrete islands placed one lane away from the curb (sometimes dodging car traffic to get there).

Most of those islands were removed in the 1940s, when the streetcars were scrapped and the tracks were dug up. But the island on Pine remained, for riders on buses and rubber-tired “trackless trolleys” at what remained Seattle’s highest-volume transit intersection.

Until now.

The island bus stop is now permanently closed. By July, piledrivers will clear it away. The space will be turned into a truck loading zone and a permanent parking spot for police vehicles.

It’s part of a major project to completely revamp the bus zones along Third Avenue and adjacent streets. When the work’s all done, the city promises the area will be more convenient and attractive to residents, commuters, and shoppers alike.

But it’ll be without a remnant of a time when public transit was a far more central aspect of city life.

(A more elaborate trolley island survives on South Jackson Street, but it hasn’t been used for transit since the demise of the Waterfront Streetcar.)

streetcar island at third and yesler (seattle municipal archive via kplu)

Even before Seattle’s streetcar network was changed to buses, “Motor coaches” had been carrying people within and between cities.

And in Seattle, intercity bus trips had begun at the Central Stage Terminal on Stewart Street. Greyhound took it over, along with some of the regional bus lines that stopped there, by 1939.

The station was in constant use (sometimes 24/7). Untold thousands of passengers passed through its lobby (which, like that of the King Street railway station, had been sadly “modernized” in the 1960s).

That ended last summer. Developers bought up the entire block, intending to build another of those big new luxury hotels. They haven’t started yet (there’s a shortage of construction cranes and crews here these days).

Greyhound could have moved in with Amtrak at the now-restored King Street Station, but instead remodeled a small building near Safeco Field. (It’s near the Link light rail line, but good luck trying to get a cab from there on game days.)

The old Greyhound station, especially before its remodel, was a passenger palace near the city’s heart. The new station seems like almost an afterthought to Seattle’s transportation network.

Some landmarks don’t have to be (completely) removed to lose their original character.

The Rainier Square block is the biggest surviving relic of what was Washington’s second biggest bank.

The project was originally announced in the early 1970s as Commerce House, the new headquartes of National Bank of Commerce. Before it was finished, the bank’s name was changed to Rainier Bank and the project became Rainier Square. It replaced the stoic, block-long White-Henry-Stuart building with a slender office tower atop an odd looking but functional pedastel. The tower was set above a block of street level storefronts, which in turn led into an underground passageway to the Convention Center.

Rainier Bank disappeared during the first wave of out-of-state bank takeovers in the late 1980s. but Rainier Square remained, and even grew with a second-floor atrium (home to the Rock Bottom brewpub).

Now, developers plan to raze the block’s low-rise northern half for a second tower, bulkier than and almost twice as tall as the first, with a staggered base that will look vaguely like a high-heel boot.

The original Rainier Square tower, one of the finest products of Seattle’s ’70s highrise boom, will remain. But its clean modern lines will be dwarfed by its overwhelming new neighbor.

nbbj/motyw via seattlepi.com

(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)

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© Copyright 2015 Clark Humphrey (clark (at) miscmedia (dotcom)).