»
S
I
D
E
B
A
R
«
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.)

CORPORATE BEER STILL SUCKS. STILL.
Jan 24th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

There will still be four Elysian brewpubs in Seattle.

There will still be various Elysian beers on tap and in bottles at bars, restaurants, and stores in the region and beyond.

There will still (probably) be an Elysian Brewery on Airport Way South, not far from the old Rainier Brewery.

But they’ll all be owned now by AB InBev (doing business in this country as Anheuser-Busch).

The Belgian beer conglomerate that bought Budweiser (and commands 47 percent of the nation’s total beer sales) is now buying up craft brewers around the country. Just weeks ago, it snapped up Oregon’s 10 Barrel. It already owns 32 percent of the now-merged Redhook and Widmer Brothers.

And now, Elysian has joined the empire.

The craft brewers’ national trade group, the Brewers Association, automatically expels any member company that sells out to AB or MillerCoors. (However, the group altered its rules a few years back to allow Boston Beer (Sam Adams) to remain in the group.)

For almost 19 years now, starting with a single (albeit spacious) brewpub in the Pike/Pine Corridor, Elysian has steadily become a big fish in the no-longer-so-small pond of regional craft brewers. Its product line has included over 350 different brews over the years, many of them short-term and seasonal (like its annual pumpkin ales). Its products are distributed in 11 states and two Canadian provinces.

One of those products is Loser Ale, originally introduced as a promotional tie-in with Sub Pop’s 20th anniversary in 2008. Its slogan (based on Kurt Cobain’s hand scrawled T shirt on a Rolling Stone cover, which in turn was based on SST Records’ old slogan): “Corporate Beer Still Sucks.”

Many “craft beer” drinkers see their choice of drink as meaning a lot more than just a matter of quality product. They think of indie beer (just as many think of indie music) as a crusade of the Regular Folk fighting back against a bland, monolithic corporate culture.

But should they?

As Kendall Jones writes at the Washington Beer Blog:

The sky is not falling. This is not a sign that the end is near. There are still over 3,400 breweries in America that Anheuser-Busch does not own…. As craft beer lovers, we’ve been taught that Anheuser-Busch and the other big beer companies are our enemies. So what gives? Is Elysian now evil? Not in my mind, but that’s a decision you’ll have to make for yourself.

Another view on the Elysian sale comes from Jeff Alworth at the Canadian blog Beervana, who ties Elysian’s past success to its savvy local management:

It’s long been my favorite Washington brewery, and it’s always my first stop when I hit Seattle. It has always seemed the most Seattle of the Seattle breweries—an extemporaneous brewery that could be equal parts gritty and urbane and credibly support local sports teams or indie bands. Elysian always seemed to be right where Seattle was at the time….

Just because a brewery is local doesn’t mean it can channel the local mores, culture, and zeitgeist. Elysian could and did—which is a big part of why they were so good. Can they still do that as a division of AB? In the short term, almost certainly. But I fear we’ve lost a little bit of what made Seattle Seattle.

If, as Elysian’s owners publicly insist, joining the big boys was the only way to support the company’s continued growth and to fund further expansion, maybe there’s a natural business limit to how big a microbrewer can be and still remain independent (if no longer truly “micro”).

neonsign.com

In other news:

  • Chop Suey, the venerable live-music club located not far from the original Elysian brewpub, may remain open (or rather, reopen) after all.
  • Here’s how out-of-it (locally) I’ve been: Richard Hugo House, the city’s premier writing and literary-arts center, is getting demolished and rebuilt at the same site. Didn’t even know.
  • The Seattle City Council and City Attorney Pete Holmes apparently believe sex workers will be less abused by pimps and traffickers if we just create harsher penalties for sex-work customers. Uh, no; it doesn’t work that way. Try again. This time, try to work on the pimps and traffickers themselves (and on support services for the workers).
  • There’s still no real replacement for the still-mourned Fun Forest amusement area at Seattle Center. But we may be getting a 1,000-foot water slide this summer.
  • Our pal Lindy West remembers the cool stuff found in the now-bankrupt SkyMall catalog, and also ponders whether its fate is that of all that is fun and quirky.
  • Hershey, which owns all U.S. rights to Cadbury products, is moving to stop the grey-market imports of the British-made chocolate goodies.
  • Print books are bouncing back, according to recent sales figures. The “literature is doomed” crowd will, I’m sure, simply ignore these figures and continue its wailing-and-gnashing-of-teeth.
RANDOM QUESTIONS
May 26th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

sony pictures tv via wellesley.edu

I’m still not back to posting Random Links posts (at least not without re-thinking their whole format).

But today, I have some random questions:

  • If you know that advertising/media images about people like you are lying, why would you ever believe such images about anyone else?
  • Why do most “do what you love, the money will follow” books presume that everybody already has money?
  • If “not all men” are rude or violent creeps (which is true), how can those who aren’t convert (or at least disarm) those who are?
  • If “content is king,” the thing that gets and keeps people going to one website instead of another, why do so many dotcoms pay six-figure salaries to programmers but expect writers and artists to work for free?
  • Could I ever deserve to be the man of a woman as smokin’ smart as Jeopardy! champ Julia Collins?
WHERE AMERICA SHOPPED
Mar 21st, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

theryanrvexpress.blogspot.com

Here is a story about the world’s largest “shop from home” company, and the time it started an experimental business operation in Seattle that grew and grew.

The company was Sears, Roebuck and Co. (“Cheapest Supply House on Earth”, “Our Trade Reaches Around the World”).

The time was 1925.

The experiment was to expand from its famous “Big Book” mail order catalogs into what are now called “brick and mortar” retail stores. Urbanization and automobiles (two trends that now seem contradictory) had come to threaten Sears’ biggest market—rural families who wanted prices and selections they couldn’t get in small-town stores.

Because this was a new direction for a company that had grown huge on its existing business model, Sears management chose to save money by placing its first two retail stores in buildings it already owned—its catalog warehouses in Chicago (the company’s headquarters) and Seattle. (The Chicago flagship store closed a few decades back, leaving the Seattle store as the company’s oldest.)

The Sears Seattle warehouse building had been built a little over a decade before, in 1912. The Industrial District (later christened “Sodo” by local boosters) had just been created a few years before, from tide flats filled in with dirt from the city’s massive regrading projects. It was built for the company by the Union Pacific Railroad, whose freight tracks hugged its back side. It was built from solid old growth local timber, with handsome brick cladding and a clock tower (still the neighborhood’s tallest structure, other than container-dock cranes) on top.

It also happened to be two miles south of the city’s traditional retail core. This meant the store would rely less on foot traffic and more on folks driving expressly to go there. That meant it was a forbearer of suburban malls and big-box stores, trends Sears would ride on nationally in the post-WWII decades.

The store housed a subset of the catalog’s almost-everything selection (but not cars, or entire houses in kit form, or non-perishable groceries, three of the catalog’s once-popular sections). It had “soft goods” (clothes and linens). It had “hard goods” (appliances, hardware, auto parts, furniture). For a while, there was even a farm supply department.

In 1951, the new Alaskan Way Viaduct meant Sears was just off of the main highway through the city. A little over a decade later, I-5 would pass nearby.

Generations grew up with our own local version of the store advertised as “Where America Shops,” a chunk of middle class materialistic heaven surrounded by warehouse and small factories.

Perhaps the escalators were narrow and rickety, and the ceilings shorter, compared to newer stores in the malls; but Seattle’s Sears had its own charms. The popcorn machine and the candy counter. The cool pastel colored walls in the women’s department. The Saturday morning cartoons or Sunday afternoon sports games on the wall of TVs.

Meanwhile, the warehouse part of the building grew over the years to 2.2 million square feet, making it Seattle’s largest building by volume.

But the Sears catalogs were phased out in the mid 1980s. The building was put up for sale in 1990. It was first retitled SoDo Center, then Starbucks Center when the coffee giant moved its head offices into it.

The Sears retail store remained but shrank. Part of its space was taken up by by an Office Max. Home Depot opened a huge store across South Lander Street, competing with many of Sears’ “hard goods” departments.

The company wasn’t doing too well nationally by this time either. Walmart had overtaken both Sears and Kmart to become the nation’s top retailer. The 2004 merger of Sears and Kmart failed to revive either chain’s fortunes.

Thus, the end of the Sodo Sears store became inevitable.

Only 79 employees remained with the store when its closure was announced in February, 13 of them in the “Auto Center” department.

The store had become forgotten before it was gone.

(Cross posted with City Living Seattle.)

SINCE WE’RE NEIGHBORS, LET’S BE FRIENDS
Mar 20th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

mallhalloffame.blogspot.ca

In the six weeks or so since I posted any news briefs, the news has just kept on a-comin’.

Among the highlights: The hedge-fund guys who bought and sold Chrysler, then bought (and re-merged) the two previously spun-apart regional halves of Albertsons, are now going to buy Safeway.

Both chains have been bought and sold in leveraged buyout schemes previously; both have barely recovered from those debacles. Both chains have also acquired other regional chains over the decades, and lost and re-gained some of the stores operating under their original “store banners.” Even the “core” Safeway-branded operation was originally a merger of several chains, arranged by Merrill Lynch in the 1920s.

It happens that Safeway and Albertsons both have roots in Idaho (the original Albertsons is still open in Boise!). Both circuits grew and thrived in the inland and coastal West, areas A&P (the grocery biz’s former 300-lb. gorilla) mostly never got around to entering. These are also territories that Walmart only got around to entering in the last decade or two. That makes them relatively stable fiscally, compared to southern and eastern grocery circuits operating in Walmart’s core regions.

Both chains, of course, control lots of real estate, which may be the real reason they’re attractive to the hedge-fund folks. Safeway in particular has actively co-developed multi-story, “mixed use” projects on many of its store sites, including several projects in Seattle and Bellevue.

The soon-to-be-combined chains’ management claims no stores will close as a result of the merger. But many could be sold off, especially in metro areas where both chains are strong. And some warehouses and front-office jobs could also go away.

One thing I predict won’t go away: the persistent, and false, urban legend that either or both chains are really “owned by the Mormons.” They never were.

NY10014 at flickr

I HATE CALIFORNIA. IT’S COLD AND IT’S DAMP.
Jan 17th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

'i hate the 49ers' on facebook

(Note: This post’s title is a gag based on a song lyric. Californians never get the joke.)

Twice a year, I get to express out loud an opinion that usually attracts scorn and correctiveness from even my closest friends.

And this week, I get to really say it.

The excuse: The Seahawks’ upcoming battle in the National Football League’s playoff semifinals, against the arch rival 49ers.

The opinion: San Francisco is a land of pompous, arrogant snobs who falsely believe themselves to be the Supreme Species of the Universe.

Especially San Francisco’s “alternative” and “radical” scenes.

That’s a socially forbidden opinion there—and even, often, here.

All my life, I’ve heard people here insisting that Seattle was a “hick town” that needed to become “world class” by religiously copying everything in, from, and about San Francisco. Its restaurants and bars. Its bands. Its fashions. Its municipal political structure. Its architecture. Its media institutions. Its stores. Its strip clubs. Even its street crime.

To these “local boosters,” anything Seattleites created on their own was intrinsically inferior to anything swiped from or “inspired by” cultural dictates from down south. (This attitude was particularly strong during the ’70s and ’80s, when Seattle’s civic establishment was almost completely run by upscale baby boomers.)

Over the years, there’s also been a steady stream of promoters and hucksters from there moving up here, opening “authentic San Francisco style” hoity-toity clubs or boutiques, long on attitude and short on anything really interesting. When these enterprises failed, as they usually did, said hucksters bemoaned us Seattle hicks for failing to appreciate their genius.

To a true San Franciscan, there is only San Francisco, and maybe New York, and just-maybe-maybe Los Angeles. The rest of America is all Bumfuck, Iowa.

“But,” people invariably say, “what about all the bohemian rebels and counterculturists and Establishment-challengers from there?”

They can be even more annoyingly snooty than your basic San Franciscan annoying snoot.

And it’s an American tragedy, the way they’ve helped left-wing politics to get ensnarled with the most anti-populist, square-bashing sentiments, in which one is supposed to love “the people” and hate “the sap masses” at the same time. (I’m talking to you, Mr. Tom Tomorrow and Mr. Jello Biafra.)

I happen to believe progressive/revolutionary politics should be for everybody.

Even meat eaters. Even TV viewers. Even people who don’t drink lattes or listen to public radio.

Otherwise it’s just a worthless pose.

There’s now a book out by one Fred Turner, called From Counterculture to Cyberculture. It traces the twisted path of San Franciscan “liberation” ideology/hype, from the “flower power” wild-oats sowers, through the Whole Earth Catalog gang, to the early microcomputer startups, to Wired magazine’s founders, to the hyper-alpha guys (and too few gals) running today’s dot-com giants.

Turner traces how a particular strain of NoCal “personal freedom” beliefs mutated and metastasized into corporate-Libertarian selfishness.

The Harvard Business Review story about the book carries the telling title, “How Silicon Valley Became the Man.”

Right now in Frisco (an informal, anti-elitist abbreviation I always insist upon using), there’s a loud backlash against dot-com one-percenters taking over the whole city, forcing artists and musicians (and, oh yeah, non-white folks) out, and making annoyances of themselves with their big spending and boorish behavior.

Protesters and pundits forthrightly proclaim that this all runs counter to “The City” and its heritage of rugged individualists, rule breakers, and wild boys.

No. It’s a monster bastard child of that heritage, taken to a parasitical extreme.

So no, Danny Westneat and Knute Berger: I don’t share any “sense of inferiority to San Francisco.”

I treat it as an example of what Seattle should not become.

RANDOM LINKS FOR 1/10/14
Jan 10th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

fastcoexist.com

  • The Fast Company folks seem to love Northgate’s Thornton Creek mixed use megaproject.
  • A Seattle architect has re-devoted his career toward aiding the homeless and the recently homeless.
  • One-fourth of Amazon’s Kindle ebook sales in 2012 were for books by indie and self-publishers.
  • Amazon’s warehouses, sometimes infamous for pushing workers hard, are getting robotized.
  • Meanwhile, some guy at the Atlantic’s biz-news site Quartz claims that 3D printing and robotized manufacturing, and the one-of-a-kind manufacturing they can enable, could eventually mean “the end of Walmart and mass-market retail as you know it.”
  • Students at Eastside Catholic High School will keep protesting the firing of a beloved, now gay-married, vice principal.
  • Seattle author David Shields is acting in a movie directed by James Franco.
  • City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, and the Stranger writers who relentlessly pushed her candidacy, were named to the Nation‘s “2013 Progressive Honor Roll.”
  • The gang down at Three Imaginary Girls has a roundup of their favorite (mostly) local music of ’13.
  • Ani DiFranco scheduled a women’s songwriting retreat at a former slave plantation. (The place is now a museum, offering a highly sanitized account of America’s slave-owning heritage.) Some Af-Am women protested online. A smart person would have used this hubbub as a positive “teaching moment.” DiFranco and her associates essentially failed at that.
  • Where They Are Now Dept.: NY punk and underground-film bad girl Lydia Lunch now teaches women’s yoga and “empowerment” workshops in Calif.
  • Right-wing front groups, pretending to be “journalists,” have tried to obstruct investigations into right-wing financial misdealings in Wisconsin.
  • Prostitution is fully legal in Canada (including brothel-keeping and solicitation), sez their Supreme Court. It could be the start of a new (or upgraded) tourism shtick. But I’d like it to mean more respect and personal safety for sex workers, there and here.
RANDOM LINKS FOR 1/9/14
Jan 8th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

cartoonbrew.com

  • DVD sales may be collapsing in the Age of Streaming, but cheap knockoff imitations of famous animated features keep showing up.
  • Has the City of Seattle finally found an effective legal weapon against notorious U District/Roosevelt slumlord Hugh Sisley?
  • The fallout of the Boeing Machinists’ vote is just going to get messier. And it’ll set lousy precedents all around.
  • Noah Smith at the Atlantic believes the years have proven the Seattle WTO protesters were right.
  • An especially gruesome local child-abuse scandal has made the UK tabloids.
  • No Country for Old Men novelist Cormac McCarthy’s ex wife was found arguing with her current boyfriend about UFOs, when she “gave birth” to a concealed gun.
  • Pundit Edgeny Morozov sees the brouhaha over Edward Snowden’s high-tech-snooping allegations not for what they say about modern governments but for what they say about modern business.
  • Fewer people are smoking (as a proportion of the world’s population). But more people are smoking (counting raw numbers).
  • Sir Run Run Shaw, 1907-2014: The king of Hong Kong commercial cinema essentially created the martial-arts action genre. The Shaw Brothers studio originally intended it as escapist entertainment for the international Chinese diaspora across the Pacific Rim. But many of these films, by Shaw’s and other studios, became a cinematic trope of global appeal. (Seattle’s own Bruce Lee worked for the Shaws’ archrivals Golden Harvest.) Raise a toast to the man while watching possibly the greatest studio-logo sequence in film history.

REQUIEM FOR AN APARTMENT
Dec 23rd, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

In early October, crews began tossing abandoned personal belongings out of the former Palladian Apartments at Second and Virginia, across from the Moore Theatre/Hotel.

Everything that the building’s former tenants chose not to take with them, along with all of the building’s interior walls and fixtures, was originally sent down the building’s not-always-reliable single elevator, then later by chutes attached on the building’s south side. It all got tossed into truck-sized Dumpsters parked outside.

Among the toss-outs: CRT TV sets. Cheap Ikea shelving. Old clothes in varying degrees of rattiness. Pots and pans. The detrius of more than 60 human lives, detrius left behind and destined for either recycling or dumping.

In 1909-10 (shortly after the the Moore, and a little late for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition tourist business), attorney/businessman Scott Calhoun built the Calhoun Hotel for $175,000. Its block had recently been lowered as part of the massive Denny Regrade project. (The intersection of Second and Virginia is the highest remaining point in what had been the Denny Hill neighborhood.)

Like the nearby Moore, Commodore, St. Regis, and New Washington hotels (the latter two are now nonprofit housing), the Calhoun was the product of a frontier city trying to prove it had come of age.

Its facade incorporated elements of Art Nouveau and Beaux Arts architecture.

Its 152 guest rooms were small by modern standards, but its lobby, mezzanine, and dining room were posh.

There was even a “rathskeller” beer tavern in the basement (which became a Prohibition-era “speakeasy”).

Over the decades, the Calhoun (like its neighbor hotels) got steadily less posh. It essentially became a single-room occupancy residence.

Developers turned it into the Palladian (after a style of window dressing on its exterior) in 1984. The lobby was walled off into two storefront spaces, a building office, and an alcove/mailroom for the residents upstairs.

The storefronts first housed a bookstore and coffeehouse. Later tenants included the Poor Italian Restaurant and Corner Bar; then the Buenos Aires Grill and the Whisky Bar.

The upstairs contained 69 apartments (all studios and 1-brs; some with Space Needle views) and an art studio. It was affordable housing without public subsidies, except a city tax credit for preserving existing affordable housing stock.

However, there were hidden costs within those relatively low rents. The units and hallways were bland looking. Stairwells were poorly maintained. The elevator often stalled.

And it had noise issues, particularly the units that faced the alley entrance to a men’s homeless shelter. This alley became a 24-hour hangout for street people, including drug dealers and users.

In 2011, the city granted historic-landmark designation to the building and its exterior.

The following year, the Buenos Aires Grill’s owners signed a lease on the Whisky Bar’s space. The Whisky Bar’s owners took out all the furnishings and fixtures, which the Buenos Aires people almost completely duplicated to create the new Corner Bar. (A new Whisky Bar moved one block up the street, opening in October 2012.)

Then this past March, notices appeared in the mailroom and the ground-floor office door, asking tenants to personally meet with landlord David Cohanim. They learned that Cohanim, whose family had owned the building for more than a decade, was turning it into a boutique hotel.

City relocation assistance checks arrived in mid-May. Even before that, residents had begun to seek new homes, pack up, and move out. They scattered to places near and far—to commercial and non-profit apartments, to senior buildings, to rooms in relatives’ homes.

The Buenos Aires and the Corner Bar closed by the end of May.

The last resident officially moved out of the Palladian on Aug. 17.

Once the residents’ abandoned trash is removed, workers will take out the appliances, plumbing fixtures, cabinetry, and anything else that can be sold or recycled.

Then, the building’s roof will be knocked open. A crane will drop a small bulldozer onto the top floor. With that machine, crews will knock out the entire interior of each floor, top to bottom; flooring, wiring, and all.

It will take at least a year for what’s tentatively being called the new Calhoun Hotel to open. (Its operation may be contracted out to an established management company, which may want to stick its own name onto the place.)

The last Palladian residents will each get one free night in the hotel.

(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)

IF I ONLY HAD A BUSINESS MODEL
Dec 20th, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

It’s Saturday Oct. 19. It’s Independent Video Store Day, an industrywide promotion similar to Record Store Day.

Scarecrow Video in the University District is packed with customers, there for special sales offers and cult-movie screenings.

Some of these are once-loyal customers who haven’t been inside Scarecrow, or any brick-and-mortar video store, in a long time.

The store needs them back, and on more than just one day a year.

Scarecrow Video is in trouble.

Not from the owners of the “Wizard of Oz” trademarks. That was quietly settled long ago, with the scarecrow in the store’s logo replaced by the silhouette of a flying crow.

And not from landlords. Store owner Carl Tostevin bought the building (formerly a stereo shop, and then a large Radio Shack) a while back.

No, what could kill the store that boasts of having “the world’s largest collection of films” are the same trends that killed Rain City Video, Hollywood Video, and even the once-mighty Blockbuster.

In the mid 1980s, during the first heyday of home video, attorney Fred Hopkins and record collector John Black had a little used record store, Backtrack, on the 25th Ave. NE strip north of University Village. Hopkins brought in a few dozen VHS tapes of ’50s horror and other cheesy B movies, for rent and for sale.

One day, regular customer George Latsois came in with some tapes of foreign and “art” films. Hopkins and Black agreed to stock them on Backtrack’s rental shelves on Latsois’s behalf. They rented well enough to encourage Latsois to start his own store.

Scarecrow Video began its standalone existence in an old commercial building south of Green Lake. Latsois quickly expanded to a second, then a third, adjacent storefront. He put everything he made and more into increasing his stock. Scarecrow, he decided, would be a destination store attracting customers from around the city and even the ‘burbs.

Latsois and a growing staff of film fanatics outgrew the Green Lake space. They moved to a bigger, and higher profile, location on Roosevelt Way, just off of the NE 50th Street freeway exit.

The U District was one of the city’s traditional film hubs. The Seven Gables and Metro cinames, and the Cinema Books store, were just down the street; the Neptune, Varsity, and Grand Illusion theaters were on or near nearby University Way; the UW itself had acclaimed film-studies programs and screening series. Scarecrow immediately became a major part, then an anchor, of this activity.

It was at Scarecrow that I first saw a DVD being played (the first Michael Keaton Batman). Within 10 years, the DVD format would render VHS (and the niche Laserdisc format) completely obsolete. Scarecrow, though, would hold on to hundreds of VHS titles that still haven’t come out on DVD.

Latsois kept expanding his selection. He tried to balance interesting but unprofitable titles with films in popular or niche-market genres (sexploitaiton, anime, old Hollywood classics). Scarecrow’s collection, already the biggest in Seattle, became one of the, and then THE, biggest in America.

But Latsois’s get-big-fast model caught up with the store’s finances. He was forced to seek buyers. He found them in 1998, in Microsoft managers (and loyal store customers) Tostevin and John Dauphiny.

Latsois died in 2003 in his native Greece; a wake at Scarecrow was attended by loyal customers dating from back in the Backtrack days.

With the backing of Tostevin and Dauphiny (who kept their Microsoft day jobs and didn’t take salaries from the store), Scarecrow continued to grow. To 23,000 titles, then to 80,000, then to almost 120,000.

Every available foot of space in the former stereo shop was turned into shelves. The main room’s collections of “auteur” directors became a labyrinth of tall shelves, separated by increasingly narrow passages. At Scarecrow, shopping for films was as much of an adventure as watching them.

Then came Netflix’s DVD by mail service. Then came streaming and on-demand services. Independent retailers like Scarecrow, which can’t afford the expensive rights (or the technical infrastructure) to stream movies, were cut off from that side of the buisness.

DVD rentals and sales tumbled. The big movie studios cut back their DVD release schedules. Video stores everywhere (independents, chains, big and small) began to disappear.

Tostevin (who bought out Dauphiny’s share) kept Scarecrow open, with a staff of 30. They added a coffee bar (“VHSpresso”), a screening room, and cross-promotions with art cinemas and neighborhood small businesses. They pushed the sales side of the business, and offered different rental specials each day of the week. It hasn’t been enough.

On Oct. 17, two days before Independent Video Store Day, Tostevin posted notice on the store’s website:

“Our rental numbers have declined roughly 40% over the past 6 years. This isn’t a huge surprise—obviously technology has been moving this direction for some time—but the decline has been more dramatic than we had anticipated.… Scarecrow has never been about making money, but it has to support itself. It’s no longer doing that, and hasn’t for a while.”

Scarecrow general manager Jeffrey Shannon told KOMO-TV that if revenues don’t pick up by year’s end, he and Tostavin might pursue a nonprofit, subscription-based model or other options. Completely closing, and disbanding the collection, remains one of those options.

In his website post, Tostevin didn’t ask for donations, just for his former regulars to “come back in” and buy and/or rent stuff; particularly during the upcoming holiday season.

One of the things you could buy is a Scarecrow T-shirt bearing the cartoon image of an anthropomorphic DVD disc and VHS cassette, smiling beneath the slogan VIVA PHYSICAL MEDIA.

(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)

WHEN THE BILL’S COMES DUE
Dec 16th, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

In February, we wrote about the impending closure of Bill’s Off Broadway, Capitol Hill’s venerable home style pizza place and sports bar.

At the time, Bill’s was scheduled to close on June 30. Delays in the big redevelopment project on the Pine and Harvard site meant Bill’s owner Don Stevens got to stay open over the summer.

Bill’s finally closed on Dec. 2, coinciding with a Seahawks appearance on Monday Night Football. The old joint was packed with well wishes and regulars past and present. It was more a celebration than a wake, especially with the Seahawks’ easy victory lifting everyone’s spirits.

Stevens and crew will reopen in the new building on the site some time in 2015; a new Bill’s “exile” location is now open on Greenwood Avenue N., north of N. 85th Street.

RANDOM LINKS FOR 12/17/13
Dec 16th, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

  • Good News (Personal) Dept.: I’ve got a part time job these days. It’s in the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle. That was one of the many local structures designed by the great local architect Fred Bassetti, whom we lost earlier this month.
  • Why Didn’t I Know About This Sooner? Dept.: Bob Royer (ex-KING 5 newsman; brother of ex-mayor Charley; ex-hubby of self help maven Jennifer James) has been writing online about Northwest history. His recent topics include a Spokane narrative poet from the early 20th century and the launch of Washington’s wine industry as we know it today (he traces it to the state Legislature’s move in 1969 to allow more Calif. imports).
  • Passage-O-Time Dept.: It’s been 20 years since the murder of Gits singer Mia Zapata sparked the founding of Seattle self-defense group Home Alive. There’s now a documentary about the group and its impact. No idea when the film might play here.
  • There hasn’t been a new Seattle Best Places guidebook since ’09, and now the publisher says there won’t be any more.
  • Nope, there’s still no concrete plan to bring the National Hockey League to Seattle.
  • As ESPN’s Chris Berman might say, Mariners fans can now give a big welcome to ex-Yankees star Robinson “Paddle Your Own” Cano. (Of course, one marquee-draw player alone won’t reverse the results of years of mismanagement.)
  • The UW football team’s got a new coach, the same guy who helped helm Boise State’s rise to powerhouse (or at least near-powerhouse) status.
  • Mars Hill Church leader Mark Driscoll isn’t the only guy trying to combine a “hip” image with reactionary religious politics. One example, from Portland, is a vintage-furniture shop owner who moonlights as a street preacher railing against gays, strippers, and football, among other things.
  • German Amazon employees went all the way to Seattle to protest the company’s warehouse working conditions. The apparent lesson: In the age of globalized capital, labor must behave likewise.
  • Meanwhile, Amazon’s predecessor as America’s great central general store, Sears, was nearly destroyed by an Ayn Rand-lovin’ CEO whose modus operandi was to pit department against department, manager against manager, employee against employee. (Any relation to recent management policies at, say, Microsoft are purely coincidental I’m sure.)
RANDOM LINKS FOR 9/27/13
Sep 27th, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

seattleglobalist.com

  • The thorough folks at Seattle Globalist traced UW-licensed apparel items back to the places where they were made, to the people who made them, and to how much more the people who made them would need to earn to meet the local cost of living.
  • Speaking of apparel, BuzzFeed’s got some sorry evidence of pathetic attempts to turn punk rock nostalgia into mere fashion-fad fodder.
  • Still speaking of apparel, Sesame Street really doesn’t like unauthorized “Sexy Big Bird” Halloween costumes. (You can still get the “Pho King Hot” waitress costume, though.)
  • Why is Storyville Coffee, a single espresso and pastry boutique in the Pike Place Market, spending so much on lavish pre-opening marketing (including a month of free food and drinks for invited guests)? Because (1) it’s the first unit of a planned chain, and (2) it’s got the zillionaire behind a for-profit college backing it. (And as an aside, the owners also have ties to the “hip” but reactionary Mars Hill Church.) (And as another aside, do they even know they’ve named it after New Orleans’ old red-light district?)
  • Can the scenic, low-density office “park” that is the ex-Battelle Research campus in Laurelhurst be saved? And should it?
  • Eric Stevick at the Everett Herald has the sad life story of a woman who basically never got a break her entire life, and then died in the Snohomish County jail because they wouldn’t send for medical help.
  • Bumper salmon runs! Yay! Just, you know, keep ’em away from the dogs.
  • Pasta-and-pride dept.: Barilla’s CEO doesn’t care much for the gays, but Bertolli (hearts) the gays. Or something like that.
  • Bono wants a more equitable tax system in Ireland, but will still keep his own millions stashed away in offshore trust accounts.
  • Could Google’s latest search-ranking changes finally kill off that bane to humanity that is “Search Engine Optimization”?
  • Ted Cruz apparently didn’t understand that Green Eggs and Ham is a liberal allegory about open mindedness. But he’s yesterday’s news. Today’s news is the conservatives’ next showdown target, the debt ceiling.
  • Do they serve Hello Kitty beer on the Hello Kitty plane?
  • Let’s leave you today with some visual inspiration, of sorts, in the form of “Terrible Real Estate Agent Photos.”

terriblerealestateagentphotos.com

RANDOM LINKS FOR 9/4/13
Sep 3rd, 2013 by Clark Humphrey

satoshi kon's 'paprika' (2006); via film.com

  • The following are not among Film.com’s list of the all-time “Ten Most Beautiful Animated Films”: My Little Pony: The Movie, Bebe’s Kids, The Croods, Wreck-It Ralph, Gnomeo and Juliet.
  • Microsoft buys Nokia’s cell-phone business: Is it really the end of MS as predominantly a software company? Is it the end of software as a stand alone industry?  Nah. Code shall always be needed, as will be upgrades and bug fixes and adaptations to said code. What it’s the end of is MS relying on outside hardware vendors (aka PC manufacturers), a marriage of convenience that left the hardware companies racing to the proverbial price-point “bottom” (and to overseas subcontractors).
  • Nicklesville breaks camp and breaks up, to relocate three far-flung new sites.
  • For infotainment at its most baffling, it’s hard to top “Strange Bloomberg Headlines.”
  • Not even the song of Mothra‘s miniature princesses can save Japanese rubber-suit monsters from the onslaught of computer graphics.
  • Big Freedia, the “Queen of Bounce,” says Miley Cyrus doesn’t know how to “twerk” properly.
  • There’s no shortage of tech grads coming out of U.S. colleges. There are, however, scads of U.S. tech companies eager to legally bring in as many low-paid immigrant techies as they can.
  • In news that comes as shocking to almost nobody, corporate pop stars and actors willingly perform for free (plus expenses) at Walmart shareholder meetings.
  • Kim Messick at Salon explains, in terms of history and demographics, specifically “How the Republican Party Lost Its Mind.”
  • Music history note: The legendary kitsch cover art for Devo’s debut LP, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEVO!, came from a merchandise display with golf star Chi Chi Rodriguez.

clubdevo.com

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa
© Copyright 2015 Clark Humphrey (clark (at) miscmedia (dotcom)).