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A G-G-G-G-GHOST!
Jan 25th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

When I took an unplanned, unscheduled blog break last summer, I also neglected maintenance on the web links at the left side of this page.

I’ve gone back to some of them today.

Turns out I’m not the only one who just drifted away from writing on the Web.

Plenty of the links that had been on this page now lead to “404 Not Found” alerts, or to other enterprises altogether.

Then there were the sites that, like mine for much of last year, were neither closed nor updated.

I’ve removed most of them from the link list.

But there are a couple of more ambitious group sites that I wish would come back:

  1. ArtDish, a lively and insightful guide to major visual-arts events throughout the Northwest region. It premiered a big relaunch early last year, but hasn’t added any new content since then.
  2. Three Imaginary Girls, “Seattle’s Sparkling Pop Press,” a witty and loving chronicle of musical artists in (or touring to) our city. Its Facebook page has new posts (mot of which are links to the site’s old posts), but the site itself hasn’t had anything new up in months.

If their reasons for going away are anything like mine were, these sites’ operators simply had other lives, other things to do (or attempt to do). Continuing to send words and/or pictures out into the ether (or the cloud), with little to no compensation or hope of any, just ain’t something some people want to keep doing forever.

In other words, today’s Web 2.0 status quo isn’t just killing most of the “old media” industries.

It’s also killing creativity in its own online “space.”

THINGS I COULD’VE WRITTEN ABOUT FOR 1/21/15
Jan 21st, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

via the hollywood reporter

Once again, I’ve fallen behind on my idealized blog posting rate. And not for any good reason. (Though I am working on a new (kinda-sorta) project, to be announced at a later date.)

It’s sure not for a lack of things to write about. Goodness knows, dudes n’ dudettes are always suggesting those.

Here are some of the topics I could have blogged about in recent days:

  • The First Hill Streetcar, already delayed, now won’t start running until midsummer at best.
  • Folks of all races and backgrounds came together for peaceful MLK Day rallies in Seattle. But the local media focused almost exclusively on the almost-all-white group that forcibly obstructed rush hour traffic.
  • Yep, Wash. state’s tax system is still the nation’s “most regressive.” Yep, nobody’s really gonna do a darn thing about it.
  • T-Mobile, the Bellevue-based US subsidiary of a German telecom giant, probably can’t afford to keep offering the cell-phone deals it now offers, and may still need to merge itself out of existence.
  • A Fortune.com headline stated, “Target says it will pull out of Canada after failed expansion.” A frustrated Canada could not be reached for comment.
  • The Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s UK tabloid daily, will apparently no longer include its famous bare breasted “Page 3 Girls®,” at least not in its print edition. (The Sun will still show the models in the paper; but now it’ll show the models with tops on, like the non-related Toronto Sun does.) The other big Euro paper with such a feature, Germany’s Bild Zeitung, had scrapped its own newsprint nudes in 2012. In both cases, the pictures ended up costing the papers more readers than they gained. (UPDATE: It was all a publicity stunt, wouldn’t you know. The lo-res breast pix are back in The Sun as of Wednesday.)
  • R.I.P. Don Harron. You all knew the “Canadian entertainment icon” (as per the CBC’s obit) as the hackneyed radio announcer on Hee Haw. But he was also a radio/TV talk show host, a theatrical producer, a Shakeapearean actor, the ex-hubby of the disembodied head from The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, and the dad of the director of American Psycho and The Notorious Bettie Page.

yep, she married the guy in the top picture.

THE MIRACLE ON FIELDTURF®
Jan 20th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

usa today chart listing the odds of a seahawk victory in the nfc championship game at one percent

Of course, I have to write about the Seahawks Miracle Win in Sunday’s NFC championship game.

Even if I don’t have much new to add about it.

You already know the story (or rather, the instant legend):

For most of the game, the Seahawks’ offense could no nothing right. (The team’s only score through three quarters had come from special teams, on a fake field goal executed for a surprise touchdown.)

Then with the clock inexorably winding down toward certain doom, Russell Wilson and co. suddenly could do everything right.

With impossible play after impossible play, they got a touchdown, a successful onside kick, another touchdown, and a two-point conversion, taking a three-point lead with less than a minute and a half left.

After the Packers re-tied it with a field goal in the last minute of regulation, the Seahawks won the coin toss for the first possession in overtime. Then they quickly scored a sudden-death touchdown to win it all, send the Seahawks to their second consecutive Super Bowl Game (the first time in more than a decade any team did that), and cause more jubilation all the way up First Avenue and throughout the region.

KOMO’s Eric Johnson calls it “not a game, but a metaphor for life.”

So what lessons could be learned from it? Perhaps these:

ROOM AT THE IN (AND OUT) FOR ONE-FIVE
Jan 2nd, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

this year's space needle fireworks were sponsored by t-mobile and heavily emphasized the color 't-mobile magenta.'

As promised previously, MISCmedia is back for two-ought-one-five with a new commitment to try and make sense (or at least document the nonsense) of Life in the Demitasse Size City.

To start things off, and for the 29th consecutive year (really!), we proudly present the MISCmedia In/Out List, the most trusted (and only accurate) list of its kind in this and all other known media relay systems.

As always, this list operates under the premise that the future is not necessarily linear. It compiles what will become torrid and tepid in the coming year, not necessarily what’s torrid and tepid now. If you believe everything hot now will just keep getting hotter, I’ve got some RadioShack stock to sell you.

INSVILLE OUTSKI
Bratwurst Ice cream
Saving affordable housing Saving sandwich shops
Amazon as profitless, fragile giant Amazon as omnipotent leviathan
“Phablets” Apple Watch
Fully independent publishing Kindle Unlimited
Fully independent cinema Marvel Cinematic Universe
Ronan Farrow Michael Smerconish
Journalism Clickbait
Furniture Girls Taylor Swift
“Selfie sticks” Facebook food pictures
Euro-socialist revival GOP revival
Cardless payments Kardashians (still)
Dyed armpit hair Lululemon
“Black lives matter” “I’m not racist, but…”
Streaming TV Streaming music
Shoreline White Center
Cheap oil as climate threat Cheap oil as economic blessing
Forest green Taupe
Art Basel Burning Man
Compassion “Non-apologies”
Fiat Google drone car
Women Who Code “Brogrammers”
Cards Against Humanity Candy Crush
Human rights for Cuba New cars for Cuba
Tessa Thompson (Dear White People) Jessica Alba
Tiny houses Charter schools
Legalizing/protecting sex workers Banning protests
Vox Daily Currant
Tucson Austin
Four Roses Fireball
Chris Pratt Seth Rogan
Funky weirdness Soulless “luxury”
Mariners comeback UW football comeback
Insulting Russia Insulting North Korea
Treasure hunts Private “event spaces”
Fried chicken Bacon
Bakugan Minecraft
Ending the waterfront tunnel Closing movie theaters
“Sweetums” “Bae”
A SEARCH FOR THE CITY’S SOUL
Jul 28th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

76th and aurora, 1953; seattle municipal archive

Seems every week, something important from this once fair little seaport city is taken away from us in the name of density, development, or “disruption.”

Cool old bars and restaurants and shops, yes. But also a men’s pro basketball team, a daily newspaper, a radio host, a live theater space.

And the new things that replace the old things tend to be costlier, louder, hoity-toity-er. Dive bars get turned into upscale bistros; cheap apartments become luxury condos.

For someone who came of age loving the old Seattle, for all its faults and limitations, today’s city seems more and more like an alien land.

The Soul of Seattle is a hard thing to define, and different people have defined it differently. But this is how I define it.

Seattle’s soul is not loud or pushy. It doesn’t scream at you to order you to love it.

It’s quiet and confident; yes, to the point of dangerously smug self-satisfaction.

Yet it’s also funny in a self-deprecating way. Seattle’s sense of quirky humor can be seen in Ivar Haglund, J.P. Patches, John Keister, the Young Fresh Fellows’ songs, the comic art of Jim Woodring and The Oatmeal.

It believes in beauty, in many forms. The delicate curves and perfect proportions of the Space Needle; the slippery warmth of a bag of Dick’s fries; the modest elegance of a Craftsman bungalow.

It believes in old fashioned showmanship. The fringe theaters of the ’70s and ’80s; the burlesque troupes of the ’90s; the alternative circus acts of the 2000s.

It believes in old fashioned fun. Boat races; cream cheese on hot dogs; tiki parties; comics conventions.

Yet it also believes in schmoozing and in deal making. Boeing got on such good terms ith the airlines of the world that Lockheed never sustained. Microsoft made deals to put MS-DOS and Office on almost every desktop computer.

And it believes in civic progress, however it’s defined. It created monuments to its own “arrival” (the Smith Tower, the Olympic Hotel, the Century 21 Exposition). It built public spaces more beautiful than they had to be (the UW campus, the Volunteer Park Conservatory). It leveled hills, filled in tide flats, raised streets, lowered Lake Washington, and put up parks everywhere from freeway airspace to an old naval base.

There are several places around town where this Soul of Seattle still lives and even thrives.

Here are just a few of them:

  • Aurora Avenue just north of Green Lake. The Twin Teepees, that beloved “roadside vernacular” restaurant, may be gone, but this stretch of the old Pacific Highway still boasts a pair of culinary opposites. On the east side: PCC Natural Markets, the local pioneer in “healthy” groceries (even if it’s less of a “consumers co-op” than it used to be). On the west wide: Beth’s Cafe, home of the 12 egg omelet and unabashed (and un-prettified) all-night diner.
  • West Marginal Way South, heading north. A biking/walking path keeps pedal and foot traffic separate from the semis. Container docks along the Duwamish River are now interspersed with mini parks, some restored to something approximating a “natural” state. The Duwamish Longhouse and Museum honors local native design arts while hosting ethnic cultural programs. Just uphill from the river is a sliver of a residential neighborhood once tributed by author Richard Hugo.
  • Red Square (officially “Central Plaza”) on the UW campus. The gorgeously Gothic Suzzalo Library, and the equally classic Administration Building, represent an era when public architecture could be both monumental and populist. The other buildings, dating from the 1960s and 1970s, are more simply designed and more cheaply built but still (especially Meany Theater) manage to express an understated humanism in their “big box” forms. The square itself is the lid of a parking garage, with air vents hidden inside sculptural pieces.
  • The Museum of Flight and the Living Computer Museum. One south-end landmark honors the industry that made our city’s past. The other honors the hardware that ran the software that’s making our city’s future.

(Cross posted with City Living Seattle.)

FOR A BACK YARD, NOT A FRONT LAWN
Jun 29th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

waterfrontseattle.org

Bertha, the humungous deep-bore (or deeply boring) tunnel digging machine, is still stuck under the ground, and won’t resume creating an underground Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement highway until perhaps some time next year.

But that delay won’t stop the rest of the total central-waterfront makeover from going forward.

A new seawall (which won’t protect us from long-term rising sea levels) will resume construction any month now, following a summer hiatus.

And the planning stages for a post-viaduct remake of Alaskan Way’s real estate, combining a surface street with a mile-long pedestrian/recreational “promenade,” continue apace.

At the end of May, the Seattle Office of the Waterfront (waterfrontseattle.org) released a new set of drawings and paintings depicting the project’s latest plans.

Unlike the project organizers’ previous set of sketches, which some online pundits snarked at for depicting all lily-white citizens enjoying the sights, these new illustrations show a healthy variety of skin tones on their make-believe happy citizens.

But the images still depict sizable groups of adults and kids walking about and enjoying sunny, warm days near Elliott Bay.

Days which, as anyone who actually lives here knows, are both precious and rare.

What would this landscaped playground look like the rest of the time?

It would probably look as barren and windswept and unpopulated as the waterfront mostly looks now during the wintertime, only prettier. (Which would, at least, make it friendlier to early-morning joggers and bicycle commuters.)

And, unlike some of the Waterfront Project’s earlier conceptual images, these new paintings don’t make the place seem too precious, too upscale, too (to use a far overused term these days) “world class.”

This is good.

It’s not so good that the fictional laid-back and mellow waterfront enjoyers in the images aren’t doing much of anything.

One image shows some kids splashing around a set of small, floor-level fountains (officially called a “water feature element”) at the planned Union Street Pier (to be built between the Great Wheel and the Seattle Aquarium).

Another image shows a few mellow aging-hipster couples (apparently all hetero) waltzing to the tunes of a small acoustic combo at the same Union Street site at dusk (with the “water feature element” turned off).

Otherwise, the fantasized open-space enjoyers are seen mostly just standing, sitting, strolling, bicycling, and talking on cell phones.

We don’t need a civic “front lawn;” the Olympic Sculpture Park already serves that function.

We need a civic “back yard.”

If we can’t have industry on the central waterfront in the container-cargo age, we can at least have industrious leisure there.

I want (at least seasonally) food trucks and hot dog carts, art fairs and circus/vaudeville acts. I want a summer concert series like the waterfront had years ago. I want a roller coaster to complement the Seattle Great Wheel, and smaller amusement attractions and rides nearby (finally replacing Seattle Center’s sorely missed Fun Forest).

Some of these events and attractions would require ongoing funding. The Waterfront Project doesn’t have that funding authority; its duty is only to design and build the promenade and to rebuild piers 62-63, using a part of the funding for the viaduct replacement.

So activities in this area, along the promenade and the rebuilt piers 62/63, would need to be supported separately. The Seattle Parks Department is having enough trouble supporting its current operations. But a semi-commercial amusement area, with concession and ride operators paying franchise fees, could support a variety of warm-weather-season activities and at least some off-season events.

(Cross posted with City Living Seattle.)

WHO’S AFRAID OF THE FREMONT FAIR? (NOT MANY.)
Jun 25th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

After last Saturday’s Fremont Solstice Parade, I met up with an acquaintance who asked if this spectacle wasn’t the greatest possible statement against corporate America or something like that.

I told her no, not really.

Hedonism, in and of itself, is not a terribly effective counterforce to consumer capitalism.

“The market” can easily ingest any image or genre of recreational “rebellion,” transform it into something completely commercial, then sell it back to you for big money. (For recent examples, witness the playgrounds of the cyber-rich known as Burning Man and Coachella.)

Above, we see a “political” parade entry. Big business is stereotyped as an octopus in a suit, with big, money-stuffed, claw-shaped hands at the end of each tentacle. Assisting him is an old rabbit-eared TV set, that eternal lefty symbol of all that is supposed to be inherently evil in the media.

This is not to say there wasn’t plenty to contemplate about at the parade and fair.

Or that fun and pleasure are not good things to promote.

The Fremont Parade is like one of author Peter Lamborn Wilson’s old fantasized “temporary autonomous zones.” It’s a place where, for one afternoon a year, the rules of social repression (and clothes-wearing) are suspended; where free expression (albeit within its own set of rules) is championed. A place where a different way of life can, for a while, be imagined.

Actually creating a better world for real takes a different set of disciplines.

‘SEATTLE TIMES’ SHRINKAGE WATCH
Jun 24th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

startribune.com

My ex-UW Daily editor (and proud Armenian-American) Suki Dardarian is the latest SeaTimes leading light to leave the Bore on Boren (née Fairview Fanny). She’s now a senior managing editor at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

She’d been a managing editor here, until SeaTimes management transferred her out of the daily deadlines and into the position of “strategist on audience development and community engagement.”

Her hubby (and fellow Daily vet) Peter Callaghan, currently one of the best remaining reporters about Wash. state government, will join Dardarian in Flour City upon the end of his current contract with the Tacoma News Tribune.

MISC@28
Jun 19th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

Yep, this li’l venture in snarky commenting and pseudo-intellectual aggrandizing has gone on now for one score years plus eight. Slightly over half my life.

The last few months, I know, I’ve been away from the site a lot.

It’s not that there hasn’t been a plethora of potential subject matter, both on the local front (the waterfront tunnel machine’s woes, the rise of jocks-with-laptops aka “brogrammers,” the ugly new buildings going up everywhere) and the national-p0p-culture front (weird crimes, dumb online “meme” obsessions, the ongoing collapse of almost all professionally-made media genres).

It’s just that the site/column’s “persona” isn’t a personality mode I’ve been into lately.

For the past two years, ever since my mother’s death, I’ve been forced to scramble and hustle just to keep a roof over my head.

Some acquaintances and friends have understood this.

Others have just told me, why don’t I just write full time? They offer “cool” book ideas, imagining that that’s a viable substitute for the real job I tell them I really need. They tell me to just “do what you love” and “don’t worry about the money.”

But I do have to worry about the money. (Despite the occasional rumors over the years, I’m not, and have never been, independently wealthy.)

And I’m working on that, on several fronts.

Among them are two new projects in the “writing” line, neither of which I’m ready to announce right now.

Watch this space for further details.

NO HIDING PLACE
Jun 6th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

elaine thompson/ap via kiro-tv

When I was in high school, I once saw a recruiting brochure for Seattle Pacific University. The cover photo depicted a real street sign, apparently somewhere near North 46th and Aurora, with two arrows. The left-pointing arrow was labeled “ZOO.” The right-pointing arrow was labeled “Seattle Pacific University.”

The brochure’s copy explained that SPU was neither a party school nor a gargantuan state enterprise. It was a small, quiet place, where nice Christian youth could get nice Christian educations. I would later learn that students entering SPU signed contracts promising not to smoke, drink, or have non-marital sex.

If there was a place where psycho gunmen wouldn’t likely appear, this would be it.

Or so one might think.

But, alas, not.

It happened two years after the Cafe Racer/Town Hall shootings; days after the Santa Barbara, CA shootings; not too many years after the rave after-party and Jewish Federation office shootings; and in the collective wakes of so many other shootings in so many other parts of this nation.

And as long as certain political interests consider gun nuts to be useful idiots, this will not end.

everytown.org

SAVING METRO (PARTLY)
May 21st, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

seattletransitblog.com

Public transportation is more popular here than ever, with continued ridership growth on King County Metro buses.

These same buses are currently threatened with service cuts of 15 percent or more.

Two different schemes to prevent these cuts have failed. Seattleites are about to face two or three proposals, all of which would restore only some of the threatened cuts.

How did we get to this predicament?

First, the Washington State Legislature failed to act.

Back when sales tax revenues first started to go “pfft,” the state passed a law allowing King County to temporarily add a $20 surcharge to the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET), to make up the difference and help keep transit systems running.

But that temporary authority runs out this year, and the Legislature failed to renew it.

That particular inaction goes back to Rodney Tom’s party switch that gave Republicans control of the state Senate. That body has resolutely refused to pass any transportation package that included any money for Metro Transit, no matter how desperately the rest of Washington needed road improvements (remember the Mount Vernon I-5 bridge collapse?).

Without the state approving the renewal of car tabs for transit, and with sales tax revenue still down sharply since 2008, the county scheduled a special election referendum in April.

It would have combined $60 car tabs and a one-tenth-of-a-percent sales tax increase, to fund both preserved Metro service and road projects in the county.

The referendum was poorly timed and poorly campaigned for, particularly in the suburbs.

(There was also almost no organized opposition, except from the Seattle Times editorial board and one small campaign group led by Eastside conservatives.)

The city approved the proposal, in some districts by huge amounts; but the ‘burbs voted no, defeating the whole thing.

It undoubtedly didn’t help that the ‘burbs have always gotten relatively less Metro service than Seattle, by population and tax revenue.

That’s been the case ever since 1973, when the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (a taxing district formed more than a decade before to clean up Lake Washington) took over the city-owned Seattle Transit System and the private Metropolitan Transit Company. Metro has spent four decades trying to beef up suburban service (especially in recent years), even while in-city and commuter usage has grown.

After the special election’s failure, Metro officials announced a preliminary list of cuts to be made, perhaps as early as September. 550,000 hours of service per year (down from an initial estimate of 600,000) would go away. These would include 69 total routes, and reduced or restructured service on some 80 other routes.

The cuts would be phased in over a one-year period, with “lower hanging fruit” (lower-ridership runs) dying first. Those would include the “Night Owl” runs after 1 a.m.

By the final phase-in of cuts, many familiar routes would disappear. They include #26 to Fremont and Green Lake, #66 to Roosevelt and Northgate, #4 to East Queen Anne, #60 to First Hill and Broadway, and #99 along the waterfront (the bus that replaced the still-mourned Waterfront Streetcar).

But wait! To the rescue, but only of in-city routes, came “Plan C.”

It was an initiative filed by a group called Keep Seattle Moving.

It would raise property taxes within the Seattle city limits (by 22 cents per $1,000 of assessed value), to fund bus service, but only along routes whose service hours are 80 percent within the city limits.

If the initiative made the ballot, and if it then passed, it would have raised $30 million per year for six years. In-town riders would have their service preserved, or in some cases restored. That’s because it wouldn’t have taken effect until after the first round of cuts.

The initiative sponsors officially suspended signature-gathering efforts after Mayor Ed Murray announced “Plan D.”

It’s another city-only plan. It would combine a vehicle license fee and an o.1 percent sales-tax hike. It would preserve some, but not all (and not the first scheduled batch of) bus-service cuts in town. It would have to pass both the City Council and city voters.

But wait! Here come City Councilmembers Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant with “Plan E.”

It would increase taxes on employers and commercial parking operations, replacing the sales-tax part of Murray’s proposal. It would only need the City Council’s approval, so it could be passed before Metro starts cutting routes in town. (Though the first round of cuts would still go through, at least temporarily.)

For the rest of the county: tough darts. More long car commutes, more traffic messes, more impossible-to-get-to jobs in remote office parks, more pollution.

And more people stuck in cars, as potential captive audiences for conservative talk radio, where they can be preached to about Seattle’s evil big-spending ways on such silly luxuries as public transit.

(Updated from a post originally cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)

COBAIN + 20
Apr 5th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

Twenty years ago, a sensitive soul apparently felt overwhelmed by the role thrust upon him (and by the addiction he apparently felt unable to overcome).

At the time, he had become the Biggest New Thing in the music business.

At the time, there was such a thing as the “music business.”

Since then, his infant daughter has grown up. Many of his friends and colleagues have continued to make music; others have gone into political activism, accounting, retail, and other endeavors.

The term “rock star” now seems to be applied more often to tech-startup CEOs than to musicians.

The recorded-music industry is now about two-fifths of what it used to be (by sales), and shrinks further every year.

But the Cobain Cult keeps going strong.

People still “re-imagine and re-invent” the man into almost completely fictionalized idealizations. He has been depicted as a demigod, a crucified martyr, a conspiracy victim, a badass, a weeping giant, a rocker, an anti-rocker, a Voice of a Generation, a idiosyncratic loner, etc. etc.

Even in the first days after his death, this had gone on. As Ann Powers quoted C/Z Records owner Daniel House then:

He’s turned into something that represents different things for different people. I understand the press is going to be all over it, but I wish they would leave it alone completely. Because that attention is why Kurt died. He had no life, no peace, constant chaos. He had become a freak.

FROM CITY LITE TO CITY OF LIT
Mar 24th, 2014 by Clark Humphrey

As Sears’ Seattle store dies (see this blog’s previous entry), another company here in town has led a revival of shopping from home, with a “catalog” running to millions of auto-customized web pages.

But Amazon’s original business, and its most controversial presence, remains in books.

As George Packer recently noted in the New Yorker, Amazon has disrupted, and often infuriated, the champions of traditional publishing, also known as “Book Culture.”

Some of these folks gathered in Seattle in late February/early March for the annual convention of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).

AWP’s main public event was a giant book fair on the convention’s final day, featuring hundreds of publishers big and small, for- and non-profit. It’s the one time a year, in a different city each year, when poetry is a business!

And Amazon was there, as a convention co-sponsor and as a vendor, with a book fair table advertising its self-publishing services.

One of the small literary publishers at the fair had a raffle for one of Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader devices. They promoted the raffle with a punching-bag toy, festooned with a photo of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’ face.

More recently, Mayor Murray sent a formal proposal to UNESCO’s “Creative Cities” program, to become an officially, internationally recognized “City of Literature.”

The city’s formal application included a long original essay by Blueprints of the Afterlife novelist Ryan Boudinot.

The essay lists programs (to be supported partly by local public and private funding) Seattle would implement should it get the UNESCO nod. One of these programs would involve the city buying Hugo House’s building on Capitol Hill as a permanent “literary arts center” (that would also continue to house Hugo House’s programs).

Boudinot’s essay also gushes, in adoring detail, about Seattle and the Northwest’s cultural heritage(s) and its contributions in literature and publishing (especially Fantagraphics’ graphic novels) as well as in music and the visual arts.

And nowhere in the essay’s 7,000-plus words are the words “Amazon” or “Bezos” ever mentioned.

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

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