Aug 21st, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

from stouttraveladventure.blogspot.com

  • Tim Egan advises all weekend adventurers: When you go to the wilderness, expect conditions to be, well, wild.
  • In today’s “fun with land use signs” news, somebody put up a fake sign on the fence outside one of the city’s several hole-in-the-ground lots where development got stopped three years ago. The new sign fictionally claims the hole will remain a hole, to be used as a “ground level ball pit pond containing 1,200,000 cu. ft. of rainbow plastic balls.”
  • Seattle Weekly shrinkage watch: For the second week in a row, its cover story is faxed in from another Village Voice Media paper, with some local-angle paragraphs inserted.
  • Wazzu to in-state students: “The UW doesn’t love you; we do.”
  • Starbucks boss Howard Schultz might not be giving money to politicians, but his company sure still is.
  • Neighbours, the legendary Capitol Hill gay disco, threatens to sue the state over those suddenly imposed “opportunity to dance” taxes.
  • Clarification: Even if Hewlett-Packard spins off or sells of its personal computer line (the company only says it’s “exploring” such moves), it’s keeping HP’s printers and their way profitable ink cartridges.
  • Netscape (the first dot-com stock bubble company) founder Mark Andreessen sees HP’s move away from selling tangible physical products as more proof of how “software is eating the world.”
  • The NY Times has discovered “the dollar store economy.” Naturally, the NYT sees it from the point of view of corporate management, not desperate customers.
  • Could green tech be the next recession-killing boom industry (and/or the next investment bubble)?
  • As another long-thought-invincible dictator fades into invisibility (at this writing), one domestic financial analyst is quoting Karl Marx to describe the U.S. economic (and hence political) unraveling. (He’s neither predicting nor calling for any revolutionary uprising here.)
  • But enough of the gloom. Let’s close this installment on a happy, fun-filled note. The laugh track machine, a pioneering landmark of tape-loop technology whose canned guffaws peppered countless sitcoms, variety shows, and even cartoons from the 1950s through the 1980s, was found earlier this year, by PBS’s Antiques Roadshow.
Aug 14th, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

2005 fremont solstice parade goers at the lenin statue

  • The Lenin statue in Fremont is privately owned, and is for sale. But nobody apparently wants to buy it.
  • Minorities: Bellevue’s got a lot more of ’em these days, sez the Census. Seattle’s got a lot fewer.
  • Art Thiel wants you to know the big Husky Stadium rebuild, to begin this winter, involves no taxpayer funds. Just private donations and bond issues to be repaid out of UW Athletics income.
  • Ex-State Rep Brendan Williams wants Washington state’s progressives to “get some backbone” about preserving vital services in the state budget.
  • Starbucks boss and Sonics seller Howard Schultz’s latest big idea: Big election-campaign donors like him should vow to boycott funding election campaigns. Of course, if Democratic donors like Schultz are the only ones doing the boycotting….
  • There’s a plan to create a “Jimi Hendrix Park,” next to the African American Museum at the old Coleman School. It would be the fifth Hendrix memorial of one type or another (not counting the Experience Music Project, which parted ways with the Hendrix heirs during its development). Cobain still has just that one unofficial park bench in Viretta Park and a city-limits sign in Aberdeen.
  • Rolling Stone put out a reader poll declaring the top punk acts of all time. The list put Green Day on top and included not a single female. FlavorWire has come to the side of justice with its own in-house listing of “15 Essential Women Punk Icons.” The NW’s own Kathleen Hanna, Beth Ditto, and Sleater-Kinney are on it, as is onetime Seattleite Courtney Love.
  • Many, many indie-label CDs were in a warehouse that burned during the London lootings. Some labels might not survive the blow.
  • Mike Elgan at Cult of Mac sez Apple’s invented all the big things it’s going to invent for a while. We’ve heard this one before.
  • And for those of you heading back into the working life (you lucky stiffs, you), take heed Peter Toohey’s thoughts (partly inspired by the late David Foster Wallace) on “the thrill of boredom:”

Boredom should not be abused, exploited, ignored, sneered at, rejected or talked down to as a product of laziness or of an idle, uninventive and boring mind. It’s there to help, and its advice should be welcomed and acted upon.

Jul 19th, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

No matter what you think of big box retail chains, I always find it sad to see one go.

Especially when it’s in an industry for which I have particular fondness (and in which I’ve invested much of my life).

This is the case this week. Borders Books and Music, not too long ago one of the Big Two of bookselling, didn’t find a buyer and will probably shut down. Going out of business sales at the remaining 399 branches (down from 1,249 in 2003) may start Friday.

You can read exhaustive histories of the company elsewhere. If you do, you’ll learn how the Borders brothers of Ann Arbor, MI started a book superstore operation that was bought by Kmart, which merged it with the mall chains Waldenbooks and Brentano’s; then the whole “books group” was spun off into a separate company.

“My” Borders, the downtown Seattle location, opened circa 1994, during the Kmart ownership. At the time, it was considered a major vote of corporate confidence in a downtown that had lost the Frederick & Nelson department store  two years before.

It seemed a warm and friendly place despite its size. It had downtown’s best CD selection, including a healthy stock of local consignments. It had a children’s section that served as a play area for shoppers’ tots. It had in-store events nearly every weekend, ranging from readings to acoustic musical performances and chocolate tastings. Its charity gift wrap table helped many a bachelor such as myself every Christmas season.

But the local store, no matter how cool it was, could not escape the parent company’s troubles.

As local staff was cut back, the in-store events disappeared. The up-only escalator to the mezzanine level was removed. The music and DVD departments were severely shrunk. The various book genres were shuffled around, and a huge section of floor space was given over to long-shelf-life stationery items and even iPhone cases.

Now it will be a brief bargain store, then get gradually emptier, then go dark.

There will still be physical places to acquire physical books, including Barnes & Noble and Arundel Books downtown.

But what of the Borders downtown space?

It’s not like there are a lot of other big chain stores itching for a two story space like that. (Though if you’re listening, University Book Store? Powell’s? Even JC Penney?….)

A secondary loser in the Borders shutdown: Starbucks. Its Seattle’s Best Coffee subsidiary had dwindled in the past few years, mostly to a string of coffee stands inside Borders stores. Will the rest of SBC’s stores survive this?

Aug 3rd, 2009 by Clark Humphrey

The following is based on notes written last Friday afternoon at the new “15th Avenue Coffee and Tea, Inspired by Starbucks”:

The first thing to know about this place is that Starbucks isn’t pretending not to own it. Besides the “Inspired by” subtitle, it sells Starbucks’ Tazo Tea and Via instant coffee packets.

The second thing is there are many precedents for corporations setting up faux-indie divisions. I’m old enough to remember Gallo Wines’ many pseudonymous brands of the ’70s and ’80s. Media giants have long hidden themselves behind pseudo-independent brands (Focus Features, Caroline Records). And of course there’s “Shoebox Greetings, A Tiny Little Division of Hallmark.”

But a more apt comparison would be to Britain’s local pubs. Thousands of them are owned by national or regional chains; some of those chains are owned by big breweries.

Many of these corporate-owned boozers maintain individualistic names and decor. That’s what Starbucks boss Howard Schultz seemed to have in mind when he recently said he wanted to add locally-themed coffeehouses to the firm’s regular, standardized outlets.

The company seems to have spent a LOT to make a former regular Starbucks branch site, in a recently-built building, look oh-so raw and rustic.
One could say it looks like a studio backdrop for a 1992 “designer grunge” fashion spread. Like a Las Vegas resort with a “Seattle” theme. Like a big stage set for La Boheme.

It definitely looks like it’s trying too hard to imitate other eateries and drinkeries in the neighborhood (Victrola, 22 Doors, Smith, Redwood, Linda’s, Oddfellows, Buck, etc.).

The place sounds differently, too. Instead of the Starbucks-curated CDs that play in the chain’s regular stores, 15th Avenue features an oh-so carefully “eclectic” music mix. Neko Case, Belle and Sebastian, dance remixes of West Coast jazz standards.

15th Avenue’s products and service routines are truly different from the Starbucks norm. Are they better? That’s a matter of personal taste, but I prefer this to the chain standard. Every drink is made from freshly ground beans, in your choice of varietal roasts and blends, on a La Marzocco espresso machine (not the more automated devices found in regular Starbucks stores).

“For here” orders are served on real dishes, without logos for now. (A hand-lettered sign promises, “Our logo serveware is coming soon.”)

Unlike regular Starbucks branches, 15th Avenue serves wine and bottled beer for on-premises consumption, including several Redhook flavors. (Both Redhook and Starbucks were originally cofounded by local serial entrepreneur Gordon Bowker.)

One thing 15th Avenue has in common with a regular Starbucks is the lack of free WiFi (though you can leech a wireless connection from the Smith bar next door).

Even if 15th Avenue Coffee doesn’t earn its keep as a coffeehouse, it could survive as a lab for the mother chain, testing new products and shticks.

It could blossom into its own subsidiary chain, perhaps with each unit named for its own street. (Note the name for 15th Avenue’s Web site, “streetlevelcoffee.com.”)

It could flop and be replaced by another Starbucks-“inspired” concept.

What it won’t become is a real threat to the indie coffeehouses and their devout clientele.

Indie coffeehouses, with their lingering beat/hippie historical vibe, are natural gathering places for “creative class” people, who frequently style themselves as non-corporate or even anti-corporate.

To these customers, chain-owned coffeehouses—no matter how idiosyncratic looking—will never be good enough.

Jul 30th, 2009 by Clark Humphrey

…has even made the pages of the Harvard Business Review. Their writer’s take: It’ll never make it.

Jul 2nd, 2008 by Clark Humphrey

To mix sports metaphors, the city punted. Nickels took a dive. They settled for a settlement. They whored out to Clay Bennett. They took sheckels of gold (and the vaguest of non-promises by the NBA for a new team in some future decade) instead of continuing the fight to keep the Sonics here.

The separate Howard Schultz lawsuit continues, and is our only remaining chance to keep this team, OUR team, our first big-league team.

This feels worse than the 1978 finals loss, the 1996 finals loss, and the trading of Ray Allen combined.

Feb 27th, 2008 by Clark Humphrey

…your Starbuckless evening. Now on to a new day!:

Feb 15th, 2008 by Clark Humphrey

…I’m skipping the morning-headlines thang on days when there’s not much interesting to pass on. Today, we’ve got a few items:

Feb 12th, 2008 by Clark Humphrey

…here’s what’s happenin’:

  • Remember in ’04, when the WashState GOP was all a-flutter over trumped-up allegations of ballot miscounts? Now they’ve gotta answer to the Huckabee campaign’s similar charges.
  • Starbucks to give in to pressure from the indies and offer free WiFi, sort of, with a lot of conditions.
  • The city council’s allocated a $350,000 fund to help limited-income tenants of apartment buildings that turn condo. Mayor Nickels isn’t spending a dime of it.
  • Internet “server farms” don’t employ many people (except in construction, while they’re being built). But they could be worth millions in tax breaks for the companies that run ’em.
  • Some in Seattle would really like more transit to the Eastside. Some Eastside politicians would rather just have more highway lanes.
  • Bremerton woman mistakenly deposits meth in an ATM. Arrest-arity ensues.
Feb 7th, 2008 by Clark Humphrey

…in Saudi Arabia arrested an American woman for sitting with a man at a Starbucks. (One of the news items about the incident included a pic of the chain’s Arab-world logo, in which the mascot mermaid is completely missing.)

NOW WE KNOW why David Letterman rattled off so many Mitt Romney jokes this past week—he wasn’t gonna get to tell ’em much longer.

Jan 8th, 2008 by Clark Humphrey

  • The easy half of the equation has been solved, as Clay Bennett agrees to sell the Storm to owners who’ll keep the WNBA team here. The hard part, wresting the Sonics from his reverse-Midas-touch hands, now begins in earnest.
  • Meanwhile, the guy who got us into this mess in the first place by selling the teams to Bennett is making new moves at his day job. Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz has fired his CEO, retaking the reins himself. Can he return the coffee chain to its former fast-growin’ ways, in spite of all the obstacles? (Among the latter: espresso drinks coming to McDonald’s.)
  • Some folks got pretty snow this morning; the heart of Seattle, again, didn’t. Damn.
  • The Port of Seattle’s fiscal shenanigans will be investigated by the Feds.
  • House prices finally begin to go down in the area. (Insert your own “going down” joke here.) Still, local biz leaders insist it’s not that drastic really. Meanwhile, developers who’d planned to condo-convert Seattle’s historic Smith Tower are scaling back their plans; now only the top 12 stories will be converted.
  • My second-ever adult job (such as it was), the student newspaper Polaris at North Seattle Community College, is a goner.
  • Blacks are more likely than whites to get busted for having or smoking pot, even though that’s now the city’s official lowest law enforcement priority.
  • In more positive law-related news, “serious crime” (as the FBI defines it) is way down in western Washington’s cities these days. That, alone, won’t stop the media from exploiting the occasional random shooting, or stop the talk-radio nebbishes from preaching the city=danger, suburbs=serenity meme.
  • An election year’s underway. You can tell because a politician, in this case Gov. Gregoire, is trying to generate headlines on the get-tougher-on-drunk-drivers line, the encroaching-surveillance-state issue on which no one dares to disagree.
  • Woodland Park Zoo tries again to make its own cute li’l baby elephant.
  • The men’s fashion headline of the year is “Return to Elegance.” Just as it’s been every year since at least 1978.
  • 12,000 people in Idaho lost electricity due to a stray cat wandering through a substation. Brian Setzer remains at large.
  • Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert returned to their cablecasts, just in time to give writerless jokes about the New Hampshire primary.
Dec 27th, 2007 by Clark Humphrey

Oct 23rd, 2006 by Clark Humphrey

…in its incessant search for trends to parse, has suddenly discovered “The Starbucks Aesthetic.” As you assuredly already know, it’s onr of comfort, reassurance, self-congratulation, and smug pseudo-hipness.

May 22nd, 2006 by Clark Humphrey

  • “The curse,” reversed?
  • Could Stephen Colbert be right about America’s biggest threat being bears?
  • It’s official: Even Marshall Field’s in Chicago is getting Macyfied, alas.
  • The mainstream media have discovered that Starbucks is a “lifestyle brand” even more than it’s a restaurant chain. Duh. I could’ve told you that, and have. From the pre-Howard Schultz start, Starbucks’ original founders intended to rebrand European-style coffee as an essential acoutrement to a young-professional, neo-bourgeois lifestyle. They offed the image of coffeehouses full of bongo-playing beatniks, and invented the image of a home espresso machine next to every Cuisinart.
  • My recent acquaintance David Goldstein has a nice essay pondering out loud about whether we can use the “F” word (no, not the boring ol’ “F” word but another, more incindiary one) to describe the current U.S. political machine.My take: This word has been so overused in political discourse, especially in online discussion boards, that it’s become nearly worthless as a descriptor. Besides, its use can easily confuse readers/listeners. We’re not (or at least I’m not, and I believe Goldstein’s not) talking about some wholesale adoption of all the cultural, verbal, and sociological shticks of 1933 Germany—or even those of 1920 Italy, which our current regime more closely resembles.

    A Texas two-step is not a goose-step.

    America’s devolution from democracy to empire has occurred in an all-American way. It’s rooted in the dark side of our own traditions. And it’s within the good side of our own traditions that its effective responses must be found.

  • Last week, I was interviewed by a white hip-hop DJ from the Seattle U student Internet radio station. He was eager for stories about gangbangin’ violence in Belltown. I tried to explain to him that the noise and the rowdiness and the drunken brawling seen on First Avenue in the weekend wee hours are principally the work of young affluent Caucasians, who often arrive here en masse on chartered buses from the Eastside.I could have digressed, but didn’t, that the whole gangsta mythology was a stereotype invented a decade ago by LA record producers, specifically to nakedly exploit young affluent Caucasians’ images of young black males as sexy savages.

    In real life, violent criminals of any race tend not to be alluringly handsome, well-spoken, or well-dressed. They’re far more likely to be pathetic, desperate losers, out of touch with their own souls.

Jun 14th, 2005 by Clark Humphrey

First, Starbucks bought up Seattle’s Best Coffee, and promptly shuttered many SBC stores near existing Starbucks outlets. Now, it’s completely shuttering SBC’s subsidiary chain Torrefazione Italia, known for serving robust coffee drinks in old-world style ceramic cups. Let’s hope new indie operators can take over at least a few of Torrefazione’s locations.

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