Archive for May, 2010

   It seems to me that there is a preponderance of prettily paid panhandlers in the Valley. Personally, I don’t pander to them since I pay taxes punctually whether it pleases me or not. I understand that there are many homeless people who have fallen on hard times and my heart goes out to them. But the point is that there are way too many of them to effectively relieve all of their suffering by giving handouts to the few with little pride and lots of nerve who stand beside the road with a cardboard signs.

    I don’t mind a portion of my tax dollars going to food and shelter foe the less fortunate amongst us. But I have never rolled down my window to give a beggar a buck because I don’t think it is fair of them to stand on the corner and try to make every one who drives by feel guilty and sorry for them. It makes the Valley less pleasant and reminds us continually not so much that there are homeless people but that there are people who have figured out that one out of about two hundred or so people who drive by are soft touches. It is a numbers game that they have nothing better to do than to stand around for a few hours and take advantage of .

   When you see the same person at the same corner for years, you know they must live somewhere in the area and that standing at that particular corner is their vocation. I was talking to a friend, Marc Green, about this last night and he told me a funny story about a friend of his in L.A. He said the guy built up a repore with a guy who panhandled on the same corner for years, giving him a little money or a sandwich from time to time. One time the beggar was gone for a few days and another one was in his place. So Marc’s friend stopped and asked the new guy if he knew what happened to the regular. The guy tells him that the regular is on vacation and that he is just holding the spot until his buddy got back. Marc said his friend was through with being a nice guy after hearing that.

   When Elaine worked at the Brass Faucet a few years ago, Hoppy, the one-legged Vietnam vet who works the northwest corner of Pines and Sprague, used to come in after his shift and play pull tabs with the money the soft touches gave him. He didn’t drink well whiskey, he had a more refined taste for Black Velvet.

   Besides pride, another thing most panhandlers lack is intelligence. Loose the dog or maybe the gut. Smoking on the job isn’t too bright nor is wearing expensive clothes even if they are dirty. And the “Have-to-be-honest-just-need-beer” sign isn’t funny any more. The one old gal that wears her coat over her backpack and makes you sweat just looking at her on hot days when she is bundled up in a down jacket and a winter cap is truly off her rocker. But so are the people who give her and the others a handout and keep them coming back for more.

   The only time I’ll give somebody money is when they come up to me in a parking lot and say they need a few bucks to get back to their hometown. I’ve heard it enough to know that it is most likely just another line, but I am always optimistic that I am helping a guy down on his luck and getting one more panhandler out of the Valley.

      Restaurant  and bar owners are like hermit crabs. Most, if not all the older, independent places have had a succession of optimistic new faces eager to set up shop and prove to the Valley they will do better than the last poor soul. They are optimistic for about a week after opening. That is when they start to see some reasons they hadn’t thought of concerning the last guy”s failure. Then they really get crabby.

Most of the original owners who built the building or converted it to a hospitality establishment were the same type, they just had deeper pockets. The location where the new Sushi Sakai just opened at Sprague and Bowdish was built by a national chain called Sambo’s back around 1970. Their story was a little different. I remember when the now glaring flourescent lights up behind the eating bar used to illuminate a colorful mural depicting the old children’s story of little Sambo tricking the hungry tigers into running around in a circle until they turned into butter which he put on his pancakes. The name might have seemed like a good one for a pancake house before the Civil Rights Movement, but it proved to be their undoing in more sensitive times.

Then along comes the hermit crabs. For a while it was an Apple Barrel. Bob and Bev Klassen, Percy Howell’s daughter and son-in-law, gave it a go as Klassen’s Kitchen. Most likely there were a few others that I can’t remember, though I’m sure they well remember even if we don’t. The last one was Old European. They lasted probably longer than anyone and even seemed to be a Valley favorite, almost reaching the status of institution. But the Valley has gotten to be a brutal place for independents with the arrival of Applebee’s and the Valley Mall chains. I guess we got big enough to attract them but not big enough to support the little guys.

Sushi Sakai is a little guy with the next big dream. If he were located in L.A. or Portland and offered the only handcrafted sushi for miles he would be swamped with business. Though he doesn’t seem to speak English, he has been a sushi chef in Spokane for more than 20 years according to our waitress who is a cousin of his wife. To me that means the guy is authentic and knows what he is doing. The sushi he made us said the same thing. I loved his soft shell crab apetizer and Elaine thought the fried ice cream dessert she had was great.

The foursome next to us ordered some huge combination platter that looked fabuloso and they seemed to enjoy it is as they all eagerly partook. But the question is will the Valley eagerly partake and support another small but bold entrepenoir who is offering the fruits of his career and skills and talents. We are fortunate to have his place to choose from when deciding where to enjoy a nice meal. He gives us variety and there are a lot of Valley sushi lovers. Like nearly all those before him, he has paid his dues and has probably earned the right to make this move at this point in his life. But like all the others, he is asking the Valley to choose his place instead of Applebee’s. I say good luck with that and I hope he makes it for his sake and ours.


Sushi Sakai on Urbanspoon


The thing I love about doing this blog is that it is a place that I can say what is on my mind and give my opinion. While I have a journalism degree and understand the rules of journalism, I don’t have to follow any of those rules here. I’d like to get the facts (and spelling) right, but honestly I don’t have time to do much research, it takes enough precious time just to write down what I am thinking. I bring this up because I recently received an unpleasant comment from a relative of Tina Bishop, the Luxury Box owner, and Elaine even got a phone call from another relative.

Seems they were quite bent out of shape that I had brought up the subject of Pat Kroetch getting the boot and The Luxury Box taking over. I was not being critical in the piece but still I took out all mention of that part of the story to be nice. I guess being a nice guy bothers me because I’ve decided to take a closer look at the situation and talk about it openly and fairly.The truth is a lot of people are talking about it and most of them are not being as fair and open minded about it as I am.

The person who called Elaine said she was sick and tired of hearing the name Pat Kroetch and she just wished the whole thing would go away. She also said I should go down and get Tina’s side of the story. Well, it might take a while for this sentiment to go away and furthermore, I had already heard Tina’s side of the story from Tina herself.

I have a unique perspective on all this because Elaine and I went through a very similar ordeal when we were forced out of our building and had to shut down the business we had invested four years of our lives and all our money into. Debbie, who owns Goodtymes, told our landlord she would remodel the place and make it a country bar if he gave us the boot. Turns out she was bluffing, but she helped get rid of a competitor (I really only know Debbie as a rival nightclub owner and I can tell you that you are fortunate not to know that side of her). Ken Ripley also wanted our place and he was not bluffing. He lasted six months and lost more $225,000 according to him, $250,000 according to his wife.

The whole thing left a very bitter taste in our mouth, but the truth is we could have paid the higher rent and stayed. I thought the landlord wanted too much and the three owners who came and went since found out I knew what I was talking about. The point is that we were in the driver’s seat and we made the decision to pack up and leave. The landlord told us he would rather we stayed as long as we paid the higher rent.

In an article in the paper last August, Pat claimed that she was blindsided because the lease had always been taken care of by her husband Greg, who had died recently. But they had been going month to month for a year and half, and so it seems they were having problems making a decision to commit to a long-term lease even before Greg passed away. It must have been even harder for Pat afterward’s. But like us, Pat was in the driver’s seat and she could have signed a long-term lease.

Pat was recently widowed and at retirement age and I have heard that none of her children wanted to take over the business. It is understandable that she was not wanting to sign a long-term lease. In a perfect world she should have been allowed to go month to month for as long as she wanted. After all, her father opened the place  when U-City burst on the scene in 1965 and the Kroetch’s took the helm in 1984 and so that family had paid the rent at that location for more than forty years. Seems to me that is a situation where month to month is not a big deal.

Jim Magnuson, however, is a fairly new landlord of that property and has not been there for forty years. He is obviously a successful business man with a lot going on and  much on the line. In the article he states that he needed a long-term lease (and more money) and that Pat knew the rules of tenancy. In other words, he wasn’t in a frame of mind to worry about where Pat was at in life or the goodwill she and her father had established there.  University City is an investment property, a big investment property, and it needs to be run like a business. Magnusen was  following good bussines practice, who are we to judge that he should have been a nice guy and let Pat go month to month. We are not the ones with millions on the line, he is.  I am sure Magnusen would have preferred Pat stayed, but more than that he needed a secure tenant with a long-term lease. I guess that is just the way it is, I wouldn’t really know since I’ve never had to worry about managing a multi-million dollar property.

So Magnusen apparently put out the word that the facility was available and along comes Tina who is out looking for a place. Tina told me that she was told that Pat wanted to retire. She said that she was shocked when she finally talked to Pat and found out Pat did not want to retire. So Tina was mislead and drawn into what looked like the perfect opportunity before learning the truth. She told me Pat said that if she gave her $125,000 for the business she would leave with no hard feelings (there probably should have been some negotiation right there). Tina felt she could not afford the name and passed. The landlord wanted Tina signed to a ten-year lease more than he wanted Pat on a month to month. Tina told Pat that she would sign the lease if she did not. As far as I can tell, it was Pat’s call, Magnusen’s building and Tina’s dream.

Bear in mind that Tina was not acting alone, she had 3 other woman as business partners. This was a group decision. Should they have walked away?  That might have been a good idea. But on the other hand, Magnusen would have kept shopping the place until he found somebody else and so in that regard, if it weren’t Tina and company it would have been someone else. It is understandable that Tina felt this was too good to pass up, after all she had been looking and knew the market. There are no other places like it in the Valley, especially with that kind of location.

To be completely honest, I think it was a game that Pat was tired of playing and wanted out of. If she really felt her business was worth a lot then she should have signed the  lease and then sold the business. Businesses like that are hard sell. You have to find someone with enough money to buy it outright or carry a contract. Banks historically have shied away from financing restaurants and I am sure it would be a joke to try in this economic climate. When Percy Howell tried to sell the Golden Hour back around 1983, he carried a contract and got the whole place back within a few months. Pat and Greg came in after that and probably got easier terms. Had Tina bought the business from Pat, she could never have remodelled and the kitchen and bar  really needed remodelling. Besides, Tina already had a business and her own vision for expanding it.

I would hate to see Tina fail. Magnusen will win either way and Tina should not lose everything because he used her to get what is best for him. I think Tina and her partners were a little naive and did not understand the depth of sentiment this Valley has for the Golden Hour/Percy’s Americana. The main reason for this blog post is because I am amazed how often people mention , out of the blue, what a raw deal they think Pat got. Both of my parents have mentioned it,  Elaine was painting someone’s house the other day and they brought it up. Then there are people who are very bitter about it like most of the former employees and, I would guess, other people who are close to Pat. I say let’s get over it. Things happen in life. Move on. Forget and forgive. Pat and her family had a long and profitable run, now it is somebody else’s turn.

Is Magnusen a bad guy? He could have done things differently but it is his business and he has the right to run it the way he believes he should. Are Tina and her partners to be blamed and not supported? I guess if people want to be petty they can hold a grudge but I don’t think that is the right thing to do. Tina is a sweetheart. Some people may think she made an error in judgement, but I have done business with her at the Rock and have gotten to know her a little better at the new place and I know she is not at all a bad person. She is a very sincere and likeable person. The reality now is that she has laid thousands on the line and I think she is doing a lot of things right. We are lucky to have her establishment available to us.

Like everyone, I wish Pat’s long and admirable career hadn’t ended the way it did. But this is life and not the movies. People of the Valley need to embrace and support these people at the Luxury Box who have invested so much to give us a nice place to go and celebrate the events in our lives. I hope people will follow Pat’s lead when she said at the end of the article,  “I do think things happen for the best reason. I don’t wish bad things for anybody.” So get over it and get in there, the Valley will be a lesser place if another decent woman loses her dream.

   Starting this time of year, people love to sit outside at their favorite places. Most bars have little more than a slightly sheltered smoking area. Some don’t even have that. But some places have the room and resources and have created nice outside areas. Here is a short review of some of them.

* The Iron Horse has a decent patio. The Robbs have done a nice job with their planter wall that provides some privacy and their fountain is a great touch. They basically had to convert their sidewalk and a piece of their parking lot into a patio and I give them a lot of credit for putting out the money and effort. It was a smart addition to their business.

* Charlie P’s understood the importance of an outside area and put one in when he converted his new place from the old Pizza Hut. I like the grass but it’s a little too unshaded and close to Sprague.

*The Brass Faucet has the coziest and most comfortable outside area. The 6′ wooden fence blocks off Sprague and the nice landscaping and furniture makes it feel like you’re in a nicely kept back yard.

*Scott Reckord at the Scoreboard has it really going on outside. While people can just sit there, they can also play volleyball or horseshoes or dance when there is a band. Those nights the barbeque is going and there is always a big crowd. Most bars suffer when summer comes because people go to the lake or do other things outside. The Scoreboard’s business increases because of his patio.

They will be having a band once a month all summer long . Sammy Ewbanks is usually their guy and he will be kicking off the season June 12th. They usually start early because they have to stop playing at 10. Get there early because it always packs out.

     Perry Vinson who owns Alert Distributing, the local Red Bull distributor, purchased the business and property at the Home Plate location at Liberty Lake. He changed the name to True Legends and plans to have three main areas featuring show business and sports legends. One dining area will have a movie and T.V. theme, the other dining area will feature the music industry and the bar will be sports.

He said he is working on a new menu that will be heavy on seafood and steaks. He was meeting with a contractor to get started on a large patio area the day we were there. Next he is going to build some interior walls to make the place less open and more family friendly. Perry worked for Chapter 11 for several years and so he has experience in the hospitallity field.

I remember back in high school working at the old Golden Hour with him when we were both lowly busboys. It seems kind of funny that we both wound up owning our own places. Their must have been something in the wine bottles we used to sneek a drink from after the place closed down and we were cleaning up. That was back when it was all fun and no worries, now for Perry it’s all business and keeping an eye on guys like us.

Spokane Valley Scoop feature story on Perry                         Blog post on True Legends

   Why are we so lucky here in the Valley to get two new buildings right across the street from each other that look exactly the same and sell exactly the same stuff? I hear all this hullabaloo about the city council wanting to make Sprague into some attractive boulevard with tasteful store fronts and then they let Rite Aid build a mirror image of Walgreen at Pines and Sprague. I guess that is letting commerce take its course and we are probably to blame for being a spread out community with not enough numbers to support something more interesting and perhaps quaint.

Wasn’t that row of old buildings perfect for renovation and then house a Rocket Bakery and other nice shops? The Northside has it’s Rocket Bakery on Garland, the Southhill has one, downtown has two and even Millwood gets one. But the Valley’s one shot at a Rocket Bakery is torn down and turned into a monument to corporate thoughtlessness.

I understand that no one wanted to risk the venture of preserving what used to be the heart of Opportunity. The buildings probably were too far gone and the owners can’t be blamed for landing a big tenant willing to build an expensive building. But I remember going to Beulow’s 5 and Dime and Marty’s Toyland as a kid and probably five or six generations did their commerce at even older businesses than those.  So I lament the fact that the oldest section of our business community is gone forever and that I will have to wonder if I’m seeing double every time I head south on Pines.

But I was lucky enough to preserve, in a small way, a part of the memory when I interviewed Harold Beulow last year before he past away. I’m just glad he did not have to see his old place of business torn down and replaced by what now passes for progress in the Valley.   (You can read his invaluable story here.)

   I thought the first Redbox that I saw over a year ago was an amazing concept but it was located at the Albertsons at Trent and Argonne and so I didn’t rent one. I remember thinking I wished there was one close to my house. My wish has certainly come true. There is one at the Holiday convience store that I stop at every other day or so, the Walgreens we drive by every day and the Rosaurs we run in to to get a few groceries at least once a week.

   The things amaze me the way they are hooked up to the internet and use my email address to let me know that I’m getting billed another dollar for forgetting to return once again. I can go online to each box near me to check out its selection and then reserve whatever I want by using my debit card and then pick it up whenever I’m going by.

   Then the machine fascinates me on how sophisticated its internal mechanism must be to instantly find my selection out of the 50 or 60 titles in its little warehouse containing 500 DVD’s and slip it smoothly out the side. The kiosk casing has to be built like an underwater camera considering it has to sit out in the weather and protect the computer and wiring and robotics inside. The one at Walgreen at Pines is located on the west end which gets all the weather and it is completely exposed. I will be in awe to watch it weather next winter’s cold and snow.

    It figures that Redbox is actually a subsidiary of McDonald’s who went into it thinking they could use the machines to attract more customers to the restaurants. Leave it to them to figure out one more way to suck us in.

   When I had the Rock Inn I considered my staff to be an important part of the atmosphere and I always tried to hire attractive, bright and friendly bartenders and servers. These are attributes that a person has to have naturally. I figured we could train them to give our customers good service but I couldn’t train them to be good-looking or outgoing or smart.

   I hate to say it, but a pretty young gal with a good figure and great personality are the smartest choice for the owner because single guys hang out at bars more than anyone else and they like to look at and flirt with pretty girls. If you want more women to come in, make sure the staff doesn’t show too much cleavage and hire at least one good-looking male bartender. All of your staff should give the lady customers special treatment because you want them to feel at home and special so that they keep coming back. Women customers, like sexy bartenders, attract a bar’s meal ticket: single, horny guys.

   It’s kind of like hiring a smoker or nonsmoker. I pay them the same wage but I get more for my money with the nonsmoker who doesn’t require smoke breaks. A sexy bartender costs me no more than an ugly one but the sexy one adds to the atmosphere a lot more. It is the same with personality and intelligence. A friendly bartender is likely to make friends with people who come in and so that friendship becomes a draw.

   The point is that everything to do with an establishment should be as appealing as possible. You can’t afford to miss a trick and a good looking staff is one of those tricks. The only downside to sexy women is they can be a headache (but so can unsexy women). I know because it took me two years of hiring and firing to eventually come up with a solid, attractive staff. What we eventually aquired  was a staff of women that were simply good-hearted, down-to-earth gals,whose good looks did not seem to make a difference to them. But I knew it made a difference to my pocketbook and to those guys on the other side of the bar.