by Jacob Albert
So what options do people in their twenties have for finding a good job in Spokane? In my last article, "Finding a Job" (3/18/04), I came to the conclusion that options are few and far between.
But there was one option that somehow seems more feasible in Spokane than even in cities like Portland or Seattle. This would be that of "making a job." By "feasible," I mean that Spokane is a relatively inexpensive and, in many instances, unexplored market in which to start a business.
When I began looking into the risky world of entrepreneurship, the number of young business owners I discovered quickly overwhelmed me.
Studio 901/Southpaw Alternative Newsstand and Gift Shop in the Garland District is an art gallery owned by Jesse Peck that showcases talented local artists like John O'Donnell and Adrian Freuen. On the newsstand side, it carries an impressive selection of art, music and cultural magazines.
Unified Groove Merchants on North Monroe, run by Tony Brown and Chris Cummings, is the kind of record store that you might see in an independent movie -- the kind of record store that has actual records meant to be spun and listened to, not placed on your bookshelf to make your apartment look cool.
Mootsy's North 9 Pizza is a walk-in and delivery pizza joint in the Paulsen Building started by Sasha Turner and Leah Bickerton, "the Girls at Mootsy's" who have created a place that makes Spokane's downtown, at least when you're inside eating or hanging out, seem more like a part of the Big Apple and less of the Apple State.
And Tim Biggs Metal Sculptures is a one- and sometimes two- or three-person operation making its mark around town with a stubbornly individualistic and experimental style. Consider, for example, the red-eyed robot guarding the entrance to Boo Radley's, along with many other pieces found around downtown and in private collections.
Each of these people struggled finding a job in Spokane that could satisfy their true interests. Their motivations vary. Jesse just wanted a place where she could show her art and art that she liked. Tim found himself back in Spokane low on funds and started a business based on a trade he had spent three years honing in Los Angeles. Tony and Chris felt the need to help the fill the huge lack of availability for hip-hop, soul and funk music in Spokane (not to mention a desire to build their own record collections). And Sasha simply wanted a reason to stay in Spokane after returning from Seattle.
While all of them have been successful in bringing something new and culturally broadening to Spokane, they would all hesitate to call themselves financially successful. Jesse described Studio 901 as essentially "month to month," and Mootsy's Pizza, open now for two years, has yet to turn a profit.
But they all know and accept the fact that Spokane is not wealthy. Tim sells his pieces for a much lower price than he would in L.A. or Seattle. Jesse's aim is to promote up-and-coming artists by selling "quality work at affordable prices." Tony at Unified, which carries a well-deserved reputation for amazing trade-in deals, described it like this: "We know that our customers are consistent and they would love to buy a ton of records. The simple fact is that they can't afford it."
Knowing this, it amazed me to hear that each business is still looking for ways to grow. Jesse would like to open a late-night creperie; the girls at Mootsy's are offering delivery service; Unified Groove Merchants is opening a caf & eacute; in the back of its present location, and they are hoping to start a weekly magazine devoted specifically to local music; and Tim Biggs Metal Sculptures will soon become Orr's, a workshop and store where his lamps, tables and other metal-contorting pieces will be on display for sale.
Places like Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Austin and Brooklyn all grew to be cool from a foundation that encouraged young seekers o' hipness to move there and then convinced them to stay.
My aim in writing about "making a job" is not to convince every 25-year-old to invest the tips they have saved for the last three months and go start a business specializing in your favorite hobby. (Although if anyone is interested in opening a store devoted solely to Steven Seagal memorabilia, let me know.) That is not realistic, but the chance to help support these local businesses and create a foundation for a cooler future is. And like I said, these were just four examples pulled from a pool that also includes the B-Side, the Detour, Joe-Co Brazil's, Talk-Sick Records, Lilac City Nightmare magazine, Mizuna, Cabin Coffee and many, many more.
However precarious or fruitful the experience, the twentysomething founders of these hoping-to-be-establishments chose to stay in Spokane instead of bolting for Seattle or Portland or anywhere else. Hopefully they will survive. In ten years, they'll all find themselves living in an even cooler city, knowing that they had a part in making it that way.
Jacob Albert's column appears in this space every other week. To contact him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: 04/01/04