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Monday, June 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Archie McPhee expands its garden of goofiness into a second building
By Jack Broom
An elderly gent in a plaid cap, golf shirt and tan Bermuda shorts looked slightly disappointed the other day when he approached a locked building that for years had been a state liquor store in Ballard.
Had he been able to step inside, he might have sworn off the sauce entirely, once he saw pink flamingos hanging from the ceiling, plastic nuns stacked in a pyramid, watering cans shaped like little elephants and a salty sea captain trapped in a glass box.
This fantasy world might rival the most potent hallucinations ever brewed by Jack Daniels, Old Granddad or José Cuervo. But this scene, framed by lime-green walls and a bubblegum-pink ceiling, is pure, 100-proof Archie McPhee.
Seattle's favorite kitsch and novelty emporium purveyor of the librarian action figure, the bacon-scented air freshener and wind-up lederhosen will more than double in size, expanding into a second building Friday.
The new space, dubbed "More Archie McPhee," is just across the parking lot from the existing store in the 2400 block of Northwest Market Street.
"It gives us a chance to do some things we haven't been able to do before," said Shana Iverson, whose business card identifies her as store manager and "High Priestess of Rubber Chickens."
For starters, adding 6,500 square feet to the present 5,000 means more room for big stuff, such as $150 "giant hand chairs," Idaho-made from recycled plastic and big enough to hold adult-sized posteriors. Want to go bigger still? How about the 6-foot-tall daffodils and tulips just in from the Philippines for $250 and $235, respectively, or a one-of-kind, life-size medieval archer for $695.
The new space will also house a new service: rentals. Flocks of pink flamingos, a grove of artificial palm trees, a fog machine, disco ball and ceremonial ribbon-cutting scissors can be had for your special event.
"We'll rent out party stuff, but only the weirder party stuff," Iverson said. "You won't see us rent out silverware and china and tablecloths unless we find really weird ones."
The new space will carry dozens of rolls of fabric, vinyl and textured paper, all sold by the yard, to let the kitsch-it-yourself crowd have at it. Said owner Mark Pahlow, "I've always wanted to have more industrial supplies for people doing fun things in design, crafts, making their own tiki bars and lanais that sort of thing."
Pahlow, 52, godfather of this controlled chaos, is an Ohio native who started selling rubber lizards and other novelties out of his home while living in Los Angeles in the 1970s.
In 1982, he moved to Seattle. "My wife had grown up here and we decided this is where we wanted to raise our children." With the move, he expanded his wholesale business, Accoutrements, selling items he collected in his travels, primarily to Asia.
The following year, Accoutrements opened its first and still only company-owned retail outlet. Pahlow named it Archie McPhee in honor of his wife's great-uncle, an entrepreneur and adventurer who took an American jazz band to China and Japan in the 1920s.
But the market for the store's mixture of wacky, irreverent and glow-in-the-dark goodies continued to grow, prompting the shift to Ballard in 1999 a move that nearly tripled the store's floor space.
"It seemed like a huge leap at the time," said Iverson, who has been with the company 13 years. She remembers seeing the Ballard store's rotating hardware bins and thinking of their vast capacity for plastic doodads.
But now, the existing store is near the bursting point. Spark-spitting NunZilla dolls compete for space with fake fried eggs, plastic tiki earrings, Don't Mess with Texas lunchboxes and bamboo curtains bearing Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In this visual cacophony, even an alert shopper could without noticing walk right past the world's largest underpants (100-inch waistband) or under the assortment of red bags marked "Danger: Infectious Waste" and light blue ones labeled "Surgery Soiled Linen."
Seattle's appetite for the offbeat appears recession proof: The store drew 64,000 customers in 2000, climbed to 85,000 last year and is running 15 to 20 percent above that in 2004, Pahlow said.
It may also be true that tight economic times prompt people to shop for special bargains, such as a 5-cent fighter jet, about the size of your average house fly, or a 15-cent, one-size-fits-whoever wristwatch in pink or green never mind that its sticker face reads 10:10 all day.
Is this the last move for Archie McPhee?
"We're still only leasing," Pahlow said. "I think someday we'd like to find a permanent home, a big enough place so we'd never have to move again."
Meanwhile, Pahlow doesn't want to be known as the man who chased the booze out of Ballard. He said he didn't approach the building's owner until he heard that the liquor store was leaving.
Tricia Currier, spokeswoman for the state Liquor Control Board, said the agency plans to open a new Ballard location, but the details haven't been worked out yet. Meanwhile, a sign directs would-be liquor customers to stores in Crown Hill, Greenwood and Queen Anne.
And while there's no hooch inside the "More Archie McPhee" store, there is a talking mariner who sounds like he's tipped a tankard or two.
For 50 cents, the "Cap'n Archie" mannequin, made in Las Vegas, nods his head, shifts his beady eyes, dispenses a printed fortune and growls one of 16 short sermons in a gravelly, seafarin' voice. Here's one:
"Cap'n Arrrrrrrchie here. Stay in school, don't do drugs and always eat your vegetables. That's what I did and look at me now. Trapped for all eternity in this infernal glass box talking to strangers for loose change."
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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