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Tully’s Closed

During the summer of 2004, I spent the bulk of my days and nights working at a branch of Tully’s Coffee, located at 99 Yesler Way in downtown Seattle, across the street from Pioneer Square. On the exact corner on which I worked, at 1st Avenue and Yesler Way, a huge saw mill owned by Henry Yesler once sat. Yesler Way consisted of skids, going all the way up the steep hill. At the top, loggers would chop the trees and send them down to the mill at the bottom of the hill by way of these skids. The mill-loaded neighborhood in this early version of Seattle was a filthy cesspool, and it was on the corner of 1st Avenue and Yesler Way that a reporter from Chicago stood, surveyed the disgusting sight of this new city, and coined the phrase “skid row.”

In the intervening 120 years, little had changed. It had become a tourist trap (two blocks away is the Kingdome and Seahawks Stadium, and across the square is the hugely successful Underground Tour), which is important because it spurred the profitability of the shop in which I worked for a long while. The original manager was apparently some sort of service-industry genius, because he took a brand new shop in a place where there are at least five others within short walking distance (and a dozen within slightly longer walking distance) and made it one of the most successful in the entire company. Unfortunately, when he left, so went the success. I don’t know for sure, but from the stories I’ve heard about the previous manager running the store into the ground, it seems like he had a “service last” mentality, which drove away both the regulars and the tourists.

I was hired by an interim manager, brought in to try and whip the shop into shape before moving on to run his own branch permanently. There was a lot of office-politics turmoil that led to this, and in a way led to my hiring. The interim manager worked at a store in a nearby mall. They brought him to 1st and Yesler because he had been training to manage a store for awhile, and they wanted to oust the actual manager, so they said, “Give us a month to pink-slip him, and in the meantime you can get your feet wet and 1st and Yesler, then take over Westlake.” In that month, they also gave the manager who would take over a crash-course in managerial skills. In that month, they also hired me.

I got along pretty well with the interim manager. He was also a writer, also a huge Woody Allen fan, also couldn’t decide if Manhattan or Hannah and Her Sisters was his best film—we were two peas in a pod, and I’m certain if he hadn’t noticed I was a film student and started talking movies with me, I never would have gotten the job. At the same time, if the previous manager or new manager had been there when I applied, I don’t think I would have been hired. It’s all about timing.

The problem, when the interim manager took over, is that he was both too nice and too gullible. I don’t really know what went on after I left, but while I was there, he managed to find himself under the tenuous claws of two different, subordinate employees, and as a result he largely ignored the rest of us. One of them was a guy I worked with a lot, and he ended up getting fired because he made a long series of stupid mistakes. I think the biggest was closing up the store one time without setting the alarm. Nothing happened, but that’s still frowned on by the company. The other was a fairly attractive girl who made an inordinate amount in tips by flirting with the customers (like hardcore; I wouldn’t be surprised if some guys got phone numbers), and she managed to get a stranglehold over the new manager in much the same way. She was angling for his job, and he knew it, but he didn’t seem to be able to resist the powers of her charm.

Then there was the turnover problem. When the one guy got fired, that started a disappointing revolving door. I was the next to give my notice, and I knew the timing was terrible but I had to get back to school (I was willing to delay going back a semester, but nobody on the planet but me and my coworkers seemed to think that was a good idea). I found out through the grapevine (a.k.a., the flagship store, where I had befriended far too many employees) that the shuffling they were doing in order to accommodate my quitting was ridiculous. And the fact was, they just didn’t have enough people. With me and the other guy gone, they had a total of three employees. They hired a fourth just before I left, and transferred somebody else, but neither of them were permanent. I could see in the new girl’s eyes that she was a short-timer (and I was right, I found out), and the girl who had transferred knew it would only be until they hired more people.

I kind of lost track of my Tully’s friends after that, but I’m guessing the downward spiral continued. Maybe somebody made a power play that got out of hand, but here’s the fact: my sister just called me up and said she was driving by Pioneer Square, and my store was papered up, and its sign had been removed. I checked the website, and she’s right: my store is gone. I love Tully’s as a whole, but I grew attached to my branch. I really hate saying this, but working at Tully’s was the most fun, most difficult, most rewarding, outright best job I’ve ever had. If it paid enough for me to actually support myself, I’d probably never have left. But it doesn’t, and I did, so now what?

Well, the store’s closed, is what. And I can’t help feeling a little depressed about that. I used to have a dream about one day going back to Seattle and seeing all those old faces again. I knew they’d never last—not the employees, probably not even the regulars—but I have memories of them, and those memories translated into one day going back. It’s like the really shitty, retarded ending of Titanic. She’s 279 years old, but she jumps off that fucking boat and dies and goes to Titanic heaven. It’s not populated with all these hundreds of thousands of people she probably knew over the course of her life; heaven, to her, is just that one moment in time. I wouldn’t necessarily call my time at Tully’s heaven, but I do have that same type of feeling, where everything’s frozen and someday I can just go back and pick it up like I never left.

Now that the store’s closed, that dream is gone. So in honor of my coworkers (especially Sandy), the regulars (especially Drunk Dennis, whose bizarre life and hilarious code of ethics will someday form the basis for my greatest written work), and the crazies (I’m looking at you, Krazy Kelly and Crazy Crackhead), I’m filling up my Tully’s Statesmen with 16 ounces of fresh-brewed French Roast and having one more cup for you all, and for the memories.

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  • I had no idea that was the origin of the phrase “skid row”, almost makes it all seem like a bit of feel good trivia, minus the broken dreams and vengeful tears.

    This entry sort of made me feel all sad, and yes, even pensive. But then I remembered the devil may care Seattle heroin addicts… The pensive is gone, man, just gone.

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