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NEW 21st Century Viking: Archie McPhee, we hardly knew ye

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Archie McPhee, the one-of-a-kind novelty store, will soon be leaving Ballard and moving to Wallingford. While it will not be too far away in case you need to make a rubber chicken run, it is worth noting that Ballard is losing a certified tourist attraction and a significant contributor to local culture.

You know those "Free Ballard" and "Ballard Welcomes Our New Condo Overlords" bumper stickers? Those are the handiwork of the madcap geniuses at Archie McPhees.

These and many other Archie McPhee products have made quite an imprint on both local and American culture. Chances are if you know a youngster or are young at heart yourself you have made a pilgrimage down to their retail complex located at 2428 N.W. Market St.

When I was a kid, I would get Archie McPhee catalogs in the mail and pour over their amazing selection of cool and unusual items. When I moved to Ballard, I was so excited when I discovered that I was now living around the corner from their headquarters!

In the spirit of full disclosure, I not only got my Viking helmet but my interest in Ballard at Archie McPhee. During my first visit, I discovered their section of "Free Ballard" merchandise and the display that documented the history of the independent City of Ballard and its subsequent annexation by Seattle in 1907. I picked up a "Free Ballard" bumper sticker and began my research of Ballard that eventually led to the creation of this column.

In addition to inadvertently creating this column, my visits to Archie McPhee have not only put a smile on my face but also given me a place to purchase great gifts for the people in my life.

While it will be sad to see Archie McPhee leave the neighborhood, they are not going that far; they are relocating to 1300 N. 45th St. at the corner of Stone Way North in Wallingford. This is not the first time Archie McPhee has moved in their proud history and they will continue to provide us with all our Devil Duckie needs wherever they are located, but there is one thing that will not be going with them: their "Free Ballard" merchandise.

Yes, it's true: when Archie McPhee moves, the "Free Ballard" merchandise will become another Ballard memory. Wallingford as far as I know does not have nearly as colorful a history as Ballard, but I am sure that Archie McPhee will come up with an exciting set of merchandise that celebrates their new neighborhood. The Ballard-themed merchandise will no longer be produced, so if you have been waiting to get some, now is the time to get it while supplies last.

Archie McPhee made their home in Ballard for 10 years and in that time they have made quite a mark on local history.

The "Free Ballard" movement has been quite influential and provided the local citizenry with a "cause" to rally around. It made people aware of Ballard's interesting history and the bumper stickers became something of a phenomenon. Having such a world-famous business in Ballard also brought a lot of visitors to the neighborhood.

Archie McPhee will still be in the neighborhood until "mid 2009." It is rare in life we get the chance to appreciate what we have before it is gone.

Next time you are feeling a little glum, go inside and get yourself some gummy bacon, a nun punching puppet, a "Free Ballard" bumper sticker (while supplies last) or whatever tickles your fancy. I guarantee you will leave with a smile on your face. Or, in my case, with a Viking helmet.

Questions, comments, column idea? Please contact Brian Le Blanc at brianleblanc76@yahoo.com or comment below.


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