In 1951, the Alaskan Way Viaduct changed Seattle and brought Seth Keeney's building economic problems. It was built directly across the laundry's front.

Although the City of Seattle gave Keeney $7,500 compensation, the Empire Laundry found it impossible to use their vehicles.

     The end of an Empire

As a consequence of the Viaduct's construction, on May 17, 1951, Keeney sold his property to James Branson Simpson. The latter was one of Seattle’s most colorful characters.

Like Seth’s father David, Simpson was a pioneer. He was also a magnate in the fur trade: in 1924, he had founded Seattle’s Arctic Fur Company.

The Arctic went on to become "the largest [furriers] in the West." Simpson’s ascension occurred in an era when Seattle’s fur market – a quintessential Northwestern business – was the nation’s second largest. This was the age when Alaskan pelts linked the Northwest to Paris and Simpson’s formula for success was "firsthand knowledge of all phases of the complex fur business."

Simpson was born in Fairhaven (now Bellingham). He was the youngest of seven children. His mother Henrietta hired out as a cook and headed for the Klondike in 1888. "J. B." spent one year in a Tacoma children’s home. But he then joined his mother in Bennett, Alaska – where she had established the town’s first bakery. Later, J. B. worked as a newsboy in Dawson, until the family moved again to San Francisco, just in time for its devastating earthquake.

The teenage Simpson founded an "earthquake salvage" business which, by the age of 16, he sold for $31,000. "Three weeks later, I was broke," he recalled with embarrassment. The loss impelled him North to Seattle where he helped with building the Washington Hotel and the Moore Theater.

In 1919, "to collect on a bad debt," Simpson took half-interest in a Seattle fur store. In 1924, he opened the Arctic Fur Company, a shop at 1912 Third Avenue with a 15-foot wide frontage.

Only nine years later, Simpson’s hard work had born rich fruit: "Today," wrote the Seattle Times in 1929, "it [Arctic] has the largest manufacturing plant exclusively making furs and the largest fur store on the Pacific Coast. The plant and store are in the Securities Building, 1900 Third Avenue, only a few paces from the original location."

Simpson offers a stark contrast to the business views of Keeney and Hagen. Like Beck, he was a "bottom-up" rather than a "top-down" boss. Simpson viewed his employees as colleagues, rather than as slaves. He figured that, if they prospered, he would prosper with them.

The pioneer's practices foreshadowed Seattle’s software industry. For not only did Simpson run a profit-sharing scheme; he also wooed his staff with shares of company stock. Arctic salespeople worked on salaries, instead of on commission. The company's designers were sent on trips ‘back East,’ so fashions could always stay up-to-date. (These trips were all-expenses-paid excursions and the designers’ salaries were paid during their absence.)

Plus the stock options Simpson offered were considerable. As the Seattle Times wrote about the firm: "Fifty percent of the Arctic Fur Company’s net profits are divided among the employees in the form of stock. The bonuses so distributed may be withdrawn in cash at stated intervals, but except in rare instances, the employees are glad to retain this stock, which yields handsome profits.

‘Give a man an interest in the business and you will get from him something that a salary will not buy,’ said Mr. Simpson. ‘Our profit sharing system may be considered twenty years ahead of the times in some quarters, but we find it pays.’"

The ravings over Simpson’s profits even have a modern ring:

"In 1925 he did a $10,000 business. This year, only a college generation later, indications are that the volume will be a hundred times greater, or $1,000,000. Imagine an institution increasing its output 10,000 per cent in such a short period of time!"

on to The Arctic Fur Company    

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