Monthly Archives: May 2011

Help Out A Tacoma Original

John Munn at Comic Book Ink

Comic Book Ink is my favorite comic book shop ever. It’s also the location of my first book signing. John Munn is the owner of Comic Book Ink and one of the most giving, generous people I’ve ever met. He’s the sort of person who makes Tacoma a great place. He’s had a very rough year and it’s catching up with him.

I want to do what I can to help, so I am posting his plea for help here on Tacoma Stories. With your help, we can make sure Comic Book Ink’s Tacoma Story is far from over. -Jack

Here’s John:

Hello Everyone: 

I knew before I wrote this, that this would be the most difficult message I would ever have to write…and I have been putting off writing it for sometime.  But the Memorial Day Sale did not make the immediate debt relief that the shop needs and I have to send this message out.  

I have always said that I would be truthful about how the shop is doing….And here is an honest truth.

Through no one’s fault but an economy that is being slow to recover, we are on the verge of closing our doors by as soon as this August…if not possibly sooner.

When we moved from East 72nd & Portland to our current home next to the Lakewood Regal Cinemas…We had a debt (not including money lent by our Angels) around $115,000.00.  But this was a debt that included bills that we were juggling.  We were honestly behind in some of our bills by 6 months(including a back debt to Diamond Comic Distributors).

The new location has been doing very well…We’ve been eating into that debt pretty quickly.

But we have had trials to endure at the store, along the way, that our Angels have come to the rescue with (some short term…and some long):

  • Battles with the old landlord (still not completely resolved)
  • Diamond having to call in short term notes due to Borders collapsing (which was understandable)
  • The cost of moving to the new location

I have also been going through some personal trials which have placed demands, both fiscal and emotional, on the store:

  • My father’s failing health & long goodbye
  • Losing my friend Marcus, the managing artistic director at Lakewood Playhouse, to cancer and choosing temporarily filling his position through the end of the year.
  • Watching them both leaving has taken a toll on me I can’t convey 
  • Losing my car (in a way that I simply couldn’t have prevented from happening)
  • My wife, Sarah, watching her job, which she had been at for over 11 years, slowly whittled down to less than 20 hrs a week  which barely covered gas, our medical insurance and not to mention day care.  She recently made the brave, and wise, decision to leave the position to seek work elsewhere.  She is an incredible book keeper and office manager, but so far the resumes she has been submitting are not getting any response

I had hoped:

  • Free Comic Book Day would be huge (it was bigger than last year, but not enough)
  • Emerald City Comic Con would be huge (it was bigger than last year, but not enough)
  • Moving next door to the Movie Theatre would boost business in the summer and get us through (it has begun, but we’re only in the 3rd week of “blockbusters”

I have juggled as far as I can juggle.  I have kept a constant vigil on our shop, but currently it is resting on a house of cards and not a strong foundation (yet) that could go at any minute.

We are at a debt of 2 months behind in bills, including a new back debt to Diamond Distributors (not including our ever patient Angels).  It is a total of $30,000.00.

I need your help. This week is bad…Very bad.  

Some immediate help would be appreciated…to stop some crises.  This can be returned by the end of the year.  Some longer term…perhaps holding off on repayment until next year.

What I have done:

  • The shop has a credit line, but it is maxed out.  It gets paid monthly and Wells Fargo has been very understanding.
  • I have been depositing all of my paychecks from the Lakewood Playhouse to cover any payroll for the extra hours that my employees have been covering when I am not here.
  • I have made arrangements with all of our debtors (including Diamond and our current landlord)and am on payment plans with all of them.  But I have juggled as long as I can and if I miss a payment to one, it will begin to unravel the others as well.
  • I have sold off the bulk of our back issues at a lower price than I probably should have.  To be truthful, they weren’t moving that fast in the store and were taking up so much room both on (and off) site.

What I can do (but cannot do):

  • Let go of staff and replace them with my unemployed wife, or my eldest son’s mother who is also out of work through no fault of her own, both of whom will work for free.  Alex (7+ years), Bill (7+ years), Josh (3+ years) and Carmen (1+ years)are the lifeblood of this shop.  They are more important to it than I am.  We will all finish together.
  • Shut the doors now, declare banktruptcy and cut my losses.  That’s simply is not an option to me.  It hasn’t been since day one and it won’t happen now.  You..and your patronage…are more  important to me than I can possibly put into words.  I have sacrificed too much (including my house and, yes, even some friendships)to keep this store alive…and I will not fail you.
  • Have a fire sale, pay off my Angels, give my staff severance of three months and close the store.  I could do this tomorrow, but I am not giving up.  If it becomes a reality because I can’t juggle anymore…I will have to.  But right now? I simply will do everything in my power to prevent that from happening(including writing this letter to you).

And now I come to the part where I have to ask you something that I didn’t want to ask.

Please help however you can.   

How You Can Help:

  • Please, pick up your Comic Book Files and/or Special Orders Weekly.  We are CARRYING A LOT of FILES & SPECIAL ORDERS right now.  There is, more than likely, more than $30,000.00 sitting in the files * special order closet right now.
  • If you are local, and haven’t received your shipped books, please drop by and pick them up through the summer…even if its once a month.  I am so sorry, but shipping has gone way up (and I have been charging you the old rates).
  • Buy a Comic Book Ink GIFT CERTIFICATE and don’t use it for awhile.  I would like to do the “Added Discount Bonus”that we have done in the past, but it simply cannibalizes our sales beyond the short term relief.
  • If you could provide us with a short term loan that you could hold off on for awhile or that we could pay back with small payments. It would be appreciated beyond measure.
  • Buy a Share of Comic Book Ink that I could buy back from you in 2012 or 2013 (in what would be the store’s 10th Anniversary year).  This is something I have never done, nor offered, before.  I am willing to sell shares of Comic Book Ink Inc for $1,000.00 each…with the knowledge that I could repurchase them back from you at rate of $1,100.00 each in 2012 or $1,200.00 each in 2013.  This is limited to a total of 40% of the store’s shares of 100.
  • If you are an Angel, please continue to be patient.  You are a large part of what has kept us here for over 8 years

I honestly don’t know what else to do.

If you can do any of these things…as soon as you can…I would be grateful.

How You Can Pay:

  • Cash or Check, if possible (we do not have to pay any additional fees through the credit card machine)
  • Credit Card (because of the situation, we are willing to pay the additional fees in order to obtain fiscal help)

If I am not at the shop, as I am probably over at the Lakewood Playhouse, please ask the staff for my cell phone number and call me.  

We are going to try for the Will Eisner Spirit of Retailing Award this year.  You nominated us and we are going to try. I have two passes given to us from Diamond Comics.  One for me and one for Carmen.  I do not know if I will be able to afford to travel there…and we, currently, have no where to stay.  But we are going to try.  THE VAULT AT MIDNIGHT won last year…and they were unable to make the trip.

What is my short term plan? 

I have given myself a deadline of August 22nd, 2011 to see if the store can make it.  Why that date?  Its the 9th anniversary of the day I applied for our first business license.  If it cannot make it, I will consider myself a failure and begin the process of dismantling the shop.  I will see to it that all of my Angels are repaid, stock repaid at the rate bought this year, give my staff severance of three months and close the store. 

I think we can make it.  I wouldn’t have sent this message if I didn’t.

I did not want to write this letter.  I did not want to ask for help.  All I ever wanted to do was to create a place where people could come and escape for awhile.  A place that would invest in the community, and its organizations, that surrounded it.

You have kept us going for 8 years.  You have nominated us for the Eisner Award 7 Times.  You have voted us Best in Western Washington.  You have helped us make our Comic Book Shop, no matter the location, feel like a home.

Thank you for all of the years you have given me.

I’m not giving up without a fight. 

– John Munn

Comic Book Ink

2510 S. 84th, Suites 15A-B

Lakewood, WA  98466

(253) 761-4651

5 Question Friday With L. Lisa Lawrence

Lisa Spinning Fire

This week’s 5 Question Friday, we have L. Lisa Lawrence. She’s a photographer. She’s a gardener. She runs marathons. She’s a community organizer. She’s a fire spinner. She was once a park ranger. She is someone who just might have more stories than I do.

1.Hilltop is one of the most infamous neighborhoods on the West Coast. What made you choose the Hilltop as the place to make your home and how do you like it?

What attracted me to the Hilltop is the fabulous 100 year old houses, the early history of the people who built this town (my house was built by Italian immigrants), and the spirit of the neighborhood. Hilltop was my first choice for these reasons, as well as the fact that it is still affordable and was a damn smart investment.

This neighborhood (which deserves respect) had to pull its self together and fight what it was becoming. I Love my neighbors. We all watch out for each other, pay attention to what is going on and communicate with each other and the Community Liaison Officers from TPD. This is the safest most peaceful place I have lived in Tacoma.

People wave to each other, we sit on our front porches and we walk through the neighborhood, people stop to ask if someone needs help carrying groceries or digging a hole to plant a tree. In some ways, the Hilltop is Mayberry.

2. You’ve done everything from being a tri-athlete to spinning fire. Your interests seem to be all over the map. What do you want to do next?

I’m actually hoping to get back to some things that were put on the back burner when my mother was sick and dying, specifically playing my violin/fiddle and guitar. I’ve been learning to spin (fiber, not fire) and knit (don’t laugh, some of the most badass athletes and backpackers I know are knitters) I’m all about my urban farm, community and sustainability. Stillness is death-I never want to stagnate or stop learning.

3. Speaking of spinning fire, could you tell us about that?

I was a theater kid, I have a dance background. I love grace, rhythm and music. Fire is a primal force-something that is beautiful and which must be worked with carefully and with respect; in addition to the artistic aspect, there is a highly technical aspect which totally turns a geek like me on. In short, it is a rush.

Tacoma is home to some amazing fire dancers who I am proud to call friends and mentors, including Deanna Reilly , Cathy Marcotte, and Tabitha Andrews. (we’re for hire, check us out, monkey fist poi and fuel aren’t free)

4. You were part of the Speakeasy Arts Co-op. What do you think Tacoma needs next in support of the visual and perfoming arts?

The Tacoma art community is in some ways is a “victim of it’s success” there are so many art events, galleries and cooperatives that on any given night one is faced with so many choices that it’s impossible to do it all. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I suppose more coordination would be nice…

5. What’s one thing you want everyone to know about you?

What do I want people to know about me? For the most part, I am an open book-one of the reasons I’ve been told that I am a good writer is because I am accessible and am not afraid to “open a vein” if it touches or moves someone (just friend me on Facebook or read my blog blog.

I guess the short answer is, I am not what you expect, I am much like the heyoka of Lakota tradition (healer and sacred clown) or coyote; I am contrary. I may do something incredibly non traditional and badass during the day, and then sit and knit and/or cook a gourmet meal later that evening. Much like the old Enjoli commercials in the 70s,”I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never ever let you forget you’re a man”. I believe that stereotypes and labels are limiting; I chose to ignore the stereotypes and limits.

I am me, passionately and unapologetically me. People generally love me or hate me; there is not much middle ground. I’m good with that. How sad would it be to be someone people are indifferent about?

Thanks to L. Lisa Lawrence for participating in 5 Question Friday. To find out more about her, visit her blog at

Sixth Tacoma Homicide of 2011 – Tony McDougald

At 4:40am Monday morning, a South Tacoma homeowner and his wife were woken up to the sounds of dogs barking. In the past few weeks, they’d had previous attempted break ins. Back in March, less than a block away, Marvin Plunkett was shot and killed. This neighborhood is no stranger to violence. So when the homeowner went out to investigate the noises he heard in his garage, he was armed with a pistol. He’d already told his wife to call 9-1-1. He confronted the two burglars and held them at gunpoint. Then the two men decided to charge him. He reacted by firing his weapon. One of the burglars was 36-year-old Tony McDougald. After being shot, Tony managed to run away into the alley where he died. The other wounded burglar remained near the garage where the homeowner used a first aid kit until the police and ambulance arrived.

The death of Tony McDougald  is the sixth Tacoma homicide in 2011 and the second death of a would-be burglar in the last seven weeks. As in the case of Jamarr Johnson, no charges will be filed against the homeowner. The message from Tacoma authorities is clear: If someone breaks in and you have a reasonable fear for your life, you can shoot them.  I don’t entirely disagree. I would argue that it’s the South Tacoma Way. I don’t think that burglary should be punishable by death, but you break into MY house, it just might be.

I grew up a block away from this latest homicide of South 40th and Fawcett. It was and is a lower middle class neighborhood full of gravel alleys, detached garages, and dogs. Like other kids in that area, I went to Whitman Elementary School and Stewart Middle School. And it was at Stewart Middle School that I first met Tony McDougald.

It was only this morning that I learned that it was Tony who had been killed. I’m still processing it. I haven’t seen Tony in over twenty years. To be honest, I always assumed that he was in prison. It wasn’t that Tony was a bad kid. He just rarely, if ever, followed the rules. He was shorter than most of the other kids our age, but he made up for that with personality and attitude.

In middle school in 1989 Tony wore ripped jeans, metal band shirts, a jean jacket, and hair that would not have looked out of place in a Bon Jovi video. He was rock n roll at a time when I was just figuring out who I was. I don’t remember how we became friends. I remember that we had a lot of conversations about the crazy stuff that he’d do. There was one morning our English class was all supposed to meet for a field trip and everyone was there but Tony. Someone asked where Tony was and just then we saw him running down the sidewalk with a security guard chasing him. There was no doubt that he was a criminal. Even back then. That said, he was still my friend and he was great to talk to. He was smarter than anyone ever gave him credit for. Most teachers saw the rocker outfit and just assumed he was a dumbass.

I don’t know what happened to Tony between 1989 and last Monday morning. From what little I know, he likely didn’t change too much. He was probably a good friend to the people who knew him. He probably broke rules when he felt like it. And while he probably never expected to die of gunshot wounds in an alley after trying to burglarize a place, I don’t think it would have surprised him.

One thing I know that the homeowner could not have known is that Tony wouldn’t have hurt him. The Tony I knew wasn’t really a violent guy. Tony was likely just running towards the guy to get away. But there’s no way the homeowner would have known that. He reacted in the way most people would in that situation. It wasn’t a murder, but it was a tragedy.

Tony was the first person I ever met who lived by his own set of rules. And even at thirteen years old he knew that there were consequences for living that way, but being like everyone else wasn’t even a possibility for Tony. I’m not sure I’d be the same person I am today without having had Tony as a friend in middle school. He was my first brush with rebellion. In a world of copies, Tony was a true original. He may have been a criminal, but he wasn’t a bad guy.

Update: A memorial for friends and family of Tony McDougald is planned for Saturday, June 4 at 11 a.m. at Elk Plain Community Church (4115 224thStreet E, Spanaway). The public is welcome.

5 Question Friday With Tacoma’s SONICS GUY!

For this week’s 5 Question Friday I have Kris Brannon. Kris has been a stand-up comic for the past few years, but he is better known these days as SONICS GUY. I’d do a further introduction, but Sonics Guy does a pretty good job of that himself.

1. You are Tacoma’s ‘Sonics Guy’. What does that mean?

As Sonics Guy, I work to make sure that no one forgets that the NBA left Washington because certain politicians and businessmen chose their own interests over those of the citizens of Washington.  I meet people every day that feel as angry as I do that our premier championship team is no longer.  Notice the articles printed in local papers when the Thunder does well – how people feel cheated and say “that should have been us.”  The team I loved from my childhood is gone and I’m not the only one that misses them.

2. What is your intent with the petition?

The intent of my Initiative I-1158 is to force politicians and business interests to address and solve the problem of getting an NBA team back in Washington.  Face it, most people don’t even know the state song – I learned it in fourth grade and haven’t heard it sung since.  Do you know it?  Sir Mix Alot’s “Not in Our House” was the Sonics’ theme song, everybody knows it and everybody knows it symbolizes the importance and popularity of NBA basketball in Washington.

3. Why does a guy from Tacoma care about a former Seattle NBA team?

The Sonics are and were bigger than any one city — they are Washington State’s team.  When I cheered for the Sonics I wasn’t cheering for Seattle, I was cheering for every one of us in this state.  People from around the region thought the Sonics were their team.  Don’t forget that they havent always been in Seattle —  during the Key Arena remodel they played a year in Tacoma at the Tacoma Dome.  I got a job down  there as I wanted to work the games. Most of the season ticket holders were from Bellevue, this wasn’t just Seattle team, it was everybody’s team.

4. What can other Tacoma residents do to support your cause?

People can go my website to contact me directly, follow me on Twitter (@sonicsguy), follow me on my Facebook fan page (Sonics Guy) and hit the “like” button. Tell your friends and family about the initiative, and, if you see me around town and are a registered Washington voter, SIGN THE PETITION!  I would also appreciate having permission to put up petitions on the premises of local businesses.

5. What’s next for Sonics Guy?

Well, until July 8th, the last day to submit signatures to the Secretary of State, its all about I-1158. After that it will be about going to any event I can big or small to extoll the virtues of the Sonics and having NBA basketball back in Washington State. Remember the green and gold always!!!

Thanks to Sonic Guy for participating in 5 Question Friday. For more information, check out  

-Jack Cameron

5 Question Friday With Mr. Nice Guy Towing’s Adam Cameron

Mr. Nice Guy Towing 253-227-3982The idea behind 5 Question Friday is to let people know about locals who are doing something in Tacoma. Initially I thought that it’d be a bit unfair to include friends and family, but I quickly realized I have some really cool friends and family. This week’s 5 Question Friday I am joined by the owner of Mr. Nice Guy Towing, my brother, Adam Cameron.

If you’re in the Tacoma area and need a tow, calling him is your best bet.

1. How did you get your start in the towing business?

I got my start in the towing business after I got laid off from Hexcel and was on unemployment, I volunteered at Force One Towing just to learn the trade, I enjoyed the job right away and became very good at it. They offered me a position as a tow truck driver within the first couple weeks of volunteering, My first day on the job I knew I had found my niche.

2. What’s the strangest tow you’ve ever done?

I’ve had many strange tows, strange customers, and seen many strange things in my nine years in the towing industry. The strangest tow that I’ve done was actually for a friend of mine, his girlfriend was walking her horse along Valley Ave between Sumner and Fife and it had fallen over dead under the small bridge on that road, so I get a call from my friend to see if I would tow the dead horse from the side of the road to his mom’s farm for burial, so I came out with my flatbed with a tarp to cover the horse and made it happen.

3. What’s the one thing everyone should know about getting their car towed that no one seems to know?

There are so many ways I could go with this one, but I’m guessing the vast majority would want a nugget of info that could save them a lot of hassle and money so here it is: When you sell a car, turn in a sellers report right away and don’t sell a car without doing this. When a car goes to an impound lot, the last registered owner and legal owner are the only ones that get a call and have any rights to the car. They are also financially responsible for the car, a lot of times we contact the registered owner and they tell us they sold the car years ago. Unfortunately for them if they didn’t turn in a sellers report and the new owners didn’t put it into their names, the old owner is responsible for all storage and towing charges of the car which after 30 days is over $1000 and after the vehicle is sold at auction whatever amount is left on the bill goes to a collection agency in the last registered owner’s name.

4. What part of Tacoma tends to have the most frequent tows?

I don’t think there is an area of Tacoma that has more tows than another. I do end up in downtown Tacoma a lot, and Highway 16 is a common freeway for me. I end up in NE Tacoma some, which before I was a Tow Truck guy I would have called it Federal Way or Dash Point.

5. Is there any sort of tow you won’t do?

Nope if my trucks and I are capable, I will tow whatever whenever. Although I won’t do tire changes or out of gas calls if they are on the freeway. I will tow them instead to a gas station or tire shop. In my opinion it isn’t safe to do these things on the side of a freeway. I also won’t do vehicle lockouts if they left their baby in the car. I suggest break a window away from the baby, because I don’t need the drama or liability of the situation.

Thanks Adam at Mr. Nice Guy Towing. Having a the number of a tow truck handy can make a really inconvenient situation a little simpler. To contact Adam at Mr. Nice Guy Towing, call 253-227-3982.

– Jack Cameron

My Memories of Camp 6

Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite place in Tacoma is Pt. Defiance. When they put speed bumps through Five Mile Drive, making it so a nice relaxing drive is interrupted periodically by a big bump, I got no less than five phone calls asking how I felt about it. When they tore out the wood benches along the walk between the Boat House and Owen Beach, I actually cried. A few weeks ago when some brain dead teenager set fire to the Pagoda at the Japanese Gardens in Pt. Defiance, I didn’t even write about it because I was simply too angry. And now another era ends. Camp 6 is closing.

There are plenty of other online and offline news outlets that are doing a fine job of covering the history of Camp 6 and the steam logging museum located there. So I’m going to spend this post talking about my personal history with Camp 6.

As a child, I loved trains. My grandfather worked for Burlington Northern Railroad and for my eighth birthday, he got me a ride in a freight train locomotive. Every year at the Puyallup Fair, the thing I looked most forward to was going on the miniature train ride. The fact that Pt. Defiance Park had a real honest-to-God steam locomotive train that you could ride was amazing to me.  And when the train wasn’t running, you could actually walk on the train tracks with no fear of a train running you over. As a kid, Camp 6 was like a life-size train set.

In my teens and early 20s, Camp 6 became something else to me. It was the secret place in Pt. Defiance. Everyone went to the Owen Beach or Fort Nisqually or the Japanese Gardens, but Camp 6 was the last stop before the exit to the park. By the time most people got there, they had already had their fun in the park. Camp 6 was the place you could go and be alone with someone. There were few girlfriends or girls I wanted to be girlfriends I didn’t take to Camp 6.

As a father, my son and I have spent hundreds of afternoons at Pt. Defiance Park. The train didn’t run as often, but still ran occasionally during the summer. I remember one particular afternoon we were traipsing through the forest trails that go throughout the park and we found ourselves near the entrance of Camp 6. We walked in and they just happened to be running the train. We paid a few bucks and got on board. It was a nice break after spending hours going through the trails. The next time we went to the park, my son wanted to go to Camp 6. We pulled into the gravel parking lot and walked on the train tracks. I happened to have my camera and took a few photos. One of which I’ve included in the post.

The owners of Camp 6 leased the land from Metro Parks. They wanted to sell it, but could not find a buyer. They’re now going to sell the parts of old train cars, and all of the old logging equipment to whoever will buy it. They’re also going to tear out the train tracks and remove all other heavy equipment. Metro Parks says they have no idea what they’re going to do with the area. This isn’t the first time a significant attraction has closed down permanently. Years ago, Never, Never Land closed. Easily identified by Humpty Dumpty sitting on top of a stack of books, Never, Never Land had a selection of statues from various fairy tales. You’d walk down the path and see all of these life size scenes from tales you grew up hearing like the Three Little Pigs. When it closed down, most of the statues were taken out and nothing else was really done. They let some of the bigger displays rot. I expect that similar lack of care will be taken in the end of Camp 6. It’s a sad day for me. It’s a sad day for Tacoma.

-Jack Cameron

5 Question Friday With Box Top Vintage’s Jooley Heaps

Box Top VintageIf you’ve driven in downtown Tacoma down Pacific Avenue, odds are you’ve seen Jooley Heaps and her bright red hair outside her vintage clothing store, Box Top Vintage. It’s a strange and wonderful store. This week, Jooley was nice enough to participate in ‘5 Question Friday’.

1. What is Box Top Vintage?
Box Top Vintage is a funky mix of vintage and retro clothing as well as retail items,novelties, and clothing that ya can’t find any where else. It rules!

2. Why did you locate your shop in Tacoma?
My first shop Lady J’s Vintage clothing was on 6th ave back in 2003/2004…I was given this opportunity to open a shop, I jumped through necessary hoops to get the store and open it..I’ve been open one year.

3. What is the strangest thing in your shop?
Strangest item, well that is a hard one…I have a lot of “Homies” plastic figures and plush… I also have an Oh No! Zombies board game, mustache bandages, as well as “Just like Dad” candy cigarettes, and a zombie brain gelatin mold. So I dunno. I have a lot of oddities haha.

4. What is something you’d never carry in your shop?
I would never carry items relating to drugs. Or dildos.

5. Your shop is one of the most interesting ones I’ve ever been in. How do you find the unique items that make Box Top so interesting?
I always search the net for cool retail items, and if they have a low minimum order then i basically apply for a wholesale account. Woo hoo! Oh and even if the vintage clothing is beyond gross I still totally carry it. Someone always has a wierd party to go to and they want something rediculous. And for that, I always have their back.!

Thanks to Jooley for doing 5 Question Friday! If you’re in downtown Tacoma, you owe it to yourself to drop by Box Top Vintage at 907 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, WA 98042  or check them out online at

Being Chinese In Tacoma in the 1940s

June 1943, The Ling Family from left Shun Chih, Jing Noe, Shun Hung; Shun Chow, Jing Chuan, Jing Chu, Shun Mei, Ling Yet Sze (mother), Shun Lein and Ling Yunan (father). (Photo courtesy of The Tacoma Public Library)

The following is another story published in 1989 in a book called Tacoma: Voices of the Past Volume 1. As the book is out of print and hard to find, I post this Tacoma Story here for others to discover.

I found this story particularly interesting given Tacoma’s particularly history of bad treatment towards the Chinese.

The Street Where I Lived

By Jing Chuan Ling

It was a certified letter from the City of Tacoma dated, January 17, 1986 that brought me back to Market Street, to the street where I grew up. It contained a notice that required every property owner to maintain his property free from vegetation and litter as defined in Section 8.31.010 of the Official Code of the City of Tacoma

As I drove down to check on the property at 1532 Market Street, my thoughts went back to the days of my youth in the Market Street neighborhood downtown. When I was born, my parents, three brothers and two sisters lived at 1312 Market Street. My dad’s N. Lan Chinese Medicine Company office was in the front area and our living quarters were in the rear. The Dewey Hotel was above us and its lobby was just north of us. Through the large hotel windows, men could be seen sitting in leather seats smoking their cigars and cigarettes, reading newspapers or talking. I do not recall seeing any women idling their time away in the lobby.

By the time I was three years old, the family had moved to 1556 Market Street. Three more brothers and a sister were added to the family here.  We lived at this address for fourteen years. My father, Yunan Ling, an herb doctor and an importer of Chinese curios, had his office and display window on the south and front side. The rest of the area was partitioned off with panels to accommodate a dining-living area, a kitchen, a bathroom, a large bedroom, a small closet,  a storage room and an attic. Above us was the Columbus Hotel which had several floors. Next door, to the north, was the Tacoma Jujitsu School. Jujitsu is a Japanese offensive and defensive show of strength without weapons. In the evenings, my brothers and I would take turns peeking through the keyhole to observe the activity of young men tossing and slamming their bodies onto mats laid out on the floor.

To my knowledge, we were the only Chinese family on Market Street. Several Japanese families had living quarters in the rear or above their places of business. The Tofu Company Food Products was at 1546 Market Street, the Pacific Hand Laundry was at 1356 Market Street, and a grocery store was at 1354 Market Street. It seemed that these businesses just disappeared overnight along with all my Japanese playmates. I was too young at the time to understand or question the sudden change in the neighborhood when the Japanese were sent to concentration camps. What remains in my memory are the stickpins labeled “Chinese” which we were required to wear to identify ourselves.

Other thriving businesses in our neighborhood, during my young and innocent youth, were the “houses of ill repute” across the street, down the hill and at the hotel on the northwest corner of Fifteenth and Market Street. All I knew was that a lot of men, neatly dressed in business suits, frequently went in and out of those places. At night, a red light could be seen burning in the window. When Tacoma made national headlines during the Crime Commission investigations in the early fifties, I recognized several of the personalities implicated. I never observed any outward display of solicitation which is so evident today in downtown Tacoma.