"From an underwhelmed walk through For Lease signs, to an appreciation of a city's treasures – 2 1/2 years of discovery"

Note: Steve Brown will be departing the Index soon for points south. His last day will be September 7th. Bonnie West will be taking over editorial duties at the newspaper.

On the grey day in April 1998, when I arrived in Tacoma to join the staff of the Tacoma Daily Index, I was thoroughly underwhelmed. There were few people on the downtown streets, and we few were greatly outnumbered by For Lease signs in the windows of the stark, vacant storefronts that seemingly went on forever.

I immediately began paying calls on businesses and organizations I thought would be interested to learn they had another interested media source to get their story out. But overall, I wasn’t exactly encouraged by the response I received.

Most businesses initially treated me like a salesperson and showed me the door (Note to front desk staffs everywhere – if the title on the business card says reporter, the person doesn’t sell anything). ‘The Tacoma Daily what?’ was the response I heard over and over again. ‘Are you a weekly?’ they’d ask.

I wondered how this little newspaper had survived unknown for 108 years (now going on 111), in complete obscurity.

But there were those who welcomed me as well. Lisa Olson (now Coleman) and the staff at the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce helped introduce me to a number of people who turned out to be great contacts, sources, and, later, friends. Many of these people introduced me to other people, and my network, and my knowledge of the business community in Tacoma, grew exponentially.

I became immersed in stories I thought, and still think, were great – and for the most part, under-reported elsewhere. I loved the freedom to be able to dedicate as much time and editorial space as I thought a particular subject deserved. Five deadlines a week was a small price to pay for such freedom.

Through this little paper, I have been introduced to some of the finest people I have had the privilege to meet anywhere. And I must echo the others who have said that the attitude about this town – by the residents of this town – is what must change for it to realize its full potential. For Tacoma has its treasures – large and small – and if I can find them, then so can everyone else.

Some of Tacoma’s gems are family businesses. From financial services giant Frank Russell Company (sold to Northwestern Mutual, but continuing a commitment to the city); to small, unique enterprises such as Bernardo Tuma’s exceptional Aroma Coffee and Cafe – truly the center of downtown life; and places like Bob’s Bar-B-Q, where they cook with family tradition and welcome you as family. These businesses are about your neighbors’ and community’s success.

Other small businesses such as Johnson’s Candy and the Cake Studio stand out as successes, along with a trove of high-tech firms too numerous to mention. Meanwhile, craftsmen like metal spinner Jack Davis and musical treasures like acoustic instrument manufacturer Tacoma Guitars, the brilliant Northwest Sinfonietta and stalwart Victory Music are diamonds waiting to be recognized for their true worth.

Some organizations and resources are exceptional here as well, with the chamber, the Tacoma-Pierce County Convention and Visitor Bureau, the Small Business Administration’s One Stop Capital Shop, the Tacoma Empowerment Consortium, the Tacoma Network and Tacoma Technology Consortium, the Tacoma Farmers Market, the Washington State Historical Museum and the Northwest Room at the downtown Tacoma Public Library coming immediately to mind. There are others.And Tacoma has its share of civic and business events that shine as well. The City of Destiny Awards, SST 2000, the annual South Sound Business EXPO, and the exciting new E-business Day are all exceptional, along with many smaller ongoing and one-time happenings.

There are far too many people I am grateful to for their help, support, and their tolerance, to name all. Some I would be remiss if I did not name them, include Jamie Chase who has added much to this publication with her weekly technology column, Cut to the Chase, along with being the originator of E-Business Day and handling public relations for ContractQuest; Sara Fielding, also of ContractQuest and a guest columnist; Scott Bourne, whose perspective, influence, civic pride and friendship has been exceptional; Sharon Barber of the SBA’s Tacoma office; Julian Henslee of Tacoma Guitars; Dr. Shirl Gilbert, II, and so many more that I am sorry I cannot fit them all into this column. In thanking individuals in the chamber, I can only thank all of you – to not include everyone would be to exclude someone important.

I would also be remiss should I not thank the fine staff of this newspaper, most particularly our publisher, Ken Spurrell. These folks have put up with much foolishness, and have been supportive and reasonable throughout my tenure. Truly amazing considering whom they were dealing with.

There were some losers too, but space being what it is on our front page, I cannot afford to dedicate any to mention them. Somewhere, deep in the recesses of their little minds, they know who they are. With this column, this trivial, insignificant and ever-present minority are dismissed into the past, and occasional stories told over a fine glass of ale at the Harmon.

I truly would like to thank those who helped me to see beyond those For Lease signs, and to see the vibrant, exciting community here in Tacoma. I deeply appreciate all you have done for me, and for this town. This is a great city in an exciting time, and with a history and people I have come to appreciate, and love.In about two and a half years, the Index has gone from being an isolated paper of record, rarely read for the editorial content, to being a small, but not negligible source of business and economic development news. Incoming editor, Bonnie West, will continue to grow and develop this trend.

I’d like to think our technology coverage, with the inclusion of Cut to the Chase, has become some of the best in the area, and we have reported on some of the most exciting stories to be found here – some of which never made it into the pages of any other publication.

Our Web site, which officially came on line at the beginning of this year, has done much to expand our reach. Our stories have been e-mailed to business and government offices from Washington, D.C., to China, and are now carried by Moreover.com, a London-based Internet news feed, which provides content to over 50,000 sites on the Internet daily.

Now, whenever I walk the streets, past the signs of emerging retail, commercial, housing, technology and other businesses brightening those previously darkened storefronts and office buildings, I walk with an eye for the potential of Tacoma’s future – and the ghosts of George Francis Train and Sam Wall, who left from a spot close by on Broadway to boom Tacoma around the world over 110 years ago – when this newspaper was first setting up shop only a block or so away from where we still publish daily.And there’s a very good chance that someone on the streets will recognize me, or that I am from the Index.I hope to see you again soon. Thanks Tacoma for everything. It’s been great. It really has.

Photo: Incoming Index Editor Bonnie West waves up from the Tacoma Farmers Market moments after the Atomic Tangerine Turn the Juice Loose, drop, marking the company’s Tacoma office grand opening on E-business Day last Thursday. Photo: Steve Brown. “