REI'S THIN VENEER
As a former employee of REI, I was unsurprised by Andy Ryan's revelations ["Who Owns REI?" June 18]. Among my experiences there was watching the floor selection change from outdoor gear to casual wear, dumping domestic manufacturers in favor of cheap, Chinese-made goods while prices stayed high or went up. I bore the brunt of the anger of longtime members: "What happened to the gear?" "Is there anything here that isn't made in China?" "Can you actually get people to pay so much for this (fleece/parka/hat)?" Some walked out. Some asked me to cut up their co-op card.
I saw unskilled floor staff fill the ranks as knowledgeable old-timers moved on. Wayne Colwell is worth every dime they pay him and the thousands they don't. Sadly, he is now an isolated exception, whereas the level of service he provides was once the rule. The days of going to REI both for gear and advice are over.
REI CEO Dennis Madsen's impatience with Ryan wasn't surprising. The bright light of a Weekly cover story can only reveal the authenticity he relies on to drive sales to undiscriminating yuppies as a paper-thin veneer for PR purposes. I saw a well-earned reputation for quality and knowledge being sold for short-term financial gain.
When I got to Seattle, the first thing I did was turn in an application at REI. I was jazzed when I was hired. I couldn't conceive of a better place to work and learn, especially in this outdoorsman's paradise. Imagine my disappointment when time revealed to me that the capitalists had gotten there first and sold Lloyd Anderson's dream, and my own, down the river.
COMPETITIVE OR COOPERATIVE?
Andy Ryan's article ["Who Owns REI?" June 18] makes an important point about the direction of a major "cooperative," but it misses the central argument. CEO Dennis Madsen uses one theme to justify REI's business behaviorcompetition. Competition with whom? This is the central idea of a co-op: Since it's owned by its customers, it can rise above the rough-and-tumble of the competitive capitalist marketplace. A co-op should be able to ignore competitive forces, because its responsibility is to its customer-owners, not to shareholders with no explicit interest in the goods it sells. A co-op shouldn't need to compete with other vendors, because its customers are its owners; to the extent that customers choose to shop somewhere else, they are not members and are people whom the co-op doesn't need to satisfy.
Madsen and REI face a critical choice: Acknowledge that the cooperative model has failed and is basically unworkable in the current economic system, or make a difficult, critical re-examination of business practices, structure, and future direction.
BLAME THE MEMBERS
Andy Ryan's feature on REI was of particular interest to me because I'm on the board of New Seattle Massage, a practitioner-owned co-op ["Who Owns REI?" June 18]. Co-ops are difficult to manage. They often fail because their structure makes adequate capitalization difficult. An important point the article overlooked is that co-op success depends on membership commitment and participation: a stake in the business financial, sweat equity, something. Ryan pointed out that most REI members are not very interested in co-op participation.
REI's board made decisions over the years that sacrificed co-op operating principles in favor of business efficiency and growth. It's hard to say if REI could have survived otherwise. But if REI isn't a "real" co-op anymore, blame members' lack of involvement in "their" business. At the very least, REI should be forthcoming about what kind of organization it is. If REI's not a true co-op and the majority of its members don't care and are satisfied with what they're getting, perhaps it doesn't matter.
Mary Ann Kae
PROFIT OR DIE
After reading Andy Ryan's "Who Owns REI?" [June 18], it is apparent that the only business venture either he or Professor Tom Jones have ever owned (or operated) is the one membership share of REI he claims to have sold. Companies that do not profit do not grow; as a result, they also do not hire or promote employment.
Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, and REI are filled with outdoor enthusiasts who struggle to balance work with play. The employees at REI don't just talk about a basement full of gear, they use the stuff. REI is a wonderful example of Seattle's outdoor, vibrant, and professional culture. It is sad Ryan's article attempts to taint that.
CODE OF ARMS
Much ado was made in Philip Dawdy's article about the inappropriateness of SPD officers carrying AR-15 semiautomatic rifles at protests ["Make Their Day," June 18]. In my opinion, the carrying of such weapons is reasonable. It is accepted that officers carry handguns, because they need to be prepared in those rare cases when they, or innocent civilians, are faced with a deadly threat. AR-15s are an appropriate adjunct to handguns. They serve the same function but provide greater accuracy and "reach." Also, because officers on the front line of protests are occupied with shield, batons, and cumbersome equipment, they are less able to respond to, or even see, a gun in the crowd than the officer behind the line who is armed with a semiautomatic rifle. They are also less able to defend themselves or protesters against such a threat. Hopefully, the AR-15s will never be needed, but it would be ridiculous to say they're not needed merely because no such threat has yet presented itself at local protests.
The AR-15 is also not a "machine gun," as the article calls it. It is a semiautomatic rifle. Although it looks like a big, bad military gun, if people understand that it is merely a more accurate firearm for longer-distance shooting, their distrust might be alleviated.
I have served as a law enforcement officer at numerous protests, I have taught firearms use and safety, and I also have seen the "other side" of the situation, as a protester myself. Those present at protests in Seattle might consider that the officers are there to protect them and their rights, and they need to be properly equipped to do so.
P. Whitney Richtmyer
I am compelled to correct the assumptions made in last week's article "Make Their Day." The SPD does not deploy officers with rifles for demonstration management or crowd control. The officer photographed in the article is part of a teama team equipped with less-lethal weapons and, yes, one member with a rifle. The rifle-equipped officer is not put on the line to deal with protesters or to manage any part of a demonstration.
An officer with a rifle is assigned by the department to be nearby and available during any situation that has been assessed to have a potential for violence or injury. That just makes good sense for the safety of everyone. It is neither the intent nor the desire of the department to chill lawful protest. Given the many demonstrations that occur in Seattle, it is apparent that neither our personnel nor our equipment has suppressed free speech.
Jim Pugel, Assistant Chief,
Seattle Police Department
PLEASANT PIPE DREAM
Well spoken, Geov Parrish [ "Impeachable Offense," June 18]. It's a shame that the American public is more interested in the salacious than in the substantive. We impeached a reasonably good president for his private sexual escapades, even though he took care of the things that matter. Meanwhile, we stare blankly and breathe through our mouths as Bush guts our economy and our Constitution, masking his misdeeds behind an unnecessary war based on illusions and lies. Impeachment is a pipe dream, but worth calling for nonetheless; at least such cries will raise awareness for the coming election.
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