THIS SUMMER you couldn't walk a block in downtown Seattle without seeing it: the brightly colored map of downtown seemed to be in every back pocket, clutched in every hand, spread out and scrutinized at every intersection where there were tourists. Since you live here, you've never even looked at it. But to nearly every visitor to this city, that blue-covered map is their primary guide, and it was devised not by city officials or some corporate entity but by a West Seattle couple, Dick and Marjorie Ingalls, who've been updating and distributing and making a comfortable living off their Tourmap for four decades.
At the Westin Hotel one morning recently, concierge Ann Hovland was using the map to counsel every single one of the crush of guests who came up to seek her guidance. Lead concierge Richard W. Powell said the Westin gives away about a thousand of the maps every day during the summer. Most of the other hotels use it, too, as does the city's own Convention and Visitors Bureau. All told, the Ingalls distribute 2 million a year. "We see that the Tourmap is widely circulated and does end up in as many hands as there are visitors and guests to Seattle," wrote Patricia MacKenzie, convention services manager for the bureau, in a letter last year to the Ingalls. "It is the very best tool they can have. . . . "
SITTING WITH A COLLECTION of his mapswhich also include London, Paris, and, of course, SpokaneDick Ingalls says: "We like to think of the map as a work of art." Indeed, Ingalls, 70, was chair of the art department at Gonzaga University before the map allowed him to quit his day job; he and his wife draw every one of the teeny, colorful, detailed iconsminiature depictions of the stadiums, museums, and all 50 downtown Seattle hotels. "We draw every window in the Four Seasons," he says. (The Four Seasons recently became the Fairmont.) The map even includes an elegant little cartoon portrait of Ingalls and his wife, as well as their dog, Tiffany, who is brought along on sales and delivery calls and is well known among downtown merchants.
Of course, like most such tourist maps, it's pay to play. An icon and one-line write-up in the shopping directory goes for $1,800. But participating merchants say it's worth it. The sporting goods store Warshal's on First Avenue regularly bought a spot on the map before it closed a couple years ago; and when Warshal's shoe manager Cindi Raykovich opened up her own store, Sound Sports, in 1996, she told her husband and business partner, "We have to get on that map. I saw how it worked at Warshal's. Runners [from out of town] always want to find the runners' shop." For $5,000, your business can also be integrated into one of the map's 10 different covers: The Victoria Clipper, Tillicum Village, and Ride the Ducks are among the businesses that got cover treatment this year.
While the map mostly features a usual-suspects clutch of tourist-oriented businesses, Belltown/ Queen Anne scenesters might be surprised to find that Tini Bigs is beckoning the Carnival cruise ship crowd to its martini-cigar-miniskirt pickup party. And who knew that the chic Salon Virtu was reaching out to helmet-headed Alaska-bound matrons?
Competitors to the Tourmap, of course, have come and gone over the years. The most serious challenge, perhaps, is from Los Angeles- based Where magazines, publisher of the ubiquitous tourist advertorials found in hotel rooms all around the world, which started up a Seattle pocket map six years ago. Where's Seattle publisher, Nola Palmer, says her company's map is intended to be "more accurate and more upscale" than the Ingalls', which she notes is "very cartoony and loud."
BUT THE INGALLS seem to be maintaining their dominant position. The one reservation that concierges and others express about their map is the rather skewed sense of scale, which has apparently caused at least some tourists to imagine they could stroll to the Ballard Locks in the same time it takes them to get to Pioneer Square. "Of course the map is distorted," says Dick Ingalls. "But we try to move people around through symbols and art."
Buying a spot on the Tourmap is no guarantee of retail success. Walter's Waffles, a Yesler Way purveyor of waffles-to-go, flopped a couple years ago, despite its continued presence on the Tourmap. But Ingalls says his customer-retention rate is more than 90 percent. One peculiar loss he's facing for 2004: Seahawks Stadium. Apparently, Paul Allen couldn't scrape up the cash necessary to buy an icon next year.