Archie McPhee Catalog Store
A network of commuting arteries strangle the city of Seattle with a familiar tyranny -- High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. By law, cars in an HOV lane must transport at least two passengers, or they are violation-bound. But often these are the only lanes moving....
So the notion of beefing up one's vehicle occupancy by acquiring decoy soft latex mummies has perhaps occurred to more than one shopper at Seattle's Archie McPhee Store.
We're not sure how many commuters frequent Archie's, but when in town starting a road trip, we always outfit ourselves here. An oscillating Hula Girl for the dashboard, perhaps bright yellow lab jackets with "Virginia Power" stenciled across the back for field research, bags marked "CAUTION -- Radioactive Material" -- all essential for a memorable vacation. Then a handful of toxic candies, a bacon air freshener, and we're off.
Archie McPhee, a long-dead real person, is the vaguely related figurehead of a booming mail order business selling pop culture discards. Defunct hero figures and heretical dolls. Novelty gifts and Tiki collectibles. Punching puppets.
You can buy stuff through the mail or via the web, but it's not the same as seeing this much nonsense tightly packed in one place. The store is an outgrowth of the Archie McPhee catalog business operating from Seattle since 1983 in the Fremont district. At the turn of the century it moved to larger digs in the Ballard district.
Under the Thunder Lizard head, the storefront windows hint at the world within -- a Robot Monster gorilla in a space helmet, a centurion, Parasite Pals (kids love'em)....
While there is a sprinkling of odd arcade games and other not-for-sale displays, almost everything else is about commerce. The staff stands at an elevated checkout, lifeguards calmly observing the kitsch rip tide.
They are helpful, and extremely knowledgeable about every odd piece of chem lab tubing or injection mold diety with misaligned eyes. One reveals, with a look of sadness, that shrunken heads have been discontinued, and there are no complete anti-radiation suits on this day.
Everything has been neatly organized into categories. As the cash register rings up our radiation bags, it electronically notes they came from the "Science Section" -- time to restock!
AP built up in the early days by relabeling factory rejects and failed game pieces as must-have home decorations. Today, many items are created expressly for Archie McPhee.
So the very popular Librarian Action figure isn't an artifact from a 1950s Mental Hygiene teachers' convention, but a self-conscious attempt to cater to an audience that would desire such a thing in the first place. A local librarian, Nancy Pearl, posed as the model in 2003. Its "amazing push-button shushing action" stirred up librarians around the world. They didn't want to end up on the Stereotype Shelf with the likes of Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Jesus (three popular McPhee action figures). No matter -- the Librarian is here and still selling briskly.
For every manufactured-for-irony item, you'll still find a true pop culture cast-off. Who would intentionally create the awful looking, plastic Phone Boy? Was it made as a reward for children of '70s telecom employees? A hand-lettered sign next to a bin of these telephonic teenies reads: "Hallo! Halloo! Is anybody there?"
Phone Boy set us back 75 cents. We passed on the $60 latex mummies. They'd have been fun in the back seat, but trouble at airport security. We can always order a few by mail.