All Over The Map: Nicknames for Northwest companies are a form of ‘tough love’

Jun 5, 2020, 9:30 AM | Updated: 11:24 am

Northwest nicknames, Durn Good Grocery...

The Durn Good Grocery in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood, perhaps because of a long-ago fire, is still known by some as the “Burn Good.” (Feliks Banel/KIRO Radio)

(Feliks Banel/KIRO Radio)

You’ve probably heard a few “nicknames” for big national companies.

Like certain local “geographic insults” for neighborhoods and towns explored earlier by All Over The Map, these company nicknames often have a pejorative feel. However, I believe they also represent a certain kind of “tough love” for businesses that some people love to buy stuff from, but that also can be frustrating or irritating to deal with.

I can’t remember the first time I heard the nickname “Poverty Barn” as shorthand for high prices at the retail furniture and housewares chain Pottery Barn, but I know it made me chuckle. The same is true for “Whole Paycheck,” which, since Amazon bought the grocery chain Whole Foods a few years ago, means this one has become something of a local example.

Here are few more company nicknames from the Seattle area.

“Ricardo’s Club 19” for Dick’s Drive-In

Dick’s Drive-In opened back in 1954 in Wallingford and then in 1955 on Capitol Hill.

One version of the “Ricardo’s Club 19” origin story is that there was a nightclub on Broadway with a similar name, and a taxi driver, as a joke, and because Dick’s had a big sign advertising their 19-cent burgers, just started calling it “Ricardo’s Club 19.” Dick’s even started using that name in some advertisements, and still uses it for special events (as recently as this past Valentine’s Day).

On Queen Anne Hill, the Dick’s location there was across the street from a French restaurant called Le Tastevin that was in business from the 1970s to the early 1990s. Some Tastevin employees and customers called Dick’s the very French flavored “Chez Richard” – pronounced, naturally, as “SHAY ri-SHARD.”

“Fairview Fanny” for The Seattle Times

The origins of “Fairview Fanny” for Seattle’s last remaining daily paper are somewhat murky. Fairview Avenue north of downtown has been the site of the Seattle Times’ editorial offices since the 1930s, so the name partly draws from that location.

Susan Paynter, who worked at the old Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Times’ main competitor for several decades, said in an email:

Don’t know much about origins of [the] Times’ nickname, although it was a reference (by us at the PI, at least) to the Times being fat (compared with its lean, mean competition), and smugly self-satisfied, squatting there on Fairview.

Jean Godden, who worked at both the P-I and Fairview Fanny, wondered if maybe author Tom Robbins – who also, in the 1960s, worked for both papers — came up with it.

“Return Equipment Indefinitely” for REI

Now national outdoor retailer REI was founded in 1938 in Seattle. The initials stand for “Recreational Equipment, Incorporated.”

Back in June 2013, REI changed their very generous open-ended return policy because some outdoor-types were perhaps taking advantage of that policy by trading in old gear for new stuff.

That is, customers – actually, “members” of the REI co-op – would return boots, tents, camp stoves and other items not because the item was defective, but because it had worn out after years of use. Some of those folks said that with that generous policy, those three letters – REI — stood for “Return Equipment Indefinitely” or “Rent Everything Inside.”

“Lazy B” for The Boeing Company

Boeing was founded in Seattle in 1916. At some point, perhaps during the company’s booming World War II years, it became known as the “Lazy B.” This name mimics a Western ranch with its own cattle brand, with the “B” standing for Boeing, or, in the nickname’s pejorative sense, “Lazy Bum.” Another possibility is that the “B” stands for another less polite word often preceded by “lazy.”

The earliest reference to “Lazy B” in newspaper archives was in the 1980s, but the sense then is that the nickname had been around for years. A story from July 10, 1984 said, “some workers call it the ‘Lazy B’ and tell their friends about how little they do for their paychecks.” That quote is from Fairview Fanny, by the way.

Mike Lombardi is chief company historian at Boeing and a good friend of KIRO Radio, MyNorthwest, and Seattle’s Morning News.

In an email inquiring about the origins of “Lazy B,” Lombardi wrote, “That question has come up before and we never did come up with an answer. It is something from way back and I have not heard the phrase used here in a long, long, time – we are all way too busy!”

A KIRO Radio listener said via text, “Boeing was called the ‘Lazy B’ because the cursive capital B [of the company’s logo in those years] was considered a ‘lazy’ B, laying back, not upright. I was told that about Boeing by a man who worked there in the early 1940s.”

“Group Death” for Group Health

Group Health was founded back in the 1940s as a revolutionary style of “co-operative” health care organization. It was recently absorbed by health care giant, Kaiser Permanente.

According to a Group Health history prepared by the late Walt Crowley, “King County Medical Society [KCMS] castigated Group Health physicians as ‘unethical,’ which meant, according to KCMS ‘ethics,’ that they were working for a prepaid group practice that the Medical Society had not certified.

“A neat Catch 22,” he continued. “More insidiously, Group Health’s enemies dubbed it ‘Group Death’ and labeled its staff and members ‘communists.’”

The Burn Good Grocery in Wallingford

Nicknames aren’t only for big companies.

In Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood, the Durn Good Grocery is a local convenience store located on the corner of North 40th Street and Wallingford Avenue North. The store moved a few decades ago from its original location a few blocks east at 40th and Bagley.

At some time in the past – perhaps the 1970s or 1980s –  there was purportedly a fire at the original Durn Good. From that point on, local residents started calling it the “Burn Good,” and for some, the name still applies to the current location.

I know there are more of these company nicknames out there around Puget Sound and Washington state, particularly in neighborhoods, suburbs, and small towns. If you know of any, please get in touch via my contact information below.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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All Over The Map: Nicknames for Northwest companies are a form of ‘tough love’