Published January 04, 2013
My 10 favorite stories of 2012Rolf Boone/The Business Blog
Lets face it: not all stories are created equal. Some are too dry, filled with numbers and data; some are too difficult, making it a challenge for the reporter to write with authority; and some are, well, just plain boring.But here are 10 stories that I found fascinating in 2012 and I hope, you, the reader, did, too.10. Volcano Vapor Cafe. I must admit I was reluctant at first to write about this new business (Im not positive why), but after my editor mentioned this potential story to me a few times, I finally got around to doing it. And it was a surprise. Like most cafes, this one sells coffee and tea, but the big difference is that it also sells electronic cigarettes, battery-charged smoking devices that can be filled with a flavor-and-nicotine infused liquid. Exhale and it doesnt emit smoke, but vapor.9. Energy expert and economist Jim Lazar appointed to Thurston PUD board. This was a raucous public meeting that would introduce me to the Thurston Public Utility District and set the stage for the public power debate that eventually emerged between public power supporters, the PUD and Puget Sound Energy. Lazar was ambushed by several critics that day, and I also got to witness the sometimes contentious relationship between PUD board members and audience members.8. Enterprise for Equity graduation ceremony. This was a luncheon for graduates of Enterprise for Equity, the Olympia nonprofit that helps low-income individuals achieve their business dreams. Some of the graduates got a chance to speak about their backgrounds and business ideas, and one graduate in particular spoke movingly about the day he and his family said goodbye to their storm-damaged home and embarked on a new career. One more thing: meet Lisa Smith, the incredibly enthusiastic and supportive executive director of Enterprise for Equity, and shell lift your spirits.7. Former Olympia brewery update. Brewery redevelopment project manager Michael Matthias updated the Tumwater City Council on progress so far with the aging property, and in the process, shed some light on the current owners of the brewery property south of Custer Way. A closer look at court records revealed the depth of their problems. In short, the group that financed a failed attempt to bottle water at the brewery, got hammered, like so many did, when the real estate market collapsed in fall 2008.6. A silly contest for a not-so-silly cause. Former Providence St. Peter Hospital spokeswoman Erin Schwantner held a fun but serious fundraiser to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Family and friends gathered to enjoy pizza, wear their best fake mustache and to remember Erins brother, Evan, who took his own life when he was 20.5. Copper cherubs removed from brewery fountain for safekeeping. The former Olympian brewery has been kicked around quite a bit since it stopped producing beer in June 2003. And to prevent it from being kicked one more time while its down, real estate broker, Troy Dana, who is trying to sell the property, removed two copper cherubs from a nearby fountain before metal thieves showed up.4. The apple affair. One Sunday afternoon I ventured out to historic Rignall Hall on the Steamboat Island peninsula to try a few apples. The event was organized by the co-owners of Madrona Grove Fruit Stand, who buy rare and unique apple varieties from an orchard in Wenatchee, and then allow visitors to sample and buy them. The apple varieties included Maigold of Switzerland; Northern Spy of New York; Shizuka of Japan; Ambrosia of southern British Columbia; the Kandil Sinap of Turkey; and the Calville Blanc dHiver of Normandy, France, an apple said to be good for cooking.3. The Port of Olympias connection to oil drilling in Williston, North Dakota. The port is importing a product from China, called ceramic proppants, which play an important role in drilling for oil. More interesting, though, is how an oil boom will transform a community, such as Williston, now the fastest growing town under 50,000 people in the country.2. Alaffia. This business was a revelation. I had never heard of it until I saw mention of it on the Thurston County Economic Development Council website. I later learned the story about co-founder and managing director Olowo-ndjo Tchala, originally from the West African country of Togo. He left his country to study at university in California, then made his way to Washington state where he and co-founder Rose Hyde, working out of a trailer on Steamboat Island, produced their first hand cream using raw shea butter from Togo. The business now operates out of a 75,000-square-foot warehouse near Olympia Regional Airport and sells its body care products throughout the country, including to big daddy, Whole Foods.1. Casey Jay Heath memorial. I was blown away by the eloquence and emotion with which family members and friends used to remember the life of Casey Heath. Hundreds of people came to pay their respects. Was he a rock star? No. Was he an actor? No. Was he the president of some company? No, he wasnt. Heath was locally employed, an expert skateboarder and an all-around good guy, but thats what made the memorial so moving: he was someone, if you didnt know him, who appeared to be ordinary and yet was so extraordinary to those who knew and loved him. As his friend Mark Bowen said, the whole city shook when Heath died.