The Best and Worst of Business 2009

Remembering the good news and bad in a year we won’t forget.
By Leslie D. Helm, Chris Winters, Talia Schmidt, Kate Vesper, David Volk, Randy Woods, Elizabeth Economou and Art Thiel |   December 2009   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
Illustrations by Mark Brewer

New Year's gift when a bankruptcy judge ordered that they be awarded more than $380,000 total in incentive bonuses and severance pay.

Yes, many were upper-level managers, but it's better than nothing. The bulk of the company's 200 staffers were unceremoniously laid off without warning and walked away empty-handed ... unless you count the satisfaction from seeing the former chief executive officer and chief financial officer get prison sentences for falsifying the company's revenues.  —David Volk


Better Late Than Never Dept.: Link Light Rail

LinkIt may have been millions of dollars over budget, several years later and many miles shorter than expected, but Link Light Rail service began in mid-July to cheers, generally positive reviews and a rider load of about 96,000 over its first two days.

Of course, it helped that the rides were free on opening weekend. Once fares kicked in on Monday, the crowds on the 14-mile line were much thinner. The Seattle Times reported some trains left Tukwila with as few as eight riders while passenger counts around downtown were closer to 100.

Maybe that's why they call it "light rail." —David Volk


Best Extreme Makeover: Unbranding Starbucks

StealthBucksWe'd never understood the phrase "authentic replica" until we heard about Starbucks' newest bit of sales strategy: running as far away from itself as it possibly can.

At least that's the way it seemed in July when the coffee company redesigned a store on Seattle's Capitol Hill, which already has plenty of independent coffeehouses. This location was originally slated to close and deliberately omitted any evidence of its corporate identity. Instead, 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea (inspired by Starbucks) opted to recreate the feel of an authentic community coffeehouse complete with china cups, live entertainment, wine and beer sales, and the ever-present rustic furniture.

The stealth store was the first of three that the company planned to test in Seattle. One local wag wondered what would be next. Home Depot opening a "neighborhood" store next to the local True Value Hardware? —David Volk

Photo by Hayley Young


Most Innovative Charity Program: Food Lifeline

Who knew that attending a Macy's fashion show, going to a gourmet dinner party or even opening a free checking account could make such a difference in feeding the hungry? A member of hunger relief organization Feeding America, Food Lifeline set up corporate-sponsored

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