Sepia Salesman

This week I cleave to the Sepia Saturday theme of hotels by remembering my maternal grandfather, Art Singer.

Art and a sample suit.
Art was a travelling dress salesman. Twice a year, for the fall and spring fashion seasons, he and a passel of his fellow salesmen would make their way up the coast bearing dozens of dresses to show to the buyers of all the major department stores. In 1960s downtown Seattle, these were Frederick and Nelson, I. Magnin, The Bon Marche, Rhodes, and a few others. The guys would hole up in the Benjamin Franklin Hotel and invite the buyers up to peruse their wares.

Most of the buyers were women, I believe, and for this purpose Art, always had a box of See's chocolates on hand to help soften up his customers.

For the male buyers, and Art's cohorts, there was also a bottle of Johnny Walker and a Playboy magazine.
Anyway, there is oddly a lot of online information about the old Ben Franklin. Built in 1929, it was the second largest hotel in Seattle, with 359 rooms in its 14 stories. 

One of the big draws for the salesmen, as well as others, was the "tiki bar" conveniently attached to the Ben Franklin. Originally named The Outrigger, it soon expanded and transformed into the famous Trader Vic's.

Note the quaint, politically incorrect signage. Our family car, by the way, was a two-tone (banana and battleship) 1950 Chevrolet, named"Uncle Wiggily" and very similar to that one on the right.
Note the stunningly affordable 1960s prices.

Alas, the hotel closed in the 1980s, although Trader Vic's carried on for some years catering to "Mad Men" and hipsters.

If you're into tiki bars, check out this feature on the Ben Franklin Outrigger at Tiki Central.

My great-great uncle on my father's father's side owned a hotel in downtown Detroit, the Blindbury Hotel. But that's another story!


  1. Your grandfather was obviously no Willie Loman. I imagine the buyers looked forward to his trips into town since he brought some good gifts.

  2. Wow - that's quite an assortment of drinks! And I don't even want to think about what the prices would be today! Of course everything's relevant. Salaries back then weren't what they are today, either. Your grandfather & his cohorts sold to some pretty fine stores, by the way! He must have been fairly successful in the endeavor to attract that sort of clientele.

  3. I look forward to reading about the Blindbury Hotel in a future post.

  4. Your post brings the old hotel alive.

  5. I never heard of a "passel" before. Today was the day!

  6. This was neat spin on the hotel theme. At one time hotels must have made a substantial income from traveling salesmen like Art. I imagine that it is quite different today with global communication. But with less opportunity to share cocktails on the internet though.

  7. That was a great "lead-up" post, from the rather elegant first photo to the drink menu. Very nice to take us on the sales trip with your grandfather.

  8. Passsel was a new word to me too. Loved the pictures and the ads. Your grandfather was very smart - I can't resist chocolate :)