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Today's word on journalism

May 8, 2009

The Last WORD


The Fat Lady Sings, Off-Key, Drools

At about this time every year, like the swallows to Capistrano or the buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio, the WORD migrates to its summer musing grounds at the sanitarium —St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose.

The reason is clear, and never moreso than as this season —the WORD's 13th —peters out.

It's been a fraught year of high palaver and eye-popping transition, both good and not-so-much. An interminable presidential campaign saga finally did end, and in extraordinary and historic fashion. Meanwhile, the bottom and everything that's below the bottom fell out of the economy, with families, homes, entire industries and —of particular interest to WORDsters and the civic-minded —dozens of daily newspapers ("I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying--it's watching them commit suicide that pisses me off." --Molly Ivins). . . all evaporating. What replaces them, from the individual to the institutional to the societal? Are we looking at a future of in-depth Tweeting?

As any newsperson or firehorse knows, it's hard to turn your back on day-to-day catastrophe --we just have to look at the car wreck. But even the most deranged and driven need a rest. As philosopher Lilly Tomlin once observed, "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."

So this morning, as a near-frost hovered over northern Utah, the unmarked van pulled into the driveway and the gentle, soft-spoken men in the white coats rolled the WORD out of bed and into a straitjacket for the usual summer trip to St. Mumbles, where the blathering one will be assigned a hammock and fed soothing, healthy foods --like tapioca, dog biscuits and salmon --while recharging the essential muscles of cynicism, outrage, sarcasm, social engagement and high-mindedness, in preparation for the next edition.
Summer well, friends.

Speak up! Comment on the WORD at

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Feedback and suggestions--printable and otherwise--always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

Federal Avenue a peaceful (and homegrown) oasis in downtown Logan

By Benjamin Wood

March 5, 2009 | Logan, Utah, home of Utah State University, is a college town. The community proudly supports the institution of higher learning with USU banners hanging from light poles and displayed in storefront windows. It comes as no surprise then to see along Main Street and around town the brighter lights of national chains and commercial staples beckoning the young collegiates with their welcoming warmth and familiarity; yet Logan maintains its heritage and atmosphere with a number of locally owned and operated enterprises.

At the heart of downtown Logan the locals rule, and nowhere more so then on Federal Avenue.

At the mouth of Federal Avenue, halfway between First and Second North, two buildings serve to block out sound and sight of the heavily congested Main Street, creating a veritable nook in the center of the city. Less than a dozen shops and eateries make up the small conglomerate of locally owned businesses.

Moving east down the avenue finds Earthly Awakenings, which sells handcrafted jewelry and ornaments, the appropriately named On The Avenue: Handcrafted Gifts of Distinction, Mulligans Social Club, The Jerry W. Fuhriman Studio/Gallery, Why Sound, a recording studio/music venue, The Italian Place, Café Ibis, and a law office. The street tapers off into an open parking lot framed by lifeless back-door facades and ends at the next street running parallel to Main. Continuing east an obscured hill raises up to the Logan LDS Temple, perched like a sentinel overlooking the goings-on.

Cars sit stationed along the avenue's southern edge at 45 degree angles, and patrons peruse the commercial offerings on foot, bundled up from the cold and conversing in low, pleasant tones. The air is still, and only the smallest din of city action can be heard through the corridor of structures.

"It's a lot more peaceful," said Andrew Chanson, "we don't have cars whizzing by, people yelling and making noise."

Chanson is an employee at The Italian Place, a local eatery whose sandwiches received Utah's "Best of the Beehive" award in 2008. The diner has been in business for 37 years, always in its same location on Federal. The space is open, separated from the kitchen in one corner by a low counter allowing the customer to observe and converse with the staff.

If you ask, Chanson will tell you about his regulars. There's Mel who Chanson describes as extremely old and works nearby, they make him the same sandwich every day and if he doesn't come by, Chanson or one of the other workers will take it to him. Or there's Joe, he tends to get his sandwich, find his table and read, or he'll pass the time by shooting the breeze with the diner's owner John. According to Chanson, John knows everybody, if not by name then by face, and he knows everybody's sandwich.

What the stores on Federal Avenue lack in visibility, they make up for in customer loyalty. Any one of the handful of businesses on the Avenue could likely give comparable descriptions of their clienteles.

"We definitely have a following," said Michelle Nielson, who manages the nearby Café Ibis.

The Café is well rooted in the Logan community. Nieslon said that they've been serving Loganites for over 30 years. They select from local, organic produce for their lunch items, roast their own coffee brews at a plant in town, showcase local musicians every Friday and Sunday, sponsor monthly art exhibits and donate two percent of their earnings to non-profit organizations around the valley.

Café Ibis, compared to The Italian Place, is a much more intimate space. Rock music plays softly overhead, barely audible in competition with the buzz of a dozen different conversations. The space seems to glow with a series of track lights pointed towards the walls to illuminate the art on display. A strong-scented blend of different coffees and soups wafts throughout and seems to seep out from every cranny.

The coffee brewed at Ibis is known throughout the area and abroad for its quality. According to the café's website, www.cafeibis.com, Ibis coffee is QAI certified organic, Fair Trade certified and Smithsonian Shade Grown Certified. On the menu are a number of traditional sounding blends like Espresso, French Roast and Vienna Roast; as well as some more unique options like Highlander Grogg, Ethiopian Arabian Night, Ethiopian Moka Harrar Horse, and a locally-named Logan Canyon Blend. The website also provides customers with on-line purchasing, and flavor descriptions, like this one of Highlander Grogg.

"A sophisticated liquor flavored on our light roast coffee, reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, that does well all year long. Though difficult to describe, it has become a consistent."

Employees of the café seem almost sentimental as they talk about their avenue, referring to it with pet names such as "The Fed," or "FedAv." The menu includes a number of herbal concoctions, and caters to a wide range of tastes; the soup of the day, for example is a Vegan Butternut Squash.

"We're very environmentally friendly," Nielson said, "A lot of our customers tend to walk or ride bikes, and more than half of our staff don't own vehicles."

This environmental focus is not particular to only the café, nearby at Earthly Awakenings a sign in the window reads "Hippies, use back door." Even while the core client base remains strong, many of the avenue's employees agreed that while patronage is diverse, there is a noticeable absence of the greater university student community. Derek Andersen, who works at On The Avenue, said that the majority of customers tend to come from the more permanent adult and family population of Logan. Students seem to pass by, unaware of the avenue in its calm serenity.

"It's kind of off the path," said Andersen. "Either you know someone who knows about it, or you go wandering to find it."

Find it people do. Nielson said she doesn't feel at all challenged by the low visibility location, saying that her customers use word of mouth to bring in fresh faces. She admits, though, that on occasion she has to explain to people how to find the café.

"When people get into town, we get calls asking, 'Where is Federal Avenue?'" Neilson commented; and added that unlike some of the larger chains, customers of the avenue are able to get to know the staff and owners on a more personal level.

"It's what brings them back, it's locally owned and they want to support local business," Andersen agreed.

While the majority of Utah State University students may not frequent, or even be aware of, the stores on Federal Avenue, the businesses in the small metropolitan oasis stand the test of time. Some entities on the avenue are recent endeavors, but most, like Café Ibis and The Italian Place, count their ages in decades. More and more businesses on the high velocity roads come and go, while Federal Avenue remains relatively unchanged.

The different stores seem to have a more symbiotic relationship than most. The Italian Place serves Ibis coffee, and Chanson said that the two stores will help each other out when necessary. The different stores commonly participate in community events, such as the Logan Gallery Art Walk, and yearly downtown trick-or-treating during Halloween.

"If we need anything, we just run over and ask," Chanson said. "It's really friendly, there's less competition."

Whether you find it through the urging of a streetwise friend or by some accidental arrival, "The Fed" is a rare gem in the already picturesque Cache Valley. With everything from music, to food, to priceless art, the avenue has something for everyone, as long as they know where to look.

MS
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