A perfect partnership in P.C: Not a Number comes to the Hill

What are vegan boots made of? What does the letter A stand for? Can Christmas trees be purple?

The answers can be found at the end of this article. More to the point, they can be found at Not a Number, a newly opened gift shop on Queen Anne. The place gets its name from the '60s British TV show "The Prisoner." In each of its 18 episodes the prisoner declares, "I'm not a number, I'm a free man." Some of this defiance can be detected among the shop's merchandise - but mostly in fun.

Of the two co-owners, Kara Ceriello and her husband Jon deLeeuw, he's the one with more experience in retail. A Seattle-area native, his family owned a store in Bellevue where he worked for many years. He earned a degree in computer science from Indiana's Purdue University.

Ceriello was born in Boulder, Colo., and grew up mostly in the Denver area. She moved to Seattle 12 years ago and met deLeeuw through her sister, who had moved here earlier. A few months later Ceriello and deLeeuw first kissed under the mistletoe, also at her sister's.

At the time the pair got married in 1997, Ceriello worked at promoting concerts and other events. But soon they began to sell two products, the ShakeLight and the PeacePoster, at the Fremont Sunday Market and other street fairs, as well as online. The Internet was not yet widely used, but with deLeeuw's background in computers they didn't hesitate to use it themselves.

The ShakeLight, invented by a friend of theirs, is a battery-free flashlight that never needs replacement parts. The PeacePoster, designed by them after 9/11, features a peace sign composed of all the national flags of the world. "World peace has always been our primary thing," says Ceriello.

Both Ceriello and deLeeuw are political activists. As a member of the Green Party, Ceriello ran against Helen Sommers for state representative four years ago, and later became state chair of the Green Party. "I care about the planet and all of us on it," she says. "I want to help make it a better place. I want all of us to get along."

She maintains that the present U.S. administration, far from helping world peace, drives us further from it. Her husband agrees, but he belongs to a different party, the recently revived Progressive Party, which was founded by Teddy Roosevelt. Among the principles the party espouses is world peace.

He might run for office someday, and she might run again. For now they are concentrating their efforts on Not a Number.

After several years, they tired of participating in street fairs - always outside, at the mercy of the weather, having to transport their merchandise from one place to another. Still, the idea to open a shop came from someone else. Ceriello and deLeeuw frequent Gordito's, a Mexican restaurant in Green-wood, and have befriended the owner. A few months ago, the owner pur-chased a building on Queen Anne to house a second Gordito's. There was also room to accommodate a "cool, fun" gift shop next door.

She convinced Ceriello and deLeeuw to open such a shop.

At first the location seemed less than ideal because of the huge construction project taking up most of the block. But Ceriello and deLeeuw spent many hours in the 5 Spot across the street observing pedestrian traffic. They concluded that there was enough of it to garner plenty of walk-ins, despite the construction. Besides, they reasoned, the construction will end eventually and business will only get better. In October, they decided to go for it.

In just one month they took care of the legal paperwork; remodeled the space, installing displays and fixtures; and lined up more suppliers to increase their inventory. "It was a phenomenal rush," says deLeeuw.

Not a Number opened on Nov. 26, the day after Thanksgiving - and, as it happens, de-Leeuw's birthday - just in time for the holiday buying frenzy.

Not a Number earned enough during the holidays to pay several months' rent. Word is spreading about the shop beyond Queen Anne. They have ads in The Stranger and Seattle Weekly (as well as the Queen Anne News). People from other parts of town who received Christmas gifts purchased at Not a Number have come to see the place for themselves.

"Kara's the whirlwind, and I'm the rock of the operation," says deLeeuw. She is outgoing and good with customers. He is often behind-the-scenes, keeping the books and filling online orders downstairs. "It's a perfect partnership," says Ceriello.

Not a Number sells a T-shirt that pokes fun at American materialism, but, says Ceriello, "Some stuff is OK."

Their merchandise, most of which has an irreverent bent, falls into four categories: fun and/or wacky, environmental, political and locally made. "We want to encourage preservation of the community, the environment and the planet," says Ceriello. "We think globally and act locally."

One way they support the community is to sell the work of local artists. Ceriello is partial to work that uses recycled materials (like lamps made of chopsticks), is politically correct (the T-shirts are not manufactured in foreign sweatshops), is organic or is created by women. But she bases her choice of artist on what kind of person they are even more than on their work. She likes people who are direct and work for themselves, people who walk into Not a Number and ask her to carry their creations.

Another way Not a Number supports the community is to donate profits from the sale of the Shake-Light and PeacePoster to food banks and to the Queen Anne Helpline.

There are some items for kids, including WonderChess and low-tech toys such as you-build-it automatons and mobiles. Kids-at-heart can buy action figures like Jesus (who glides) and Einstein (who thinks), offbeat cards and a variety of Cat Butt products, Ceriello's favorite. "They're hysterical," she says, "but our bestsellers are the refrigerator magnets and the George Bush stuff."

"They say you shouldn't mix business and politics," adds de-Leeuw, "but political stuff sells."

Ceriello is quick to point out that the political stuff is not in front of the shop. In a back corner hang pins and bumper stickers; a Threat to Peace Poster, which is a U.S. map identifying nuclear-weapons development sites, mercenary training sites and other warmongering loci; an American flag with corporate logos in place of stars; and a "Wall of Progressives" displaying snapshots of politicians like Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Jim McDermott and radio host Amy Goodman.

Sometimes a customer enters and leaves quickly. "We know we're not everyone's cup of tea," says Ceriello, "but lots of customers have thanked us for opening. Everything on Queen Anne is so serious."

"We just want to tickle people's brains," says deLeeuw, "and bring a smile to their faces."

"We don't want to encroach on anyone else's space," says Ceriello. Indeed, there is no other shop quite like it on Queen Anne, and they have been welcomed by merchants nearby. On Christmas Eve, Ali Lofti of Caffé Appassionato brought over a bouquet of flowers.

"That's community for you," they say.

Answers: Recycled products such as coffee filters, magazines and surgical gloves; the alternative alphabet poster says "Africa" and "abolitionist"; absolutely.

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