If you’re one of those urban campers who benefited from Brad Johnsen and Travis Eckhert’s campaign against homelessness in Seattle, “Hoodies for Hobos,” you’ve got a rare commodity on your hands. Add-a-Ball Amusements and Bar Arcade has gotten a pretty bad rap since KOMO News ran a story about the establishment’s good intentions with the bad name. Since then, the Seattle-based business Bardahl has confiscated all of Johnsen’s merchandise because Add-a-Ball’s logo bore a striking similar to its own.
“My brother races cars in the desert, and I race motorcycles,” Johnsen explains. “So, we’ve always had [Bardahl’s] stickers on stuff. So, we took that image and changed the words from Bardahl to Add-a-Ball. We weren’t really up to speed on copyright or trademark infringement, and so, apparently, we’ve crossed some lines there. They’re confiscating all of our inventory.” Johnsen sounded sheepish explaining the situation.
Add-a-Ball owner Brad Johnsen is the Charlie Day of average people. Jovial, chatty and with all the haphazard charm of a less-swarthy Seth Green, Mr. Johnsen has made himself very available for comment on his efforts to improve the lives of the less fortunate. Beginning at the end of March, Add-a-Ball began selling hoodies to patrons of the pinball bar; for $35, sweaters purchased would go to those in need that Johnsen had met in the area surrounding his business. Over fifty were sold and distributed around the Ballard Bridge before Add-a-Ball’s inventory was seized today.
The KOMO news report made mention that reporters spoke with some recipients of these sweaters, and logo-bearing or not, the beneficiaries didn’t take any sort of issue with the campaign. Seattle natives, however, found the language offensive and off-color; henceforth, Add-a-Ball’s small business community outreach efforts have been overshadowed by community outcry. This is not the first Hoodies for Hobos campaign in recent memory, but it’s certainly drawing a lot of attention to this quirky individual who seems to have no filter.
It’s not hard to see where Johnsen’s off-kilter commentary is easy to run with, making a questionable title fodder for discussion on human rights. To be frank, I spoke with him for almost an hour, and at least twenty minutes of that content that would be easy to manipulate. He is the world’s least media conscious individual. But is that a crime? Somehow, Johnsen’s choice of words has come to overshadow the goodwill towards his fellow man. “I’ve made a lot of points [that people] have trimmed out to fit their own narratives,” he said to me. You know, somehow, I can see that.
“I’ve never personally experienced homelessness,” he admitted when asked why the cause is so near and dear to him. “But I didn’t have a microwave for a long time, though. So, it was kind of like the same thing. Lukewarm beans—stuff like that. I couldn’t microwave popcorn. Now that I’m successful… You know… I’ve got this enterprise. I’ve got two microwaves; one in the kitchen and one in the bathroom.” Johnsen’s inspiration for helping his fellow man came as many poorly laid plans do, which was while he was “slightly buzzed” and talking to a man on the street when the idea came to him.
Johnsen knows that people like 20-year advocate for displaced Seattle youth, Elaine Simons, have a problem with his verbiage, but he says that before the campaign garnered so much attention, the name was just a fitting way to get his clientele interested in giving. “Everybody’s cool with it. If you know me and my personality, it makes more sense.” When asked if he was disappointed with the way that his campaign has been treated in the media, he said no. “I sold 20 sweatshirts yesterday,” Johnson said. “If a provocative name is what’s getting people to give then I guess it’s good for everybody.”
For those who are unfamiliar with Add-a-Ball or it’s sister location, John John’s, in the Capitol Hill region of Seattle, Washington, Johnsen and Eckhert started the Seattle business in the same location where Johnsen previously operated a scooter repair shop. Having always been an enthusiast for table machines and arcade games, the enterprise just made sense once Johnsen’s collection grew to support it.
The bar and arcade is open weeknights from 2 pm to 1 am, weekends from 2 pm to 2 am. Popular brews on offer include Rainier Beer and suds from the local Fremont Brewery. The bar pits pinball aficionados against one another in a battle of skill every Wednesday; recently, a victor earned a pinball machine for keeps. There’s also Ladies Only Pinball Tournament every first Thursday of the month. Johnsen is undeterred by the scorn of media outlets; he plans to continue to give to those in need, and to have fun doing it.