You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Alan Corwin, 1946-2021: Anchor Computer founder was an early pioneer in PC sales and Seattle tech

Geekwire logo Geekwire 7/27/2021 Kurt Schlosser
a man smiling for the camera: Alan Corwin started Anchor Computer Systems in Seattle in 1981 as a PC sales and training location. (Twitter Photo via @ShipInTheKnight ) © Provided by Geekwire Alan Corwin started Anchor Computer Systems in Seattle in 1981 as a PC sales and training location. (Twitter Photo via @ShipInTheKnight )

Seattle’s tech history is populated with pioneering figures such as Bill Gates, Paul Allen and Jeff Bezos, whose work on everything from software to internet retail changed the world. Alan Corwin didn’t start Microsoft or Amazon, but he was a noteworthy entrepreneur himself as the founder of Anchor Computer Systems, an early seller of personal computers in the region in the 1980s.

Corwin died on July 7 at the age of 75.

An obituary published this week said the 6-foot, 4-inch redhead “stood out in a crowd” and that he had a unique spirit combing competitive drive, wit and kindness.

Born in Rhode Island on April 30, 1946, Corwin grew up on a small dairy farm. His family moved to Springfield, Mass., where Corwin attended high school and then community college. He worked as a dental technician in the Navy during Vietnam and afterward painted bridges before visiting the Pacific Northwest and staying for good.

“The ‘Seattle Freeze’ didn’t freeze out Al,” the obit reads.

“He managed a real estate office and he just fell in love the first time he sat down with a personal computer,” said Jennifer Rubinstein, Corwin’s longtime partner, who told GeekWire that she began dating Corwin in 1995.

Corwin started Anchor in 1981 as Seattle was emerging from the economic effects of the “Boeing Bust” and Microsoft was a young company on the verge of upending the world of software. From a location in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood, Anchor sold Kaypro brand PCs and provided training and outreach to Seattle-area businesses and customers at a time when virtually no one knew much about computers and what they could do.

a desktop computer sitting on top of a wooden table: A Kaypro II PC. (Flickr Photo via CyberHades ) © Provided by Geekwire A Kaypro II PC. (Flickr Photo via CyberHades )

Caren Park was Anchor’s director of training in those days and figures she was around employee No. 6. She had moved to Seattle from the Bay Area when an owner of the retail chain ComputerLand was looking to open a training facility in the area. That effort didn’t go anywhere and Park credits a man named Jim Mitchell with connecting her to Anchor.

logo © Provided by Geekwire “I started off by giving seminars to people who would come into the shop, something that I’d been doing in San Francisco,” Park said. “It was just a couple blocks from the Kingdome. I was parking in their parking lot and walking over.”

By Park’s recollection, Anchor was one of the first Seattle-area businesses to sell PCs out of a storefront location and “definitely the first people to lease computers west of the Mississippi.”

Park said Corwin was always nice to anybody who wandered through the shop doors. She said his look was unmistakable.

“Tall, gangly. That carrot top,” Park said of Corwin’s red hair. “He always had a smile.”

a man looking at the camera: Alan Corwin during the Anchor Computer days in the early 1980s. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Rubinstein) © Provided by Geekwire Alan Corwin during the Anchor Computer days in the early 1980s. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Rubinstein)

Corwin’s obit mentioned the Grateful Dead as one of his passions, and Park remembered a time when the iconic band played in Tacoma, Wash., and Corwin and others from work used Park’s home near SeaTac as a jumping off point for going to the concert.

“They weren’t hippies in the sense that they were lazy people that just sat around and smoked pot all day,” Rubinstein said of Corwin and his friends. “They were very, very hardworking people. But they considered themselves almost to be part of the counterculture, I think.”

There were plans to franchise Anchor across the U.S., Park said, but she left in 1983 when she was hired away by a company in Canada. She eventually taught in Canada, worked as a consultant, wrote software, worked at KING in Seattle and also Microsoft, and today lives in Sammamish, Wash.

Anchor did add stores in Bellevue and Tacoma, but by the mid to late 1980s, Rubinstein said the business fell on hard times. The pressure to expand and rapid changes in the PC industry took their toll and Corwin was left holding the bag, and a pile of debt owed to the IRS. Rubinstein said more of a business background might have helped Corwin succeed, but he was never bitter about the outcome.

a sign on the side of a building: Newspaper ads for Anchor Computer from the 1980s. The image on the right depicted the company’s historic Pioneer Square location in Seattle. (Photos courtesy of Jennifer Rubinstein) © Provided by Geekwire Newspaper ads for Anchor Computer from the 1980s. The image on the right depicted the company’s historic Pioneer Square location in Seattle. (Photos courtesy of Jennifer Rubinstein)

Corwin bounced around to various jobs in the years that followed at places such as Boeing, Washington Mutual, AT&T and with the state of Washington. He worked for Edmonds, Wash.-based Innovaura Corp., where he contributed to a 2019 patent for a magnetic field imaging system. And he was a mentor with South Sound/Tacoma SCORE, where he helped aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners with advice.

“He was an extremely cheerful, optimistic person, but I think the thing that really got his juices running all the time was to be involved in these projects,” Rubinstein said.

Rubinstein said the original PC salesman eventually migrated over to Apple products and he maintained a lasting interest in technology.

“One thing I think is kind of amazing — I don’t even know what to do with his Twitter account — but he got onto Twitter in 2012 and he has like 17,000 followers,” Rubinstein said. “Just some guy sitting at home, basically BS’ing and criticizing Trump. I mean, a lot of people do that and they have like five followers,” she laughed.

Rubinstein worked for the federal government as a civil rights investigator and as an asylum officer. She said Corwin’s free spirit was the source of a little bit of contention in their relationship because he wasn’t saving for retirement. But he always was good at coming up with money for his share of the mortgage and other expenses.

She said Corwin thought retirement sounded boring, and that he would always keep working.

“It did just seem like at some point he was bound to hit some kind of jackpot, and that never happened,” she said. “In the final analysis, I think there was something just beautiful about the fact that he was always able to do what he wanted to do.”

According to his obituary, a sendoff for Corwin will be held at the Tacoma Elks Lodge at Allenmore Golf Course on Aug. 8 at 3 p.m.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Geekwire

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon