Stores liven downtown streets

Published on Thu, Jul 12, 2001 by Meg Olson

Read More News

Stores liven downtown streets

By Meg Olson

Gretchen Budnick and Chris Olason have moved a little home into their new downtown store, and they’re selling it off a little bit at a time.

Olason’s Corkscrew Willow, which opened this week has one thing in common with Annie’s Place Deli, the previous tenant at the corner of Peace Portal Drive and H Street. Peeking through the cottage style windows, one might think it’s a nice place for lunch.

The front of the store is arranged as a sunny well-stocked kitchen, and shoppers can transfer any of it to their own kitchens – alligator sprinkles for cupcakes, pasta salad mixes for summer picnics, whimsical napkin rings and solid tableware.

Strolling through the store, shoppers move from room to room without ever passing through a door. Against the back wall a sink and vanity announce your arrival in the bathroom section, where you can buy a fluffy towel and a footbath kit. Next to that, the garden shed shelves house compost tea, knee pads and a phone holster for connected gardeners.

Budnick and Olason, a mother-daughter team, spent the last year poring over catalogs and going to gift shows looking for the kinds of things they’d like in their homes and they’d be proud to give to a friend. “We’ve got a lot of little things, fun things,” Olason said, giving a tour of candles that smell like everything you might find on the breakfast table from coffee (delicious) to bacon (stinky).“

“We’re from Blaine and we’ve always hated to have to go to Bellingham when you needed a gift,” said Budnick. She added that they found downtown locations an affordable location that matched the style of their business. “We like the charm of being downtown,” she said.
Olason and Budnick said they hope to become part of a growing downtown retail community. “We thought if we took the leap others might follow,” Budnick said.

A block away, Joan Carol is part of the same trend. In June she moved her collection of antiques out of Ashley’s Attic on Peace Portal Drive to a new location on Third Street, looking for more room for her inventory. She said she’s already noticed a difference in traffic. “The neighborhood here is so different, just a couple of blocks away,” Carol said. “We catch traffic going through town and we’re also getting a stronger response from the local people. They really want an opportunity to shop locally.”

“I’ve been wanting to screech over to this antique sign since I saw it,” said Becky Veroske, stopping in to buy a few porcelain cats on her way from Ferndale to the border.

The walls of the store are painted with the bright colors Carol remembers from a trip to Cuba, and hung with a huge collection of antique prints. Carol also has an impressive selection of Asian curios, antique dishes. “Shops are an expression of the individuals who run them,” she said. “I’d like to see more humor in our society so I choose things that are more light and frivolous – more fun.”

Carol’s Antiques and Curios store also houses the collections of several other antique dealer’s, and she’s considering accepting consigned items. “We’re just sort of feeling our way right now,” she said. “I’m not even all unpacked yet!”

The two new downtown stores are part of a growing number of businesses that call Blaine home. Charlene Zucca, owner of the Drayton Harbor Professional Building, recently started small businesses in every vacant retail space on the building’s ground floor – from the Portal Café to an art gallery. Up the street Blaine Bouquet has expanded their floor space and their inventory. Two new restaurants have opened in downtown Blaine in 2001 and the Bordertown Tavern is slated to re-open at a new location on Peace Portal Drive this month.

According to city finance director Meredith Riley, business licenses issued in Blaine have increased steadily since 1998. There were 518 new and renewed licenses issued in the city in 1999, 653 in 2000 and 733 so far in 2001.

“My sense is that, in the last year, there has been growing enthusiasm about the potential of the city,” said community development director Terry Galvin. “People are recognizing we have a lot of potential for tourism-related activities.” Galvin said cooperation between the business community and city hall had borne fruit, especially through the ongoing development of a new tourism development plan by the Blaine Tourism Advisory Committee. “I think collectively, their enthusiasm and our enthusiasm is generating some excitement,” he said.

Back to Top