Businesses upbeat about future of downtown Alley District

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 2, 2013 

Alley District

Jason Byal of Positive - Negative Community Darkroom, Tom Anderson of Creative Openings, Bay Renaud of Plantas Nativa, Ross Thiessen of Cascadia Homecraft and Aaron Loveitt of Altility Arts Studio sit alongside the South Bay Trail on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, in Bellingham. Business owners call the area between North State Street and Railroad Avenue from Bellingham Farmers Market to South Bay Trail the "Alley District," in a group effort to promote businesses on and near the alley.

MATT MCDONALD — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

The businesses jointly promote their alley location, but some of them front a busy North State Street. They call themselves a district, but at this point it's as much a collective mindset as an official designation.

Still, the business people clustered on and the near the alley that runs south from Depot Market Square to the South Bay Trail are working hard to make their stretch of commerce a popular place to visit.

"It's this neat experience, this sense that you're doing something a little off the beaten path," said Anna Evans, who co-owns Honey Moon, with her husband. "Not a secret exactly, but something for those in the know."

Folks in the self-named Alley District owe their optimism, in part, to the Bellingham Farmers Market, Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro and La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza, among others, for revitalizing the south end of Railroad Avenue in recent years.

Those, along with new businesses and residences along North State, as well as street improvements nearing completion on North State, are fostering talk that the southern flank of downtown is coming alive.

The area will become even busier next year when Bayou Oyster Bar opens in its new home on the first floor of the Herald Building at North State and Chestnut streets. The Oyster Bar is the first announced tenant for a series of street-level spaces being remodeled by building owners Bob Hall and David Johnston.

The Oyster Bar's new home will include elevated outdoor seating on a large deck, with stairs down to the alley providing additional public access.

A short distance to the south, Pepper Sisters restaurant, at 1055 N. State St., and The Green Frog tavern, at 1015 N. State St., already have outdoor seating above the alley.

In addition, the recent construction of high-rise housing just south of the farmers market, with more in the works, has brought more residents and foot traffic to the area.

Honey Moon opened eight years ago with its production facilities and tasting room for mead, wine and cider at 1053 N. State St., in the alley just across Maple Street from the Farmers Market.

"We liked this secret, speak-easy feel to it," Evans said.

Businesses along the alley include established ones, such as Honey Moon, as well as small newcomers, including Gypsies and Ginger Snaps, a combination gift store and coffee shop, and Alleycat Bike Shop, a repair and sales shop that Duke Pakdee opened in late July.

Alleycat is open noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Other times, Pakdee stays busy as an audio engineer for Green Frog and other venues. His bike shop is small and he relies mostly on social media and word-of-mouth to market his business. Business seemed slow, he said, until he tallied his receipts for his first month.

"I did all right, actually," he said. "I was surprised."

ARTISTS CLUSTER

Farther south on the alley, where Laurel Street crosses, stands a solid metal post with 16 wooden signs, each with the name of a nearby business. The sign, which was made by several local artisans, is one result of group meetings held by business people in the neighborhood.

"There's a real kind of cooperative effort going on here," said Aaron Loveitt, a metalworking artist who helped make the sign and whose Altility Art Studio sits nearby at 210 E. Laurel. "We're just creating something from scratch."

Loveitt, who moved to Bellingham from Portland, Ore., three years ago, said he had had his eye on the studio building for some time and jumped at the chance to relocate.

Part of the attraction, he said, is the presence of several other creative enterprises close by, including Positive Negative, a community photography center that rents darkroom and studio space; The Hub Community Bike Shop; and Creative Openings, where Tom Anderson makes finely crafted wooden screen doors and bicycle fenders.

"This location has allowed me to be successful in my career" Loveitt said. "We collaborate and support each other."

A short distance farther south sits The Wailing Goat Espresso, a mobile coffee stand operated by Suzanne Lundberg. This is the second year her business has been there, open four days a week but not during the winter.

She sells jewelry and crocheted hats and scarves, along with coffee drinks and food treats. Lundberg, who has another job as an advertising rep for Adventures NW magazine, hopes her coffee shop can prosper over time.

"Right now it's floating and sustaining and, hopefully, building," she said.

Like any group of business people who see benefit from working together, the alley folks are talking about what else they can do, from hosting more public events to developing a walking tour of the district.

The long-term fate of some of the businesses, especially those closest to South Bay Trail, could depend on whether developers decide to replace the older buildings there with new businesses or residences along North State.

For now, however, there's palpable energy to make the alley scene more appealing.

"We have a rich potential," Evans said. "We're very pro-alley."

MORE ONLINE

Links to many businesses in Bellingham's Alley District are at thealleydistrict.com.

Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-2291 or dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com.

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